The Briny Secret Ingredient For Robust Chicken Meatballs

Chicken meatballs need punchy, piquant, salty, vibrant ingredients added to them to really sing. Though you may turn to chicken for a number of reasons over the beef, pork, and veal typically found in meatballs, it is more mild than those meaty counterparts. Garlic, fresh herbs, chilies, and cheese are often employed to round out the profile of chicken meatballs. Speaking of cheese, while most recipes call for a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, or a melting cheese like cheddar, we have an out-of-the-box idea for a cheese that adds body, richness, and salty seasoning all in one: feta.

The iconic Greek cheese is the secret to Tasting Table recipe developer Jessica Case's Chicken and Feta Meatballs with Crispy Chickpeas. "These meatballs make a fantastic party appetizer or can be served as a main course for a relaxed dinner that the whole family will enjoy," notes Case. "The meatballs are filled with robust spices, the tangy, salty feta cheese, smooth, rich olive oil, bright lemon juice, and fresh mint that all work together."

For its part, the feta, which is quite crumbly, remains in small, creamy chunks that burst with umami and salinity while still lending needed moisture to the meatball itself. Case elevates her dish by serving it with spiced chickpeas crisped in olive oil and peppery fresh arugula. Finally, she adds even more mint and feta on top.

Why feta works

There are numerous reasons feta works so well in chicken meatballs, chiefly the unique tangy and salty notes. Additionally, the rich creaminess of feta complements the leaner chicken, creating a more complete flavor profile, and, as the chicken meatballs cook, the feta cheese nestled inside gradually softens. This creates pockets of creamy goodness within the meatballs, contributing to an enjoyable melt-in-your-mouth experience. The cheese also distributes its flavors throughout the meat, ensuring every bite is bursting with deliciousness.

Beyond flavoring the chicken meatballs, feta aids the overall cooking process as well. One of the challenges of cooking chicken meatballs is preventing them from becoming dry and tough. By integrating feta into the mix, you introduce additional moisture to the meatballs. As they cook, the feta releases its briny juices, infusing the chicken with extra succulence. The result is tender, juicy meatballs that are a pleasure to sink your teeth into. Feta also acts as a natural binding agent for the mixture. This property helps the chicken meatballs retain their shape and prevents them from falling apart during the cooking process.

While Case serves her chicken meatballs with flavor-packed elements on the side — hello, spiced chickpeas and arugula — she says they are versatile enough to work many different ways. She suggests pairing them with couscous for a bit more starch or zucchini noodles if you want to keep things green.