I named these chicken meatballs "Uncle T's Meatballs," after my Uncle T, who took me fishing when I was young. But the Uncle T here is universal, a tribute to every Italian-American uncle.
The staff first tasted the meatballs when we started to develop the recipe for Streetbird, my second Harlem restaurant, and they were a favorite right out of the gate. They're tender, with an extra-crisp exterior, and served with a rich, thick ragu (meat sauce) with a spoonful of ricotta and a shower of lemon zest.
Serve with toasted sourdough or country bread for sopping up the sauce so everyone can be a member of the clean-plate club.
Make-ahead tip: The sauce can be made one day ahead. Add the zest and salt after you reheat the sauce.
Meat Sauce Ragu
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped carrot
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
- Coarse kosher salt
- 1¼ pounds ground chicken, beef, turkey or pork
- 0.5 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon ancho powder
- Coarse kosher salt
- Peanut oil, for frying
- Ricotta cheese
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Toasted country or sourdough bread
For the meat ragu:
1. Put the onion, carrot, and celery into a food processor and process until very finely minced.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and pork and cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir constantly at the beginning. Once the meat is in small crumbles and is no long pink, you can stir occasionally.
3. Add the minced vegetables, the red pepper flakes, and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and wine and cook, stirring and scraping to deglaze the pan, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until very thick, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Stir in the lemon zest and oregano and taste for salt.
For the meatballs:
1. Mix the breadcrumbs, cream, and egg together in a large bowl. Let sit for a few minutes so the breadcrumbs can soften.
2. Add the ground chicken, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, ancho powder, and salt to taste. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
5. Form 16 golf ball-sized meatballs. Put them on the baking sheet and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
1. Heat 1/3 inch of peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and fry until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes total.
2. Spoon a generous amount of the sauce into the bottom of four shallow bowls. Top each with 4 meatballs, a spoonful of ricotta, and some grated Parmesan. Finish with a sprinkling of lemon zest and a grind or two of pepper.
3. Serve with toasted bread slices for wiping up the sauce.