Ahh…Buffalo Chicken Meatballs…the perfect accompaniment to football season…or any other time actually…made with lean ground chicken mixed with healthy vegetables…all combined and baked into some incredibly moist and tasty treats, and topped with your favorite buffalo style BBQ sauce. Not only do they make great appetizers, they can even be part of a meal…or maybe a chicken meatball sandwich. As an added time-saver for busy cooks – the meatball mixture can be made early and stored in the refrigerator until dinnertime.
Meatballs served as a stand-alone appetizer — the kind we’re talking about here — have to have their own special kind of attraction. Unlike meatballs one might find in their plate of pasta, these particular meatballs must stand alone in taste, flavor, and overall goodness. After all, these guys are served as the stars of the show.
But first, we need to talk about hot sauce, which is somewhat of an epitome of the proverb, “variety is the spice of life.” Perhaps in no other food ingredient can there be found such an infinite variety of flavors and degrees of hotness. In fact, most of the peppers used in the production of hot sauces all share a spot on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness, known as SHU’s (Scoville Heat Units) ranging from the lowly bell pepper at “0” hotness to the well-known jalapeno ranging in at around 5000 SHU’s , to the Ghost Chili and the Carolina Reaper variety weighing in at just over an incredible 2.2 million Scoville units.
The Scoville scale is the measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units(SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who devised this method in 1912.
That having been said, however, whether we’re talking about breakfast, a noonday lunch repast, or even a fine dinner, a bottle of hot sauce is never too far from the table in many homes and practically every restaurant in the country. (A bottle of McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce has been a staple in my spice pantry for years.) Some like it hot, as it were, while others prefer just a dash or two, or perhaps only a few drops to liven up their soup or gumbo to give it that little kick. Heck, some hardcore types even carry a bottle in their pocket wherever they go.
Beyond that, each and every hot sauce has its own personality, flavor, taste and specific area(s) of strength. While Tabasco is great and strong in flavor, too much can spoil the dish with its powerful vinegary character, but Louisiana and Crystal, both downstream of Tabasco in terms of intensity, are great at adding a bit of spice to one’s dish without overdoing it.
At this point, let me say that I don’t participate in “hot sauce contests,” such as they have on TV and in some local wing restaurants. Oh sure, it’s not difficult to concoct a sauce that’s so hot, it crosses the line of flavor and taste, and no one actually enjoys the food…all they can think of is their burning throat and esophagus. (And maybe some other parts the next morning!) But they haven’t really enjoyed the food, all they remember is the burn. To me, that’s not what enjoying the food is all about. Yes, I do like it hot, but not so much as to destroy the flavor of whatever food I’m eating.
I believe a proper hot sauce, especially with chicken wings, should be just spicy and flavorful enough to brighten up the food, perhaps even pushing up to the border of making one’s forehead perspire, or forcing you to grab an extra cold beer to wash it down with. We want food that is well-seasoned, but not so spicy as to not be able to enjoy it. Which is why I just love the Louisiana-based hot sauces. They represent a throttled-back hotness but with plenty of flavor to liven up any dish. The bottom line is this – as an example – my wife Evelyn and I love spicy hot food. But not every one in our family does. So, when we have family or friends joining us for a meal, we always have to consider their comfort level as well, and if necessary, modify the hotness level of whatever dish we’re preparing accordingly. Taking all this into account, as the chef who prepares the recipe, there’s no right or wrong “hot sauce.” You just have to go with your gut, after considering a host of factors, which is what makes chefs good chefs.
So…let’s get started.
BUFFALO CHICKEN MEATBALLS
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 28 meatballs
Serving Size: 4 meatballs
1 pound lean ground chicken
1/2 cup lemon-pepper Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
1/2 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
1 green onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 ounce crumbled bleu cheese
1/4 cup Hot Sauce – (Recommended: Louisiana, Crystal, McIlhenny’s Tabasco or Frank’s Original Hot Sauce – I like these because of their minimal number of ingredients and lack of unhealthy additives or preservatives – see my notes below re: hot sauce)
For The Garnish:
1/4 cup Louisiana Hot Wing Sauce (or use some of the same sauce used in the above ingredients list)
1 TBSP butter
Let’s talk about those ingredients for a moment…
Okay, I admit it, I am an “ingredient minimalist,” i.e. I believe the best products have the least number of ingredients, and I am an avid label reader. Let’s face it, which would you rather have, a huge number of ingredients with names so complex it takes a degree in science just to pronounce some of the names…or something simple that only has 2 or 3 ingredients?
As such, I recommend four basic sauces, all of which have their origins in Louisiana, and they all have minimal ingredients. Those four are “Louisiana Hot Sauce;” “McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce.” “Crystal Hot Sauce;” and last but not least, “Frank’s Original Red Hot Sauce.”
NOTE: The Production of Hot Sauce Is Serious Business!
Frank’s Original Hot Sauce – In 1918, Jacob Frank became a business partner with Adam Estilette’s Pepper Farm in Louisiana. The two men mixed spices, vinegar, garlic and cayenne peppers, allowed them to age, and created the original blend of Frank’s Red Hot as it first appeared on the market in 1920. Crystal, Louisiana, and McIlhenny’s all share those same Louisiana origins. Bottom line, the folks in Louisiana know how to make a proper hot sauce.
Crystal Hot Sauce is a brand of Louisiana-style hot sauce produced by family-owned Baumer Foods since 1923. The sauce is reddish orange with a medium heat and a milder, brighter flavor than Tabasco sauce. Crystal Hot Sauce is currently produced at Baumer Foods new location in Reserve, Louisiana, which was built post-Katrina, and located just up the river from New Orleans. 3 million US gallons of Crystal Hot Sauce are shipped per year to 75 countries.
Louisiana Hot Sauce is a brand of hot sauce manufactured in New Iberia, Louisiana by The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce Co., which is owned by Southeastern Mills Inc. The product’s labeling includes the word “original”, and it is sometimes referred to as “Original Louisiana Hot Sauce” and “Original Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce.” It is a very commonly known hot sauce in Louisiana. Bruce Foods was the previous owner and manufacturer of the brand, and sold it to Southeastern Mills Inc. in April 2015. It is prepared using aged long cayenne peppers, which undergo the aging process for a minimum of one year. The product is among hot sauces manufactured in the “Louisiana style”, whereby cooked and ground chili peppers are combined with vinegar and salt, and then left to ferment during the aging process. Louisiana Hot Sauce is readily available at many grocery stores and restaurants in the United States. In 2001, over 200,000 bottles of hot sauce were manufactured daily in various sizes and the product was exported to over 100 countries
McIlhenny’s Tabasco sauce is a brand of hot sauce made exclusively from tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. It has been produced by the family-owned McIlhenny Company of Louisiana since 1868. Originally all peppers used in Tabasco sauce were grown on Avery Island. Today peppers grown on the Island are used to produce seed stock, which is then shipped to foreign growers, primarily in Central and South America, where more predictable weather and readily available farmland in these locales allow a constant year-round supply. This ensures the availability of peppers should severe weather or other problems occur at a particular growing location. Peppers are ground into a mash on the day of harvest and placed along with salt in white oak barrels. The barrels are then aged in warehouses on Avery Island. Tabasco brand pepper sauce is sold in more than 180 countries and territories and is packaged in 22 languages and dialects. One-eighth-ounce bottles of Tabasco, bearing the presidential seal, are served on Air Force One. The US military has included Tabasco sauce in Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) since the 1980s. The British and Canadian armies also issue small bottles of Tabasco sauce in their rations.
My recommendation for your chosen “hot sauce” for this recipe is one of these four. Stick to Frank’s Original, Crystal, Louisiana, or McIlhenny’s hot sauces for more healthy…and simpler…ingredients.
1. Preheat oven to 375°
2. Cover a large cookie sheet or baking pan with aluminum foil, then lightly spray with a non-stick coating.
3. Place the coarsely chopped celery, carrot, and green onion into a food processor, and use the pulse setting to chop into smaller bits.
4. Combine the vegetable mixture, chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup of the hot sauce, and the bleu cheese in a large mixing bowl.
6. Form the mixture into small meatballs – it helps if you use a melon scooper or a spoon or something similar in order to get a consistent size – or you could try this method – and gently place them onto the foil-lined cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 30 minutes.
8. Just before the meatballs are done, mix the 1/4 cup of the Louisiana Hot Wing Sauce (or your alternate) with the 1 TBSP butter and heat for about 20 seconds in the microwave or until butter is melted, then mix well until blended.
11. Add a toothpick to each meatball, or have toothpicks handy nearby.
Accompaniments: French Fries, carrot & celery sticks….also some Bleu Cheese dip. (Hint – *take some of your favorite bleu cheese dressing, add some bleu cheese crumbles – and you’ve got yourself some respectable bleu cheese dip! Or, use your favorite homemade Bleu Cheese recipe or store-bought brand.
Great as an appetizer, but can also be part of a standalone meal. Works great for Buffalo Meatball sub sandwiches too!