Why It Works
- An aromatic paste made from lemongrass, garlic, jalapeños, and ginger flavors both the sauce and the meatballs.
- Gently cooking the sauce in a slow cooker for several hours deepens and softens its flavors.
- Browning the meatballs under the broiler gives them a more complex flavor, while cooking them just until done in the slow cooker guarantees juiciness.
The key to these slow-cooker Thai-style chicken meatballs is to understand that the sauce gets better as it slowly cooks, but the meatballs don't. To fix that, we first cook the sticky sauce, packed with aromatics like lemongrass, ginger, and chilies, then add the flavorful meatballs right at the end just to cook them through. Crushed peanuts, scallion, and fresh lime juice finish it off for added texture, fresh flavor, and bright balance.
- 4 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
- 3 medium shallots, roughly chopped
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 3 medium jalapeños, seeded and minced
- 1 (3-inch) knob fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) pieces
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) Asian fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (240ml) Thai chili sauce (see note)
- 2/3 cup light brown sugar (160ml; 130g)
- 2/3 cup (160ml) soy sauce
- 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar
- 1 cup (240ml) water
- 2 pounds (1kg) ground chicken
- 1 cup (240ml) panko bread crumbs, plus more if necessary
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup (120ml) thinly sliced scallion, white and light green parts only, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup (60ml) chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1/2 cup (120ml) chopped unsalted peanuts
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh juice from 1 lime
In the bowl of a food processor, combine lemongrass, shallot, garlic, jalapeño, ginger, and fish sauce. Process until the mixture forms a paste.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the aromatic paste, reserving the rest for the meatballs. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in Thai chili sauce, brown sugar, soy sauce, and rice vinegar and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker, cover, and set to low for at least 5 and up to 8 hours.
Preheat broiler and set oven rack in upper position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine reserved aromatic paste with ground chicken, panko, egg, and half of the sliced scallion. Season with salt and pepper. Using wet hands to prevent sticking, roll the ground chicken into golf ball–sized balls. If the mixture is too wet to form meatballs, add 1 tablespoon (15ml) of additional panko at a time until it is easier to shape.
Broil meatballs until browned on top, about 7 minutes. (Browning times can vary dramatically depending on oven broiler strength.) Transfer meatballs to a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use; pour any juices from baking sheet into sauce in slow cooker.
Add meatballs to slow cooker for last 30 minutes of cooking, stirring to coat.
In a small bowl, combine remaining scallion, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and lime juice.
Once the cooking time is up, switch the slow cooker to the “warm” setting. Right before serving, sprinkle approximately 3/4 of the peanut mixture over the meatballs and stir. Top with the remaining peanut mixture and serve.
Food processor, slow cooker, rimmed baking sheet
Do not substitute other chili sauces, like Sriracha, as they have different flavors and heat levels from the Thai kind and will drastically alter the flavor of the dish.