It’s pretty well established here that I’m a compulsive recipe-tinkerer. I’m also a big fan of returning to recipes I’ve already played with, and tweaking them to make something new. Usually, when I do that, I tend to keep the bones of the recipe the same. But every so often, I’ll come back to a recipe I riffed on months or even years before, and decide to make something entirely different from it.
For example. About four years ago now, my friend Mel tipped me off to an online cooking show her friends were doing, called Economy Bites. The show is sadly now defunct, but I loved it for its goofy spirit, its no-bullshit realness and its creativity. One of the recipes on the show was a chicken and chorizo meatloaf, which inspired me to start mixing ground meat and sausage, which eventually morphed into my turkey andouille chili recipe–still one of my signature and most-requested dishes. But even with the triumph of the chili, I still thought about that meatloaf, and wondered what other directions I might take it in.
My friends were throwing a finger-food potluck, so I decided to make a batch of Southwestern-ish cocktail meatballs. This time, I stayed a bit more literal to the inspiration: chicken and chorizo. The original recipe called for the hard-cured Spanish chorizo, but I swapped in the squishy Mexican stuff. It blended in with the ground chicken, giving the meatballs a smooth and succulent texture. It also made the meat mix fairly delicate and loose, compared to the meatballs I usually make. They were a bit challenging to shape, but the payoff was juicy, tender, almost airy meatballs. The chorizo rounded out the chicken’s blandness with richness, sourness, and a tiny touch of heat; I could easily see these as game-day party fare, alongside a plate of nachos or chips and salsa.
Speaking of chips: there’s another twist in here, which I’m pretty proud of. Because we had a gluten-free partygoer (and I’d forgotten to buy breadcrumbs), I decided to crush up tortilla chips to use as a binder. The crumbs worked beautifully to soak up fat and juices, while adding a hint of cornmeal sweetness to the mix. I crushed my chips in a bag with a rolling pin, but I think pulsing them in a food processor would have worked even better. The finer the crumbs, the smoother the meatball texture–and with these, smoothness is absolutely a virtue.
Chicken Chorizo Meatballs (makes about 3 dozen cocktail meatballs)
Inspired by Economy Bites
1 tbsp olive oil, butter, or bacon fat
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
1 lb ground chicken
10 oz Mexican (soft) chorizo, removed from casing
1 cup finely crushed tortilla chips (preferably unsalted, but salted will work too)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted chips, increase to 1 tsp)
In a large skillet, heat oil or butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to turn golden. Add scallions and garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg thoroughly. Add the cooled onion mixture, ground chicken, chorizo, tortilla chips, smoked paprika, and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the mixture firm up a bit.
Preheat the oven to 325º F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly grease the foil. Use slightly damp hands to shape the mixture into 1-inch meatballs. (You will likely need to wash off your hands and re-dampen them several times during the process.) Lay the meatballs out on the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain (they’ll start sticking to the foil as they cool, so work quickly). After a few seconds on the paper, transfer the meatballs to a serving platter. Serve warm, with toothpicks or cocktail forks for easy eating.