A yen for chicken balls

[Recipe 1] TSUKUNE (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs) transforms into

Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs)
are ace. Their flavour casts me back to Tokyo a few years ago, where the husband and I had a regular nightly pilgrimage to local izakayas for skewered yakitori chicken and other tasty morsels. *sigh*
I’ve played around with the ingredients and measurements in this recipe a lot, but the original recipe was given to me by my lovely lady friend Janet, who always has a bowl of tsukune at her gatherings. They’re perfect party nibbles as you can make them well in advance, bung them in the freezer, and defrost them the night before they’re required. They don’t need fancy plating – pop them in a bowl with a pot of toothpicks and watch them disappear. I have some waiting in the freezer as we speak, for my son’s upcoming 5th birthday party.
Be sure to reserve a portion of tsukune and sticky glaze (see the orange diamonds in the recipe for quantities) and you can conjure up a super tasty, very quick dinner later, Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, my 8-year old rates this recipe a 10, along with bolognaise, lamb nut rice and ‘curry’ (butter chicken if he was forced to nominate a particular one).

Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken balls)

[Recipe 1] Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs)

Ingredients (makes 60 balls; ie. 3 portions of 20 balls + 3 portions of teriyaki glaze):
1 tablespoon peanut (or vegetable) oil
1 leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, cut into long strips and sliced finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ kilos (3 lb) minced (ground) chicken
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2½ cm (1”) piece ginger, finely chopped (about 1½ tablespoons)
1 large carrot, finely grated (on zester holes)
1 large egg, beaten
6 spring onions (scallions), white parts only, thinly sliced (reserve dark green parts for serving)
½ cup (75g) sesame seeds, toasted
3 heaped tablespoons white miso paste
3 tablespoons corn flour (cornstarch)
Peanut (or vegetable) oil, extra, for frying
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, extra, for serving
Sticky teriyaki glaze:
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup mirin
¾ cup firmly packed (150g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt (preferably fine sea salt)

Make the mixture:
Heat oil in a small saucepan and fry the leek and garlic over a medium heat for 3 minutes. The leek shouldn’t be completely soft, just aromatic. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Add the chicken, sesame oil, ginger, carrot, egg, spring onions, toasted sesame seeds, miso paste and corn flour. Mix well.
Roll the tsukune mixture into walnut-sized balls. Use lightly-floured hands as the mixture is quite soft and sticky (they firm up beautifully on frying though)! Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight if time permits.
Fry the balls:
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the tsukune in batches until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer them to a large bowl as you go. If your stove-top is wide enough, you can have two frypans going at once to expedite proceedings.
Reserve ⅓ of the cooked tsukune (about 20 balls or 500g/1 lb) for the Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs.
Make the glaze:
Meanwhile, make the sticky teriyaki glaze by combining the ingredients in a small bowl.
Reserve ⅓ of the sticky teriyaki glaze (⅔ cup) and set aside for the Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs.
Simmer the balls:
Return the remaining tsukune to the frypan(s) and add the remaining sticky glaze. Bring to the boil, turn down heat, and simmer, continuously stirring, until lovely and sticky and glistening, about 10 minutes. You may need to do do this in two batches, using half the glaze for each batch, if you’re working with one frypan only. The tsukune should be quite saucy – don’t reduce the sauce too much or they’ll dry out.
Arrange tsukune on a platter or in a serving bowl, scattered with extra toasted sesame seeds and chopped green ends of spring onions. Serve with toothpicks.

  • This recipe makes a huge serve of tsukune, about 60 balls in total, essentially three serves of 20 balls and three serves of sticky teriyaki glaze. You’ll be reserving one serve (20 balls and ⅔ cup sticky glaze) for Recipe 2. The remaining two serves (40 balls and 1⅓ cups sticky glaze) will feed about 10–15 people as finger food. You can easily make a smaller overall quantity by using ⅓ or ⅔ of the listed ingredients (most ingredients are in multiples of 3). Even with a smaller batch, one egg is fine, just use a small egg!
  • If time permits, the chicken mixture can be prepared the night before and refrigerated.
  • Tsukune are fab served as part of a DIY bento box, or as a light Summer dinner. Add cooked sushi rice on the side, a small bowl of pickled ginger and steamed asparagus or Asian mixed-leaf salad
  • Cooked, glazed (or unglazed) tsukune can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge. They can be lightly warmed in a microwave before serving, or served at room temperature.
  • Reserved sticky teriyaki glaze can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.
  • Miso paste is available refrigerated from Asian grocers. Use the leftover paste to make Roasted pumpkin and mixed seed salad!
  • You can toast your own sesame seeds, or cheat and buy them pre-toasted from Asian and Middle Eastern food stores.

Tsukune noodle stir-fry

[Recipe 2] Teriyaki noodles with bok choy and chicken meatballs

Ingredients (serves 4):
600g (1⅓ lb) fresh hokkien noodles

1 tablespoon peanut (or vegetable) oil
1 medium carrot, chopped into small match-sticks
1 small red capsicum (bell pepper), thinly sliced
♦ 1 serve (⅔ cup) reserved sticky teriyaki glaze
♦ 1 serve (500g/1 lb) reserved cooked tsukune (about 20 balls)
1 bunch bok choy, washed and very well dried, leaves trimmed and thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve
1 small red birdseye chilli, de-seeded, finely sliced, to serve (optional for kids)
Spring onions (scallions), finely sliced, to serve

Place noodles in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water. Stand for 2 minutes. Separate noodles with a fork. Drain in a large colander and set aside.
Heat oil in a wok over high heat until just smoking. Add carrot and capsicum, and stir-fry for 1–2 minutes. Remove from wok.
Add reserved sticky teriyaki glaze and reserved cooked tsukune. Simmer on a high heat for 6 minutes until sauce is reduced and thickened, and tsukune are warmed through and glistening.
Stir through prepared noodles and bok choy and toss over medium heat for 1–2 minutes until noodles are heated through and bok choy has wilted. Return carrot and capsicum to the wok. Divide amongst four bowls, scatter with sesame seeds, chilli and spring onions and serve immediately.

  • You can vary this recipe easily by replacing the bok choy with chopped baby spinach; or by adding bean shoots or steamed broccoli florets.

39 thoughts on “A yen for chicken balls

    • Awesome! I haven’t tried the mini muffin pan idea mentioned in the comment prior. Last time I made them I used the traditional method, as with 2 frying pans on the go it doesn’t take very long (the previous commenter had made a triple batch which would’ve taken yonks to fry up on the stove top)! If you do give the muffin tray idea a try though, do let me know how you went.
      PS. Simmering in the sauce is a must IMHO.

  1. These are so delicious Sas you are a genius! For a party I tripled the recipe, placed the mixture in the fridge overnight so it was less sticky before rolling into balls, and then baked the chicken balls in a medium hot oven for approximately 20 – 30 minutes (depending on size of the balls) using greased muffin tins. Used both the standard size muffin tin and the mini muffin size tins and both sizes produced great results. My first batch of chicken balls were cooked by placing the chicken balls onto greased baking trays covered with greased baking paper, but that ended up with fairly crunchy looking chicken balls and peeling off baking paper from their base. When I started using the muffin tins the chicken balls emerged much more evenly cooked, and were golden and moist. Hadn’t realised I was supposed to simmer the chicken balls in the sauce – we mixed the sauce and then warmed it on the stove-top so the sugar dissolved and then used it as a dipping sauce when handing around the chicken balls. They were all eaten! Can’t wait to cook some more of these recipes and agree with Marijke they would make a terrific book! Maybe an ebook? Did you know you can now buy miso paste labelled as gluten free? I had no idea – so the added bonus was that by using gluten free soy sauce and wheat free corn flour, these chicken balls were also gluten free for my coeliac family and friends! Thanks Sas

    • Wow, thanks for the awesomely detailed comment Mette. You’ve made my day, in fact my week!
      I LOVE that you tripled the recipe and used mini-muffin pans to bake them, instead of frying. That’s a genius idea and one I’m going to try myself! Also like the idea of using the glaze as a dipping sauce, although simmering does give them the traditional sheen and caramelised flavour.
      I buy Hikari organic miso paste from the local Japanese store, which is made with rice although not officially labelled as gluten-free. Some pastes do contain barley, so I know it’s good to be wary. Great to know these balls can be made GF!
      Thanks so much for the book compliment!! Have toyed with the idea of producing an e-book… one day… Thanks Mette!!!

  2. just made these tonight for lunch tomorrow. 10/10 love the flavour. these turned out to be a huge hit and have made up lunch boxes for tomorrow. However do not recommend making them from scratch on a work night as well as a regular dinner. thank you for all your amazing recipes as usual

    • Thank you SO much for the lovely feedback! That’s music to my ears. 🙂
      They’re quite a bit of work, I agree; mainly ’cause the recipe makes such a big load. Worth the effort though. Well done, making your regular dinner simultaneously!!

  3. Hello, I just discovered this recipe. I like making meals in bulk for my lunches at work. I had one spot of confusion until I sat down and thought about it. Corn Flour in the USA is most commonly like Masa Flour (for corn tortillas). Then I remembered in the UK corn flour is corn starch and that’s usually used in Asian cooking. So I went with the later and it’s brilliant. Thanks for the recipe this is going into my rotation of lunches.

    • Thanks for picking that up – I’m usually diligent in supplying conversions. Somehow that one slipped through! Amending now… Really glad you liked the recipe! Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  4. I was searching for some teriyaki noodles that didn’t involve bottled sauce when I came across your recipe. I made the meatballs and thought they were exceptionally good; then I made the sauce and noodles and found it a little sweet for my tastes but still yummy. But then I had the brainwave last night of squeezing some Sriracha over the noodles – and they officially went up to OMG status with the little bit of heat! Yum, yum, yum! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!

    • Thanks so much for the great feedback Beck! LOVE the idea of a squirt of sriracha – always looking for new excuses to splash that stuff around! It’s the sweetness of the teriyaki sauce that encourages my boys to gobble it up, but I always add a small chopped red chilli to the adult serves to counter that. Sriracha sounds like an even better idea!

  5. An oldie post I just stumbled upon! I love Japanese food, brings back lovely memories of my trip to Japan, too (which was many, many years ago!). I really must get back there. These recipes both look delicious, Saskia!

    • Ahhhh. *sigh* Our trip to Japan was many many years ago too. Still one of our favourite holidays ever. Tokyo had me grinning from ear to ear as I walked the streets.
      We do love these chook balls. I try to make them every couple of months. Thanks Ali.

  6. I made these chicken balls recently for my 4 year old son’s superhero party. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe. I tried to keep some of the chicken balls for dinner the following night using recipe 2, however, none of the guests would let me and they were all snapped up. Everyone wanted the recipe too. So glad I could direct them to your wonderful web site. Thanks again for a delicious (and healthy) recipe.

    • Ace school holiday project Michelle. Good luck Max – I’m sure you’ll love them! I popped them on the table at my son’s party yesterday and the kids wolfed them down.

  7. yes! a cookbook of your yummies would be wonderful, i agree! thanks for reminding me about the skunks, saskia. i just did a post for you with a picture that i had forgotten about from the camping trip. xxx p.s. these look amazing.
    i miss japan too….. sigh w/ you…..someday

    • Thanks for the special post Kim! You’ve had me playing Pepé Le Pew cartoons on Youtube for the kids this afternoon. I really miss Japan too. We were there for a short visit (Tokyo & Nikko only), but it cast a spell on me. Haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Another *sigh*…

  8. My boys love meatballs, but I’m a bit bored with making the good old minced beef ball… will have to try these for sure. Thanks for the great ideas. Love the Japanese influence.

  9. I’ve been looking forward to a new chicken recipe and this looks absolutely delicious. I agree with Marijke and would love your recipes in print.

  10. Just had a craving for chicken and along comes your juicy recipe!
    I must print out all your recipes. You should do a book!

I love a chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s