January 26, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Meatball Sliders

Football isn't a big thing in Italy. Well, Italian football (soccer) definitely is, but I have to rely on my friends back home for updates on the American sport. I'm involved enough to know that the Superbowl is coming up soon. Honestly, I'm only in it for the food. I love the idea of plates and plates of decadent snack foods like jalapeno popperspretzels with cheese dip, and tons of salsa and guacamole. One of the most popular choices are wings, but I find them overly messy and not nearly rewarding enough in terms of amount of meat consumed vs effort involved.

That's why I took all the beloved flavors of buffalo wings and creamy ranch and put them in a portable, poppable bite (it also lets me sneak in more carbs, which is always a plus). Ladies and gentlemen, meet the elegant and classy buffalo chicken meatball slider: a plump and juicy chicken meatball smothered in spicy buffalo sauce, velvety ranch dressing, and crumbles of bleu cheese piled onto buttery little buns.

This certainly isn't your nonna's meatball recipe. I think the little Italian grandmas here would keel over if I tried to convince them to make these instead of their classic meatballs with Sunday gravy. However, the chicken is healthier and provides a much more neutral flavor to go with the sauce. Also, the whole wing-to-slider transition is much easier if you stick to chicken. The low fat content is great for your waistline but not so much for juicy meatballs, so I do have to add some stuff to make them taste good. I throw in some diced onions, minced garlic, an egg to bind them, some parmesan (you can't have good meatballs without that salty bite), panko breadcrumbs, and spices.

As a resident of Wisconsin and now Italy, the two places that love cheese more than anywhere else in the world, I'm constantly looking for ways to put more cheese in everything. Here, I stuff the meatballs with cubes of cheese, either relatively neutral ones like provolone or Monterrey Jack or the classic choice for wings, bleu cheese. When I made these last time I used Monterrey Jack inside the meatballs because it's not as polarizing as bleu cheese; pretty much everyone likes Jack cheese whereas bleu cheese can be hit or miss. You can always toss some bleu cheese on top of the sliders for those who want it.

I roast the meatballs in the oven until completely cooked through; you should never ever ever eat raw chicken. As I learned in my food microbiology class, an alarmingly high percentage of American chicken is contaminated with nasty bugs like Salmonella. Don't worry; I still eat poultry, as does my professor. You just have to be careful about cooking it completely and washing everything properly.

Once the meatballs are cooked, I throw them into some buffalo sauce, which is basically just your favorite hot sauce (Frank's is my go-to) whisked together with some melted butter. I let that simmer away for a few minutes (for a Superbowl party or any other gathering I'd stick the meatballs in the sauce when your guests start to arrive). Once the meatballs soak up all that spicy hot flavor, I scoop them onto buns, douse them in ranch dressing (a Midwestern staple), and let people go crazy.

I decided to make my ranch dressing from scratch since it's incredibly easy and only two ingredients plus spices. You may not know this, but ranch is only buttermilk and mayonnaise. Healthy, right? But it's necessary to cool down the heat of the meatballs. You can use store-bought dressing-especially if you're going for low-fat dressing--or use any other sauce or toppings you like with wings. You can even make a quick crunchy slaw with thinly-sliced carrots and celery. As I said earlier, bleu cheese crumbles are a welcome addition at this step also. Given the relative simplicity and healthiness of this dish (ok, maybe it's not super healthy but it's better than regular wings, especially if you make mini bunless meatballs), I'd make at least a double batch because they'll go flying off your snack table.

1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Egg
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 Cup Panko
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
4 oz Cubed Monterrey Jack or Provolone Cheese
1 Cup Hot Sauce
3 T Butter, Melted
16 Slider Buns
Ranch Dressing, Optional (see below)
Bleu Cheese, Optional

Heat oven to 400F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Combine the egg, parmesan, panko, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and the onion mixture and mix just until combined.

Roll the chicken mixture into 16 balls. Stuff each with a cheese cube and bake until cooked through, about 14-16 minutes.

Whisk the butter and wing sauce together in a large skillet. Add the meatballs, toss to coat, and heat until hot and bubbly, about 4 minutes.

Serve the meatballs on the slider buns with ranch dressing and/or bleu cheese if desired.

For the ranch dressing, whisk 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1 clove minced garlic, a pinch of cayenne, and a pinch of thyme together. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 16
Recipes Adapted from The American Butter Institute and The Stylist Quo

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