THANKSGIVING DAY TURKEY MEATBALLS
(very loosely inspired by Chef Joshua McFadden, owner chef Ava Gene’s, Portland, OR)
For the meatballs:
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into small dice, about 2/3 cup
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice, about 2/3 cup
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut into small dice, about 2 cups
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage, plus 6 or 7 fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 lbs. ground turkey (a mixture of dark and white meat)
1 ½ cups raw cauliflower rice
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
20 grindings coarse black pepper
2 large eggs
olive oil and canola or safflower oil for frying
6-8 cups chicken or turkey stock
For the gravy:
4 cups braising liquid from the meatballs
1 stick, 8 Tablespoons, unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour, or for Gluten-free 6 Tablespoons arrowroot powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the meatballs:
Place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
In a large fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, carrot and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower rice and cook for another 5 minutes until all the vegetables are softened. Stir in the rosemary, sage and thyme to coat, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
In a large bowl, with a fork, beat together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Add the cooled vegetables, and the turkey meat. With a spoon, stir to mix all of the ingredients until well combined.
Using a small 2” scoop or gently with your hands, form the mixture into 2-inch balls. You should have about 40. If you want perfectly round ones, chill the meatballs in the fridge for 30 minutes before frying. I usually can’t wait.
Pour about ¼ inch oil into a large heavy pot. Add the sage leaves and heat over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot and the sage is sizzling. Using tongs, carefully remove the sage leaves from the pot and discard. In batches, without crowding the pot, fry the meatballs until browned on one side about 2 -3 minutes, flip and brown the other side for another 2. As they finish cooking, place them in a large Dutch oven or heavy covered pot.
In a large saucepan, heat the chicken stock until it begins to boiling. Pour enough stock into the pot to just cover them. Cover the pot and braise the meatballs in the oven until cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. To test for doneness, pull one of the meatballs apart and look at the center. You want it to be just cooked through.
Once the meatballs are done, using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a clean platter and set them aside. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the solids and set the liquid aside.
At this point, if not serving immediately, store the meatballs and the braising liquid separately, and make the gravy the day that you’ll be serving them.
Make the gravy:
In the large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until a medium brown color, about 6 minutes. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the braising liquid. Continue to stir until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning---you may not need anymore salt. You will probably want some freshly ground pepper.
Arrowroot based (Gluten-Free):
In a small bowl add 1 cup of braising liquid. If it’s warm, cool it first. Stir in the arrowroot, combining well to make a slurry. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, and then add the rest of the braising liquid and heat to boiling. Turn down the heat to medium and whisk in the slurry, continually stirring until thickened. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning. You may not need any salt, but you will probably want a few grinds of freshly ground pepper. Use as soon as possible.
Arrowroot cannot be heated for long times over high heat. It will lose its’ thickening properties and become thin again. Nor can it be held for a long time and remain thick. So try to make the gravy at the last minute and serve immediately.
Add the meatballs to the gravy and serve with all of the rest of your Thanksgiving trimmings.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1. Cauliflower rice can now be found in a lot of supermarkets. But it’s also easy to make. You can use the large holes of a box grater, admittedly a little messy, or my fave and much neater-- throw chunks in a food processor and process until broken into tiny rice-size pieces.
2. Make sure to use a mix of light and dark turkey meat. Just using the light meat will make the meatballs too dry.
3. If not using right away, store in the meatballs in the fridge or freeze separately from the braising liquid. And make the gravy the day of.
4. If using arrowroot for the gravy, make the gravy as close to when the meatballs will be served as possible, so it doesn’t thin out.