This recipe for Asian chicken meatballs adds the sweet and spicy flavors of Kung Pao into tender Chinese meatballs. Better than the carryout meal, it's low sugar, lower in fat, and delicious!
There are Asian foods that are more popular here in the Western world than they are in their country of origin.
Perhaps it’s the sweet and spicy flavors that attract us to dishes like sticky short ribs, Beijing beef, and Kung Pao. The problem is, the sweet flavors come at a cost; they usually have unhealthy amounts of sugar and fat.
This recipe is my attempt to make a carry-out favorite, Kung Pao, just a bit healthier, but without sacrificing any flavor. Plus, being a meatball lover, I decided to blend the two.
Spicy Asian Chicken Meatballs
Cuisine: Asian / Chinese
When you’re dining on the Silk Road route in Asia, there are plenty of healthy and flavorful dishes to choose from. Add some spicy chile paste to a bok choy stir fry or order curried Thai pork ribs. When you get back home, make these delicious Chinese meatballs!
Course: Main Dish
Names/Spellings: Kung pao, kung bo, gong bao, gongbao
Difficulty: Easy 🥄
By its very definition, kung pao dishes are fried, but that isn’t the case here; the spicy Chinese meatballs are baked in the oven
This recipe includes all of the components you’d expect in a restaurant version; tender chicken, crunchy peanuts, dried Chinese red peppers and a coating of sweet sauce.
The biggest differences are that this recipe features ground chicken meatballs rather than pieces of breast or thigh meat. Also, this dish is much lower in sugar. For extra flavor, there’s creamy peanut butter and chili paste in the meatball mixture.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Ground chicken- You could use any ground meat of your choice for the Asian chicken meatballs. Ground turkey, beef and pork are good substitutes. I chose chicken to represent the flavors of the authentic dish.
- Dried Chinese red peppers- There are several varieties of dried chiles used in Asian cuisine and technically, any of them will work fine in the Chinese meatballs..Most kung pao chicken recipes call for Tien Tsin chile peppers, which are a tiny bit milder than Thai chilies.
Dried Tsin chiles are very small, with a bright red color and shiny or glossy appearance. Don’t associate the small size with the punch they pack; they’re pretty spicy!
If you have a well stocked Asian grocery store close by, you should have no trouble finding them. I use dried Japones peppers, a Mexican chile that’s used often in Japanese cuisine.
- Chili paste- Again, there are plenty of chile pastes to choose from. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand. I like to use organic sambal oelek chili paste for the Asian chicken meatballs because the flavor doesn’t overpower the other ingredients.
- Rice wine- Not to be confused with rice wine vinegar, which is also an ingredient in kung pao chicken meatballs. If you can’t find Chinese rice wine, substitute it for cooking sherry or sake. If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, you can leave it out without it affecting the flavor of the dish.
- Rice wine vinegar- Good substitutes for rice wine vinegar are apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar.
You could eat them if you wanted to, but spicy dried chiles don’t taste good. Actually, they are meant to add flavor to the other ingredients during cooking. The reason they’re left in the final dish is for appearance more than anything else.
Yes, spicy Asian chicken meatballs freeze beautifully, either baked or unbaked. Just be sure to let them cool completely before you place them into a freezer storage bag or other freezer-safe container. This helps prevent ice crystals from forming on them.
Spicy Asian Chicken Meatballs
- 1 lb ground chicken See Note 1
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp chili paste See Note 2
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Chinese Shaoxing rice wine See Note 3
- ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar See Note 4
- 3 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp oil
- ½ cup peanuts shelled
- 10 dried red chiles
- 4 green onions cut into 1" pieces
- 1 garlic clove minced
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- In a bowl, mix together the ground meat, peanut butter, chili paste, soy sauce, rice wine and breadcrumbs. Form into 20 meatballs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet with sides.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
Kung Pao Sauce
- In a small bowl whisk together the water, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.
- In a hot skillet or wok add the oil and stir fry the peanuts and dried chiles for a minute. Add the green onions and garlic and toss to mix, cooking for a minute. Add the sauce mixture and quickly toss, cooking for 2 minutes until thickened. If too thick, thin with a little chicken stock (optional).
- Add the meatballs and toss to coat, heating through. Serve immediately.
- Feel free to substitute ground turkey.
- I use a ground chili paste Sambal Oelek.
- If you can’t find Chinese rice wine, dry sherry or sake may be substituted.
- Red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar may be substituted for the rice wine vinegar.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.