An insanely delicious, weeknight-friendly recipe for broiled Chicken Meatballs in Thai Red Curry Sauce that has all the flavours you look for in a great curry – fresh galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, cilantro roots and spices. But don’t worry, all you have to do is open a can to get them!
What seems like a lifetime ago, I taught a very delicious vegan Thai class. I am not an expert in Thai cuisine but I am very familiar with Thai curry pastes made from scratch. At the cooking studio where I worked, Thai classes are one of the most popular, and curry pastes are always made from scratch. Contrary to what you may think, making a proper Thai curry paste is not challenging, or time-consuming, to make at home and it will be much more nuanced and flavourful than any commercial paste you might buy. It will, however, require a long ingredient list — fresh galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, cilantro roots, to name a few — most of which are not always readily available.
When I am going to attempt to cook, or (most importantly) teach, a dish from a different culture than mine, I explore every bit of information there is about it. One of my favourite sources for Thai cuisine is Leela Punyaratabandhu. Born-and-bred in Bangkok, not only does she have a deep knowledge and respect for the culture of Thai food, but her recipes are very approachable for the home cook.
I have been an avid follower of her blog (a true gem) for years and own a few of her exquisite cookbooks. I was surprised to learn that to make Thai curries, she strongly encourages the use of a good store-bought curry paste stating that “unless you have all of the fresh herbs and spices required to make authentic and traditional Thai curry pastes, you’re better off using commercial curry pastes than trying to make do with ill-advised substitutes.” In fact, she insists; “Bottom line: If you don’t have each and every fresh ingredient required to make traditional Thai curry paste, don’t go for inferior substitutes; use commercial curry paste.” This is definitely great news for the home cook that wants to make a really good week-night Thai curry dish, with very minimal effort or fuss.
Best store-bought Thai curry past
Of course, not all store-bought curry pastes are created equal. Understanding what an authentic Thai curry should taste like, is crucial to being able to pick a good commercial substitute. I have tried almost every brand available in my area and they all vary in heat and flavour. My absolute favourite is Maesri. Pretty much every ingredient needed to make an authentic Thai curry dish is cleverly packed into this flavour-bomb little can. Unfortunately, you will have to swing by a well-stocked Asian store to find them, but once you do, stock up. When the craving hits, you will be able to quickly whip up a wonderful Thai curry dinner.
If you can’t find the Maesri brand, a second best is Mae ploy, or Aroy D. Most large Asian supermarkets will stock theses brands. I highly suggest you stay away from the Thai Kitchen brand if at all possible. To me, the ingredients, and flavours, are nowhere near authentic
Thai Red Curry Paste
Red curry paste (prik gaeng ped) gets its red colour from dried red chillies that have been rehydrated in water. Dried red chillies are very fragrant and typically not as spicy as fresh Thai red chillies. The other ingredients are garlic, shallot, salt, lemongrass, sugar, kaffir lime, galangal, and spices (coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom). Though quite spicy, a red curry paste is a little milder in heat than green curries, which are made with Thai green chillies.
If you don’t like a lot of heat in your curry, start with less paste then add more as needed. Keep in mind that the heat intensifies as the dish sits, and when reheated.
How to make easy oven-baked chicken meatballs
You can certainly make this dish with regular chicken pieces but in this house we are huge fans of meatballs. The tender meatballs soak up all the velvety curry sauce and there is just nothing better. I keep simplifying my basic recipe for chicken (or turkey) meatballs and it almost makes no sense that they are still so good — like really good.
Incredibly, they also cook perfectly under the broiler in less than 10 minutes. For this recipe, they will cook for even less time as we want the meatballs only slightly browned (they will continue cooking in the sauce). Double or triple the recipe because they freeze beautifully and are fantastic fro pull out ready on busy weeknights.
- Ground chicken – I like using ground chicken or turkey to make meatballs for this Thai curry. When the meatballs soak up the flavourful curry sauce, they become the star of the show
- Panko breadcrumbs – I have tested eliminating breadcrumbs completely from the meatball mixture but the shape just doesn’t seem to hold up as well. Breadcrumbs also really help tenderize the meat. You can use any breadcrumbs (freshly made are always best) but panko breadcrumbs make life so much easier. However, there is a catch. The dry, coarse texture of panko breadcrumbs is great for coating but it can make the texture of the meatballs, well, a little too dry and coarse. Solution? Soak the panko breadcrumbs in a little milk (or any liquid) until softened. I learned this genius trick from Bon Appetit.
- Garlic and onion powder: Though more often than not, the powdered version would never replace the fresh, I have become very enamoured with these two ingredients. They add fantastic flavour to ground meat without the fuss of chopping or grating
- Green onions – You could leave it out, but you will be chopping some up for garnish anyway and a few tablespoons add a little freshness and great flavour to these meatballs.
- Eggs – Pretty essential to bind the meatball mixture.
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper – Ground chicken can be pretty so make sure to be generous with your seasoning
MAKE THE MEATBALLS:
- Prepare the meatball mixture. Place panko breadcrumbs in a large bowl and add 1/4 cup milk, the eggs, and spices and mix well with a fork. Add the ground chicken and using a fork, or your hands, combine until chicken is totally intermingled with panko mixture. Don’t overwork the mixture.
- Grease a baking sheet. Use your hands to spread a little oil on the bottom of a baking sheet. Do not use parchment paper for broiling or it will burn.
- Form the meatballs. To achieve uniform meatballs, I like to start by using a medium-sized cookie scoop. Place the scooped out meatball mixture on the baking sheet. Grease your hands with a little oil then roll each meatball between your palms to smooth them out.
- Broil the meatballs. Place an oven rack about 7-10 inches from the broiler unit. Place the baking sheet in the oven and broil the meatballs for 5-6 minutes. Check, and if the top of meatballs are golden-brown remove them from the oven. If they are still a bit pale, leave them in 1-2 minutes longer. Watch them closely because the meatballs can overcook quickly. They will continue to cook in the sauce or when reheated from frozen (if making extra).
How to make easy Thai Red Curry Sauce
Making a really great Thai red curry sauce couldn’t be simpler. As in, if it takes you longer than 15 minutes, you did something wrong.
- Thai red curry paste – Store-bought or home made (see above for my favourites). I use about 3-4 tablespoons to make my curry sauce. If you are worried about heat, start with 2 tablespoons. Once the meatballs have cooked for a bit in the sauce, taste it. If you’d like more heat, mix some paste in a little bowl with some water before adding it to the sauce.
- Coconut milk – You want full-fat for this recipe. Light coconut milk will make the sauce flavourless and watery. TIP: DO NOT shake the can before opening it. You want to start your sauce by using the thick cream from the top of the can.
- Chicken broth – You don’t need a lot, but it will help thin out the sauce. Or you can use water but chicken broth will add more flavour.
- Fish sauce – A small of good-quality fish sauce will not make your curry taste fishy. Promise. And you could say it is almost essential in this dish to add a little funkiness, umami and saltiness to the dish. If you simply can’t do fish sauce, leave it out but don’t use soy sauce which will change the flavour and colour of the sauce.
- Sugar – Just a bit of sugar is needed to balance the flavours in the sauce. I like to use coconut sugar but feel free to use cane or brown sugar.
- Kaffir lime leaves – Though not essential, torn kaffir lime leaves will add brightness and boost the flavours of your sauce. TIP: I keep a bag of kaffir lime leaves in my freezer — they last forever and you can toss them into your curry sauce whenever needed.
- Fresh lime juice – To finish, a few squirts help freshen and brighten the sauce.
- Fresh basil and cilantro – Fresh basil and cilantro make the tastiest garnish for this dish. If you can find Thai basil, grab it. If not, any fresh basil will be delicious.
MAKE THE SAUCE:
- Gather your ingredients. If you look closely at the coconut milk cans, they have a thick cream accumulated on top. This is because I did not shake the cans before opening them. You want this cream, which has more fat, to cook the paste in. If you are only using 1 pound of meat, you will only need 1 can of coconut milk.
- Spoon the thick cream from the top of the can (about 1/2 cup – more if using two cans) into a medium-size saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste and fry until the sauce is bubbly and fragrant. The oil might separate from the cream and this is a good thing (but don’t worry if it doesn’t).
- Add the rest of the coconut milk along with the chicken broth and stir a few times until sauce is smooth. Reduce heat and add sugar, fish sauce and kaffir lime leaves (if using).
- Simmer for 5 more minutes before adding any vegetables or meat protein.
Finish the chicken meatballs in Thai red curry sauce
Your meatballs are cooked. Your curry sauce is ready. Now all you have to do is add the meatballs to the sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and nicely coated in the curry sauce. I like to garnish each bowl with chopped scallions, basil and a few squirts of lime juice.
For a complete meal, serve over Jasmine rice, or rice noodles. More often than not, I sauté baby bok choy to serve alongside – my absolute favourite!
You can also serve the delicious chicken meatballs in Thai red curry sauce with toothpicks as appetizers – yum!
Pro Tip! Double the meatball recipe, cool slightly, then freeze in a tight-lid storage container. Because the meatballs aren’t very large, you can add them to the warm curry sauce semi-frozen (best to thaw for a bit on the counter) and they will take only a few minutes to thaw.
Other Thai-style recipes you might enjoy
- Quick Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Vegetable
- Chicken and Noodle Lettuce Wraps with Nuoc Cham
- Thai-Style Chicken Burger with Thai Salad
Chicken Meatballs in Thai Red Curry Sauce
For the Meatballs
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 4 scallions, minced divided
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 2 pounds ground chicken (or ground turkey)
For the Curry
- 2 15oz cans full-fat coconut milk (do not shake the cans befpre opening*)
- 3 tablespoons red curry paste (I use this one) or more to taste (see notes**)
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon coconut, cane, or brown sugar
- 3 torn kaffir lime leaves optional
- 1/4 cup torn basil leaves (preferably Thai) for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish
- 1 lime, sliced in wedges for squeezing
- Steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles for serving
- Place an oven rack about 7-10 inches from the broiler unit and preheat the broiler. Drizzle a little oil on a baking sheet and use your hands to evenly coat the bottom. Do not use parchment paper for broiling or it will burn.
- Place panko breadcrumbs in a large bowl and add 1/4 cup milk. Using a fork, mix to combine. Add the eggs, garlic and onion powder, scallions, salt and pepper. Mix well until you have a paste. Add the ground chicken and using the fork, or your hands, mix until well combined. Don't overwork the mixture. Use a cookie scoop to form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs, this should make about 30 meatballs. Grease your hands with a little oil and roll each meatball between your palms to smooth them out. Arrange them on the baking sheet with a little space between each ball.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and broil the meatballs for 5-6 minutes. No need to flip. Check, and if the top of meatballs are golden-brown remove them from the oven. If they are still a bit pale, leave them in 1-2 minutes longer. Watch them closely because the meatballs can overcook quickly. They will continue to cook in the curry sauce or when reheated from frozen (if making extra).
- Meanwhile make the curry sauce. Spoon the thick cream from the top of the can (about 1/2 cup from each can) into a medium-sized saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste and fry until the sauce is bubbly and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. The oil might separate from the cream and this is a good thing (but don't worry if it doesn't). Add the rest of the coconut milk along with the chicken broth and stir a few times until sauce is smooth.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add sugar, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves (if using) and simmer for about 3-5 more minutes. Add the meatballs and toss to coat well in the sauce. Simmer for 5-8 minutes until meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has slightly thickened. Serve over white rice or rice noodle, and garnish with remaining scallions, fresh basil, cilantro, and lime wedges.
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