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Monday, April 20, 2015

Sous Vide Chicken Souvlaki Meatballs



The Kid's sweet 16 is upon us and we always kick off the birthday week with a family BBQ. We are going out for fancy pants Japanese on the actual day so i had thought a Greek mezes style meal would be nice and was planning to do my usual pork and chicken souvlaki but using the sous vide this time. The more I thought about it, the idea of doing two kinds of souvlaki felt kind of boring. I really wanted to sous vide the pork for souvlaki to see if it would solve the dilemma of dry pork, one of my pork souvlaki pet peeves (which it did, recipe coming soon), so that left the chicken. What could I do with chicken that would be easy to feed a crowd, that could be made ahead and just heated up before dinner?

As I stared at my tray of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, visions of meatballs began to dance in my head. What if I threw the thighs into the meat grinder and added all of the flavours that would go into the souvlaki marinade along with some ground mushrooms for good measure, a la blend and extend?

One search for "meatballs" on this blog will tell you that we love little balls of all the meats and, to be honest, I can't believe I haven't tried this sooner. The combination of using the sous vide along with the addition of ground mushrooms resulted in an almost unbelievably moist (I HATE THAT WORD SO MUCH BUT THEY WERE MOIST, DAMMIT) and tender meatball - you have to be careful when you use ground poultry for stuff like burgers and meatballs because it's easy to overcook them and they tend to be dry but the mushrooms add moisture and the sous vide ensures that they can't dry out at all. Perfection.

I may never make chicken souvlaki again.




Sous Vide Chicken Souvlaki Meatballs



Depending on the size of meatball you roll, you will get between 40 and 60 meatballs. This makes a large batch of meatballs so if you aren't feeding a crowd, you can just throw them straight into the freezer in the bag you cooked them in

Ingredients:

900g skinless, boneless chicken thighs OR ground chicken
225g white button mushrooms, minced by hand or ground roughly in a food processor
1 onion, minced
5 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup panko
1 cup crumbled feta
juice of 1 large lemon
zest from 1 lemon
1 big handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 tbls dried greek oregano
1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint
2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

If you are grinding your own chicken, do that however you do that - I use my kitchen aid with the meat grinder attachment.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the ground mushrooms until they release some liquid and start to colour before adding the minced onion and garlic and fry for a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

When the onions and mushrooms are cooled add them, along with all of the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your kitchen aid and stir on low, using the paddle, for about 45 seconds or until well mixed. You can also mix it all by hand. For the best results, refrigerate the chicken mixture overnight to really let the flavours blend.

Before you pop the bowl in the fridge, taste for seasoning by frying a small pinch of the mixture, taste it, adjust as needed. It will depend on how salty your feta is as well as your personal taste.

You now have three choices: You can pre sear and then sous vide, sous vide and post sear OR bake in the oven if you don't have a sous vide.


Pre Sear:
Roll the chicken into golf ball sized meatballs, heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan over med high heat and sear the meatballs, in batches, until nicely browned. Remove from pan and set on a rack over a baking sheet until they are all done.

Using ziplock freezer bags, arrange the meatballs in the bags so that they are not touching, insert a thin straw into the bag and zip the closure all around the straw. Okay, now comes the part that will make you think I am crazy:

bend down and suck out all of the air in the bag through the straw and then quickly remove the straw and seal that last little bit of closure so it looks like this:


The reason for this is so that you avoid squashing your meatballs down to flat discs by using the vacuum sealer and it works really well.

Preheat the water bath to 63.5C (146F)
Put your bags of meatballs into the water bath and cook for 1 hr.
Remove after an hour and either serve right away, straight out of the bag, lifting them out and discarding the juices in the bag OR put in an ice bath to cool off quickly and remove to the fridge or freezer until you want to eat them.

To reheat, drop the bags back into a bath that is just slightly below cooking temp (140F/ 60C) for about 45 min (reheating takes about 45min per inch plus 30 minutes if cooking from frozen)

Post Sear:
Roll all of the mixture into meatballs, place on parchment lined baking sheets and freeze for at least 2 hours.
Now you can use your vacuum sealer to bag them up, not touching or repeat the Pre Sear method for the ziplock freezer bags.

Drop the bags into the 146F/63.5C water bath and cook for an hour and a half to 2 hrs (they are frozen so they need a bit longer than the pre seared)

When they are done, remove the bags and either heat some oil in a big frying pan and sear them to serve them right away, or follow the previous instructions for cooling, refrigerating/freezing, reheating and THEN sear them to serve.

Conventional baking:
roll the meatballs and bake for about 15-20 minutes in a preheated 400F oven on parchment lined baking sheets.

serve as an app with tzatziki, throw them in a wrap or a meatball sub or serve with lemony Greek roasted potatoes

The pros and cons of pre searing and post searing when you sous vide
Pre Searing and them serving them straight out of the bag is the quickest and the easiest when you are having a big meal or serving them as part of a big buffet style meal. They won't have a crisp crust but they are delicious and still enjoy all of the other benefits of searing.

Freezing, sous viding them and then giving them a sear right before you serve them also taste just as delicious with the added benefit of having a bit of a crispier crust. This is better left to smaller family meals when you aren't getting 20 things ready to go on a buffet table all at once.