Thai Meatballs

5 from 6 votes
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When life gives you ground pork, or in my case javelina, make meatballs. But whose? Pretty much every nation in the world makes some sort of meatball, but I was in the mood for something zippy, and I happen to be growing both Thai chiles and rau ram, so Thai meatballs it would be.

I was not disappointed. Thai meatballs are spicy, salty, sour and a touch sweet — in no small part because they are doused with a dipping sauce that has all of those flavors.

Plates of Thai meatballs with a dipping sauce
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

My recipe is inspired by one in what is largely thought of as the first decent Thai cookbook published in the US, Jennifer Brennan’s The Original Thai Cookbook, published back in 1981. This was the era of no photos and barebones recipes, so you pretty much needed to be able to cook to pull them off.

I happen to be able to cook, so I’ve found this book useful for decades. Back then, Brennan had to offer all sorts of substitutions because many Thai ingredients could not be bought here in the US. Now they can, even in some regular supermarkets. And really the only “weird” ingredients here are fish sauce and tamarind, and you can leave out the tamarind.

Thai meatballs are meant to be a snack or appetizer more than a full meal, although they can be part of a multi-course meal. They are best fried in peanut oil, but I suppose you could bake them, too, although they will not be nearly as good.

Use ground pork, beef, veal, chicken, venison — really anything you want, or even a combination of meats.

Three Thai meatballs on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The key flavors of these meatballs are cilantro or rau ram, which tastes similar, garlic and hot chiles. You can skimp on the chiles if you want, but do not skimp on the garlic and cilantro. If you despise cilantro, use mint.

There is one other important ingredient: Fish sauce. Yeah, you pretty much need it for these to taste like real Thai meatballs, but you can use soy if you cannot find fish sauce anywhere. But at least try to find it. My favorite is Three Crabs brand, although I make my own fish sauce these days.

As for the dipping sauce, it too relies on fish sauce, garlic, cilantro and chiles. It’s also sweet from palm sugar (brown sugar is a fine alternative) as well as tamarind paste. You can skip the tamarind paste if you can’t find it, but both Latin and Asian markets sell it, as do Middle Eastern markets.

How spicy is this? Up to you. I like it so hot my eyelids sweat. Your mileage may vary.

Serve these Thai meatballs as an appetizer in a larger Thai meal, with, say, red coconut curry, or a Thai green curry with fish.

Three Thai meatballs on a plate
5 from 6 votes

Thai Meatballs

Serve these as an appetizer or as part of a larger Thai meal. I prefer using ground pork (I actually used javelina, but it's very similar), but you can use whatever ground meat you like.
Course: Appetizer, lunch, Snack
Cuisine: Thai
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients 

DIPPING SAUCE

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • As many Thai chiles (or similar) as you can handle, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup water (optional)
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro or rau ram, minced

MEATBALLS

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground meat (see above)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup stems from a bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves or rau ram leaves, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup rice flour or regular flour, for coating
  • Oil for frying

Instructions 

DIPPING SAUCE

  • Heat the oil in a small pan and sauté the shallots and garlic until golden. Move them to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. If you are not using the tamarind, use 3 tablespoons of water in the sauce instead. Let this sit at room temperature.

MEATBALLS

  • Mix all the meatball ingredients together except the rice flour. Knead this well. If it's too wet, add some rice flour. Roll into balls and coat with more rice flour. You can either deep fry these, or fry them in about 1 inch of oil. You want the oil to be at least 325°F, and 350°F is better. Fry until nicely browned and keep in a warm oven until you've cooked them all. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 458kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 1566mg | Potassium: 464mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 181IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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17 Comments

  1. Hank,

    Thanks sooo much for this great recipe. Have made twice now in about 2 weeks. First time ground beef/bear, second beef/turkey. Both were amazing, and my GF loves the dipping sauce(8-10 Chile’s for us?). Last night, I made phö with the leftover meatballs. Keep the recipes coming. Gracias Amigo.

  2. Hank, how many chiles do you tend to use? I like heat too so it would be a good starting point having never made a Thai sauce. I’ve looked at other vaguely similar recipes and they range anywhere from 2 to 14. Thanks!

    1. Chris: All depends on the chile. If regular Thai chiles, I like about six to start. But I eat hot food almost every day.

  3. Can’t wait to try this meatball recipe!
    A WONDERFUL Thai cookbook is by Vatcharin Bhumichitr called Vatch’s Thai Street Food. Because of this cookbook, which is now well-worn, we are fully stocked with all the ingredients listed in your recipe. When we need to restock, we make a trip to an Asian store in a larger city.
    We very much enjoy your recipes. Thank you for this one to add to our Thai cuisine.

  4. Hello Hank. What do you thing about making this with ground bear meat? My only concern would be making sure the meat gets to 170 degrees (to avoid any tric issues) without drying out the meatballs. Any thoughts?

  5. I’m looking at the pictures but I’m still confused about the size of the meatballs. As an app are they about the size of a ping pong ball, golf ball? They sound great and I was on my way to the store after I read this. I thing I’m going to use some pheasant I’ve got in the freezer.

  6. I think that I am going to go wild on an experiment making this with CA Sheephead. It makes great fishcakes, might hold up well here with these bold ingredients!