Like most normal humans, I have a thing for meatballs.
Obviously Italian meatballs, but also Greek meatballs, Laotian meatballs, German meatballs, etc, etc. Pretty much every culture that eats meat, which is almost all of them, has some sort of a meatball. Including the Japanese.
This style of meatball, called niku dango, is damn good. It’s basically a teriyaki meatball, normally made with pork. I made these venison meatballs instead, and it was every bit as tasty. It’s a pretty simple meatball, made “Japanese” with the addition of ginger, green onion, coarse panko breadcrumbs and soy sauce in the mix. All by itself, it’s a nice meatball.
The star of this show is the sauce, which is essentially a homemade teriyaki. Could you use store-bought teriyaki sauce? I suppose, but I haven’t tried it.
Teriyaki, if you’ve been living in a cave near the Arctic Circle your whole life, is a salty, sweet, slightly acidic sauce that goes well on everything. In Japan it’s a sort of BBQ sauce. Here it’s become a universal seasoning; I’ve even seen teriyaki potato chips.
That’s really all there is to this recipe: Easy venison meatballs glazed with a homemade teriyaki sauce, dusted with sesame seeds. Stick a toothpick in each meatball and you have a great party appetizer. Toss a few on top of some steamed rice and you have an easy weeknight meal.
But a fair warning: Make more than you think you’ll need. People seem to be unable to control themselves while eating these…
For another take on Japanese meatballs, here’s one I like from Saveur.
- 2 pounds finely ground venison, pork or wild boar
- 3 tablespoons minced green onions
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons potato or corn starch
- Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl. Mix all the sauce ingredients in another bowl.
- Form meatballs anywhere from the size of a walnut to the size of golf ball. For best results, set the meatballs on a baking sheet and put it into the fridge for an hour to firm up. But you can cook the meatballs straight away if you'd like.
- Cook the meatballs. You can deep fry them at 360°F for about 5 minutes, or you can poach them in simmering water for about the same amount of time (they're ready when they float); or you can bake the meatballs at 400°F for about 20 minutes.
- Glaze the meatballs. Whisk the sauce together so the starch doesn't stick to the bottom of the bowl, and pour it into a large saute pan. Bring it to a boil and add the cooked meatballs. Roll them around in the hot sauce to glaze for 30 seconds or so. Move the meatballs to a serving plate and sprinkle sesame seeds over them. Serve hot as an appetizer or with rice.
I don't like a super sweet sauce, so I only use 1 tablespoon of sugar; mirin is also sweet, so that's enough for me. Feel free to increase the amount of sugar if you like.