By Michael Harris-Arzon, The Simplistic Professional
Most people would consider me very old school when it comes to the type of rustic cooking I lean towards. I like the feeling of raw dough between my fingers or the squishiness of cold, ground meat as I mix meatballs and meatloaf. The tactile feeling is calming for me. I know most people prefer the high-end mixers and fancy kitchen tools…but they don’t add to the experience of creating a meal.
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I learned how to make every southern or country recipe known to man. These were the meals that brought a smile to each member of the family and had my friends begging to come to our house for dinner… as long as I was the one doing the cooking.
After you have made a recipe for the millionth time, you realize that at some point you actually have changed things around a bit to suit your tastes. For me, I have been fortunate enough to not only have had great teachers in the kitchen, but was exposed to and privy to some of the most talked about food experiences in the country.
“Did you go to the dinner party at blah, to blah, to la ti da’s house in The Hampton’s this weekend? I saw your picture in the Daily News with so and so and I heard that anyone who is anyone was there.” became a common question on Monday mornings, as I returned to the office and tried to avoid the hangers on that envied the life Danny and led.
Taking a classic recipe and changing it to fit current food trends or adapt to various situations has been my credo for the past decade. Keeping the same flavor profiles, of say chicken salad, but presenting it in a completely new way… that surprises those that are expecting a Classic American dish and find the appearance of another familiar food in front of them is an experience in itself.
- 2 Lbs.Ground Chicken
- 1/4 Cup Dill Pickles, Finely Diced
- 1/2 Small Red Onion, Finely Chopped
- 1/2 Cup Celery, Chopped Small
- 1 Egg
- 1 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 1 Cup Cheddar Cheese, Shredded Medium
- 2 Tbs. Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- 3 Tbs. Fresh Thyme, Chopped Fine
- 3 Tbs. Butter, Salted
- 1 Cup Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, of your choice
- 1/4 Cup Whole Grain Mustard
- 1/4 Small Red Onion, Diced Extremely Fine
- 1/4 Cup Smoked Provolone Cheese, Shredded Medium
- 6 Slices Canadian Bacon
- 6 Slices Muenster Cheese
- 6 Sandwich Rolls, of your choice. I personally like Onion Rolls if available.
- 1 Bag of Sweet Potato French Fries
- Mesquite Seasoning
- Preheat Oven to 425 degrees.
- In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté your chopped celery with 2 tbs. of salted butter until tender. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Cooking Tip: To Sauté, simply means to cook your vegetables in any type of fat (butter, bacon grease, lard, vegetable or olive oil etc.). The fat can be of your choice, but remember that each will add its own distinct flavor profile to your completed dish. But anyway, you sauté until tender and your vegetable(s) can be cut easily with a fork.
- In a large mixing bowl, add your 2 lbs. ground chicken, 1/4 cup of dill pickles, 1/2 of a small red onion, 1/2 cup of cooked celery, lemon pepper, fresh thyme, cheddar cheese, Panko bread crumbs and 1 egg. With your hands, mix until well combined. Cooking Tip: Be careful to not over mix or squeeze the meat mixture as you work it through your fingers. Squishing, kneading or using a heavy hand will make the smashed meatballs dense in texture and will cause them to be dry when cooked.
- Divide your meatball mixture into six portions. Take each portion and form a large meat ball. Once the meatball is formed, I want you to gently smash it between your palms until it flattens out to about half it’s rounded size.
- Place each of your 6 smashed meatballs onto a greased baking sheet, making sure there is about an inch of space between them. Cooking Tip: Spacing out your individual servings of meat, chicken or whatever you plan to bake, allows them to cook evenly by letting heat be dispursed completely around each serving.
- Bake on the center rack for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on the top and bottom.
- About halfway through the baking process (about 10 minutes in), place a greased baking sheet that has your frozen sweet potato fries on it, be sure your fries have been sprinkled with Mesquite Seasoning and placed in a single layer to ensure crispiness, on the bottom oven rack. Bake for the additional 10-15 minutes the smashed, chicken salad meatballs have left. The fries will be a darker brown and crispy when touched.
- Once you have your smashed meatballs in the oven to bake, in a large frying pan add 1 tbs. of salted butter and melt over high heat, Once the butter has melted and is starting to pop, add your 6 slices of Canadian bacon. Fry for about 2 minutes until it starts to brown on the bottom, flip each slice and continue frying until both sides are browned.
- When the smashed meatballs are done, turn off the oven and momentarily remove from the oven, adding a slice of muenster cheese to each smashed meatball. Return to the oven and bake another minute or two until your cheese is golden and bubbly. Cooking Tip: To check the doneness of most ground meats, like a hamburger or meatball, if you press gently on the center and it springs back when pressed, then it is at the medium well stage and ready to serve. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and let rest a couple of minutes on a plate. Cooking Tip: If you leave the burger or meatball on the baking sheet, it will continue to cook at a much higher temperature than that of its own internal heat when rested on a room temperature plate.
- As your chicken salad smashed meatballs rest, take and separate your 6 sandwich rolls and place each slice directly onto the top rack of the oven and toast for about 2 minutes or until the golden brown lightness of your choice.
- To a small mixing bowl, add 1 cup of buttermilk ranch dressing (use the dressing of your choice that meets your tastes), 1/4 cup of whole grain mustard, 1/4 small red onion that has been diced extremely fine and 1/4 cup of shredded, smoked provolone cheese. Mix well. Cooking Tip: Some people (those that are still developing their knife skills), choose to use a box grater to obtain that extremely small texture. If you are using a box grater, you will notice juice from the onion is present. I simply place the grated onions into a doubled up paper towel and squeeze lightly to drain excess moisture from the raw onions.
- On a large platter, arrange the bottoms of your 6 sandwich rolls. Smear a spoonful of your buttermilk ranch and whole grain mustard onto each. Then, place a smashed meatball, with a slice of Canadian bacon, on top of each sauced sandwich bottom. Place the top of your sandwich rolls onto each, smashed chicken salad meatball sandwiches.
- Serve with your spiced sweet potato fries and enjoy this updated version of a Chicken Salad Sandwich.