Want the cheesy, tomato-y goodness of chicken Parmesan without all the breading and frying? With the help of ground chicken and the slow cooker, you can make these juicy meatballs instead.
You'll end up with all the comforting flavors of chicken Parm, in cute meatball form — ready to be stuffed into rolls as subs or ladled onto pasta or soft, creamy polenta.
After making the meatballs with both all white meat and all dark meat ground chicken, the dark meat won hands-down for its juicy texture and meatier flavor. Make the base of the meatballs — herbs, onions, panko, Parmesan, and eggs — before adding in the ground meat so that you don't overwork the meat and end up with tough meatballs.
Besides the fact that the meatballs in sauce freeze beautifully (skip the mozzarella for right before serving if you plan on freezing the leftovers), there are a lot of other make-ahead possibilities. Form the meatballs, place on a baking sheet, and freeze until you're ready to throw them in the slow cooker. You can also assemble the meatballs and sauce right in the slow cooker the night before and stash it in the insert in the fridge. Just turn on the slow cooker the next morning before you head out the door.
Slow Cooker Chicken Parm Meatballs
Makes about 32 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs; serves 6 to 8
2 (23- to 25-ounce) jars
marinara sauce (about 5 cups total), divided
finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
minced yellow onion
coarsely chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves, plus more for serving
freshly ground black pepper
ground chicken, preferably dark meat
shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (optional)
Pour half of the marinara sauce in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker; set aside.
Place the eggs in a large bowl and whisk with a fork to break them up. Add the panko, Parmesan, onion, parsley or basil, garlic, salt, oregano, and pepper and stir to evenly moisten and combine. Add the ground chicken and, using clean hands, mix everything until combined (don’t squeeze or overwork the mixture).
Fill a medium bowl with water. Form the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs (2 tablespoons each), wetting your hands in the bowl of water as necessary to keep the mixture from sticking. As each meatball is formed, place in the sauce (you will have about 1 1/2 layers of meatballs). Pour the remaining marinara sauce evenly over the meatballs.
Cover and cook on the LOW setting until the meatballs are cooked through and the flavors meld, 6 to 8 hours. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and cook covered in the last 15 minutes if desired. Sprinkle with more parsley or basil and serve with more Parmesan.
Make ahead: The meatballs can be formed and frozen on a baking sheet before cooking. Transfer the frozen meatballs to a freezer bag and cook directly from the freezer. The meatballs and sauce can also be assembled in the slow cooker and refrigerated overnight before cooking.
Broiling the meatballs: Broil the meatballs before cooking to give your sauce more flavor. Broil on a rimmed baking sheet, flipping the meatballs once or twice, until they are browned on all sides before placing in the slow cooker.
Smaller slow cookers: Halve this recipe to make in smaller slow cookers.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.