There’s a scene in the sitcom Friends (season six, episode nine) where the hapless Rachel makes a layered dessert called a trifle, but the cookbook pages get stuck together and she accidentally combines the recipes for trifle and shepherd’s pie. The resulting dessert has booth sweet and savory elements. All of Rachel’s friends are disgusted, but Joey takes a heaping mouthful and says, “What’s not to like? Custard? Good! Jam? Good! Meat? Good!”
That’s what I think of when I consume anything that has many different delicious elements that come together in one mouth-watering whole. The teriyaki meatball skewer is just such a delicacy (although it doesn’t involve custard or jam).
I don’t know what it is about kebabs and skewered fare that makes them so wondrous. They are, in the final analysis, food on sticks, but they’re just so dang festive. What’s more, to assemble these particular skewers is easier than spilling teriyaki sauce on your cleanest, whitest shirt.
I should warn you, this is not skilled cookery. It’s a quick weeknight meal or party appetizer that you can roast in the oven or toss on the grill. If you’re a high-level sort of food snob, make your meatballs and sauce from scratch. If you’re me — I guess that would be a low-level food egalitarian — then use frozen mini-meatballs and teriyaki sauce from a bottle.
Use any brand of meatball made from any kind of meat — chicken, beef, pork. Is there such a thing as shrimp meatballs? Yes, I just Googled it, and there is. Well, you can use those, too. Our preferred meatball is Trader Joe’s Party Size Mini Meatballs, made from a toothsome combination of beef, pork, breadcrumbs, dehydrated onion, soy flour, yeast extract, dehydrated onion, soy protein concentrate and some ingredients I can’t pronounce. Suffice it to say, whatever’s in those meatballs is magic.
We’ve kept a bag of Trader Joe’s mini-meatballs in our freezer since the early days of our marriage. Not the same bag, obviously, but many, many different bags, which we’ve consumed at the rate of one or two a month for 27 years. I have to confess that I have a very strong attachment to these mini-meatballs. They’re what my husband would make on nights when I worked late and he was at home with our baby daughter. He’d bake two dozen little meatballs and steam a bag of petite peas and that would be dinner, bless his cotton socks. After a long day at work sandwiched between long commutes, coming home to something hot and nourishing was just the ticket. I’d flop down on the couch, hold my baby in one hand and put meatballs in my mouth with the other. The peas were a little messier but babies make everything messier, so if a few peas joined the dust bunnies on the floor, no one was the wiser.
But back to the teriyaki meatball skewers. Set your oven to 350 degrees and gather your ingredients: long metal or wood skewers (available to buy at most grocery stores, if you don’t already have them), meatballs, teriyaki sauce, red and green bell peppers, a red onion and pineapple chunks. Chop the peppers and the onion into rough bite-size squares and drain the pineapple. Now, many of you may be wondering: “How do I get these meatballs onto skewers if they’re frozen?” (At least, that’s what I wondered.) The answer: You don’t. You let them thaw in the fridge overnight. I’m sorry that this dish takes that much planning, but there you have it. Life is full of challenges.
So, make sure your meatballs are thawed or mostly thawed. Don’t worry about ingesting something awful from raw meatballs — I mean, ideally, you should always be worried about this, and should be hypervigilant when handling any meat product — because the Trader Joe’s mini-meatballs are fully cooked before they’re frozen. The directions allow you to cook them from frozen or thawed; the only difference is the cooking time.
Next, assemble your skewers. I’m going to give you an “order of assembly,” but you can put things on the skewers however you like. You don’t even have to use the vegetables I mentioned. Use anything you want, because, let’s face it, teriyaki sauce is good on everything. Try zucchini, cauliflower, celery, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, chunks of squash or (since it’s springtime) asparagus. My pattern was green pepper, red pepper, onion, pineapple, meatball. That way the meatball absorbs some of the pineapple juice, at least theoretically.
I made four big skewers with four meatballs on each skewer, but you could get 8 or 10 skewers out of a single bag of meatballs; the Trader Joe’s brand has 42 1-inch meatballs in one bag. A further note on food safety: If you’ve thawed the meatballs but don’t end up using all of them, don’t put them back in the freezer. Use them within a day or so. Make a meatball sub or bake them up and serve them with barbecue sauce. I used the remaining meatballs to make a sweet-and-sour stir-fry, using the leftover peppers, onions and pineapple, plus some chopped spring asparagus. It was pretty good, but it didn’t compare to the skewers, because roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables and gives the meatballs a crispy exterior.
Put the assembled skewers on a baking sheet (no need to grease it because the meatballs make their own tasty grease while cooking) and generously slather them — all sides, every nook and cranny — with teriyaki sauce. Put them in the oven for 25-30 minutes. When you take them out, the veggies should be a touch tender with toasty edges and the meatballs should be nice and browned. You can also grill the skewers for a smokier flavor, giving them 3 to 5 minutes per side.
The sauce in the bottom of the pan, a mixture of teriyaki sauce and meatball drippings, is beyond delicious. Use a spoon or spatula to scoop some into a bowl for dipping and serve the skewers with fluffy white rice. What’s not to like? Whether you eat it with forks or hands, it’s all good. But don’t get too excited and poke anyone with your skewer. Use your fingers instead.