Weeknight Cooking

The Tenderest Turkey Meatballs, No Breadcrumbs Required

November  8, 2017

We're always on the hunt for new tricks to make our weeknight cooking quicker, simpler, and more delicious. So we've partnered with Sir Kensington's to bring you recipes that streamline your weeknight cooking and give favorite dishes a boost of new flavor.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I love mayonnaise. I use mayonnaise to marinate vegetables for grilled salads, put mayo in and on crab cakes and shrimp burgers, and smear it generously on white bread for tomato sandwiches. My favorite coleslaws and potato salads are mayo-based, and I’ll take mayo over ketchup any day for French fries. My kids share my love: their favorite turkey sandwiches must have mayonnaise. They consider it just as important as the turkey or bread.

I now have another favorite mayonnaise use: making these tender turkey meatballs and orzo with whole-lemon vinaigrette.

Shop the Story

Mayo is certainly not a traditional ingredient in meatballs. But it’s not an unusual choice, either, when you consider its parts: egg, oil, and a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice, all whisked or blended together. Because it’s a stable emulsion, mayo serves as an excellent binder for meatballs. It easily slips into the role played by eggs and bread crumbs. With mayo, the path to meatballs is simple: no eggs to crack, no bread to blitz into fine crumbs, no guessing at the amount of crumbs to work in (too much...hockey puck meatballs! Too little...crumbly, fall-apart meatballs!). And a good quality mayo adds a lot of flavor in the process.

For these turkey meatballs, I use Sir Kensington’s classic mayo with sunflower oil, which has a lovely lemony flavor. The rest of the ingredients fall in place: lemon zest to reinforce the lemon flavor of the mayo; garlic, parmesan, and fresh parsley to brighten. Easier still, these meatballs are cooked on a sheet pan under the broiler, so they get golden brown without the mess and time required of frying.

I’ve carried the lemon theme over to the orzo salad, too. The orzo is double dressed, first with mayo to add body and light creaminess (and prevent the orzo from sticking and clumping as it rests), and then by a whole-lemon vinaigrette inspired by Alison Roman’s recipe in Bon Appétit. The warm vinaigrette, with its small pieces of pleasantly puckery lemon and mild, buttery Castelvetrano olives, surprises and keeps each bite interesting. (Of note: this double dressing trick is a good one for other pasta salads and grain salads, too.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Taking the technique used for Hellman's Parmesan Chicken, I use mayo as a vehicle to make breading adhere to my food.”
— HalfPint

Together, the meatballs and orzo are bright, light, and lemony, the perfect antidote to dwindling daylight hours and falling temperatures.

They’re amenable to riffing, too. Here are a few ideas:

  • Change up the meatballs: ground chicken or pork can stand in for turkey, pecorino for parmesan, and chopped basil for parsley.
  • Bake them (versus broil) for about 25 minutes at 425° F.
  • Do a Greek take on the orzo salad by swapping out kalamata olives for the Castelvatrano in the whole-lemon vinaigrette, then mixing in a big handful of chopped dill and some crumbled feta with the orzo, inspired by this lemon-dill orzo pasta salad.
  • Serve the meatballs with spaghetti and your favorite marinara sauce for a more traditional take. The lemony meatballs go well with marinara, in much the same way that a fine grating of lemon zest brightens marinara (see Kristen’s genius tip here).
  • Ditch the pasta! Slice the meatballs and use them as a pizza topping, or tuck them into a roll for a meatball sub.

Do you use mayo in unexpected ways? Tell us in the comments!

We've partnered with Sir Kensington's to bring you recipes that streamline your weeknight cooking and give favorite dishes a boost of new flavor.

Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • karen kahn
    karen kahn
  • Kathleen Kelm
    Kathleen Kelm
  • HalfPint
  • EmilyC

Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


karen K. May 2, 2020
So yea, these taste like.. mayo. I had to heavily doctor them to cover up the taste. Don't recommend unless you love mayo.
Kathleen K. November 9, 2017
I mix grated park into mayo until it has a good plastering quality plus a bit of dried tarragon. Putting mild fish fillets into a baking dish, smear the mayo cheese onto the fish, then bake til done. The flavors are complex, there is a pretty golden glaze atop, the fish doesn't dry out unless you overcook it, and 3 ingredients plus the fish is convenient.
Kathleen K. November 9, 2017
My machine made parmesan cheese into park.
HalfPint November 8, 2017
I use mayo as a part of a marinade for fish. For stronger-smelling fish, I mix mayo with herbs and/or spices and salt, slather on the fish, then grill or broil. It doesn't have a mayo flavor and the fish comes out moist and flavorful.

Taking the technique used for Hellman's Parmesan Chicken, I use mayo as a vehicle to make breading adhere to my food.
EmilyC November 9, 2017
Great ideas!