Upon hearing “meatballs”, you are all probably thinking, why bother writing a whole descriptive recipe for something so simple? It’s just minced meat, seasoned, rolled into balls and cooked with tomato sauce! Well that’s true, but if you are a perfectionistic foodie like I am who often inspects food with a high level of quality judgment, there is more than one standard that this seemingly uncomplicated dish should adhere to. First of all, the meat must stay in a round, firm and somewhat cohesive ball shape without falling apart. Secondly, the meat should be flavorful with the right amount of seasoning, and smells good as well. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they must not be dry and tough to eat, but not fatty or greasy either.
Of course, that’s me being my fussy self whenever it comes to food, so don’t shy away because despite certain standards, these meatballs are not difficult to make at all. To avoid dryness, just buy minced meat that consists of a certain proportion of fat. The meat should be minced thoroughly, less than the level of pork paste, but more than the mince you would use for chargrilled pork patties. Some tapioca starch, cornstarch or breadcrumbs added with the meat help as an adhesive for the meat to stick firmly together and avoid the meat falling apart when you cook it later on.
I usually fry the meatballs briefly instead of steaming them, so the juiciness is not lost. Don’t fry them to the point of well doneness, just enough to get a luscious pan-seared brown crust and a delicious aroma that reaches all the way to your neighbors’ noses. Then you can go ahead and simmer the meatballs with tomato sauce. This method allows all the juices to stay put in the meatballs; you will taste no dryness whatsoever. They will have absorbed the flavor from the tomato sauce as well, becoming a perfect supplement whether you want to pair them with rice, bread, or pasta. Better yet, they serve as a quick convenient meal as well for those of you who are too busy during the week to cook everyday (I understand the struggle!). You can do what I do: make a big batch at the weekend, keep the meatballs sealed in the freezer, then simply thaw and reheat them whenever you’re in need of a quick, tasty meal during the week.
VIETNAMESE MEATBALLS IN TOMATO SAUCE RECIPE
INGREDIENTS (make about 18 – 22 meatballs depending on size)
- 1 medium onion (80 – 90 gram/ 3 oz.)
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic (10 gram)
- 250 gram/ 0.5 lb. fresh tomatoes
- 500 gram/ 1lb. minced meat
- 2 – 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs or tapioca starch
- 1 medium-sized egg (60 gram including shell)
- 3 tablespoons Ketchup
- Spring onions, coriander (for garnish, optional)
- 1 – 2 tsp corn starch or tapioca starch to thicken the sauce (optional)
- Salt or fish sauce to taste, ground pepper
– For these meatballs, I usually use half minced pork and half minced beef. You can use either entirely pork or entirely beef, just make sure that the meat has some fat, so that your meatballs won’t come out dry.
– A very nice twist of this recipe is to add cubed mozzarella cheese into the middle of the meatballs. I would not call it “Vietnamese” but rather “Fusion meatballs” then, but the taste is surely amazing.
1. Prepare ingredients:
– Peel and finely chop onion & garlic.
– Make some shallow cuts on the skin of the tomatoes, dip into boiling water for about 20 – 30 seconds. Peel the skins off. Get rid of seeds and excessive juices. Cube or chop the tomato flesh.
– Chop spring onions. Pick coriander leaves, rinse well through water.
2. Make meatballs:
– Combine meat with ¾ the amount of onion and garlic, breadcrumbs (or tapioca starch), egg, salt (or fish sauce up to your choice), ground pepper. Mix the ingredients well together. Roll the meat mixture into small balls, you can make between 18 and 22 meatballs depending on their size.
– The seasonings are adjustable to your preference. Make sure the meatballs are not too salty, because they will be cooked with the (seasoned) tomato sauce as well. If not confident about the seasonings, you can take out a small spoonful and cook it in the microwave (or on the pan, if you don’t have a microwave) to taste the mix before cooking the whole batch.
– Heat oil inside the pan on medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs until the outer crust is browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. The interior doesn’t need to be cooked because the meatballs will be simmered with tomato sauce later. Avoid frying them for too long, which can drain out the meat juices and the meatballs will turn dry as a result. When finish cooking, transfer the meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excessive oil.
3. Make tomato sauce:
– Wash the pan, or use another clean one. Heat a spoonful of oil (or butter, I think butter tastes and smells better than oil) and fry the remaining ¼ onion and garlic.
– Transfer tomato onto the pan with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir-fry until tomato is well cooked and tender.
– Add 3 tablespoons Ketchup, about 2/3 cup water, ½ tablespoon sugar and stir well. Turn down to low heat, simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Season to taste again if needed.
– Add meatballs, simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, stir every now and then so the meatballs are cooked evenly with the tomato sauce.
4. When done, transfer meatballs to plates to serve. If you want the remaining tomato sauce to be thicker, mix 1-2 teaspoons tapioca starch or corn starch with cold water, then gradually add to the sauce. Keep stirring gently while adding the starch water and stop when the sauce is thick enough as how you prefer. If the sauce turns out to be too thick in the end, add some water to loosen it. Pour sauce on the meatballs, sprinkle chopped spring onions, coriander and ground pepper on top. Serve hot with steamed rice, bread or pasta.
* Good meatballs are well cooked, with a tender texture and rich flavor, absolutely no dryness. Tomato sauce has a well-seasoned balance of sweetness and saltiness.
- Recipe and photos: Linh Trang
- Written by: Holly Phuong Le