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Xiu Mai - Vietnamese Meatballs

October 1, 2015
Now, why did it take me THIS LONG to make Xiu Mai or Vietnamese Meatballs?  My go to for meatballs has always been the Swedish ones.  I mean, I love the Swedish meatballs at Ikea and I also make them from scratch at home.  What's not to love?  

But, why have I never made these meatballs before?  When I come home to visit, my mom always makes a pot of these with warm, crusty baguettes.  And, we eat til we have food coma.  Maybe it's because this is a dish that my mom always makes... and I didn't want to mess it up and make something LESS than what I remember with my tastebuds and my memories?

I'm Asian.  Maybe it's genetic (to always try) to make your parents proud... regardless if they can see what you're doing or not!  Don't know how they did it... but even thousands of miles away,  I can still hear my mom or my dad in my ear telling me how I should be doing it. 

Anyway, yesterday I felt the craving... and I felt that it was time.  Time to make my mom's meatballs... and of course, I couldn't get her on the phone... so I was on my own.

I looked at a few recipes and two seemed up my alley.  

Charles Phan's Mom's Meatballs [Credit:Eric Wolfinger]

Charles Phan is a Vietnamese chef over on the West Coast who owns a restaurant called The Slanted Door.  Something about him and his cookbook convey to me that he knows how to do it authentically.  Even though his recipes can be quite lengthy with tons of ingredients, I like his process.

And, because I live way over here in the Alps, the Asian section of my personal pantry is quite basic... so, I chose Food for Four's recipe because I had all of the required ingredients! Yay!

If you can't find fresh Vietnamese baguettes like me... just make your own!  Start by watching this video from The Beth Kitchen to see how easy it is to make from scratch!  Luckily, I live in an area where bread is somewhat of a national treasure... so, a nice Austria baguette substituted quite nicely.

Need some fresh Vietnamese pickled veggies?  Try this recipe from White on Rice Couple.

Here's a video of the whole shebang from Helen's Recipes on YouTube. 

Xiu Mai from Helen's Recipes [Credit:Link]

Let's get started!

Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatballs)
Makes approximately 30 2-inch meatballs

Aromatics to be halved between sauce & meatballs

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 shallots, minced
  • 2 yellow onions, minced
Note: I say minced here because I have my handy mini chopper on hand.  If you are, indeed, doing this by hand, then a good chop of the above is ok, too!

For the sauce

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 of aromatics
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 pieces of porcini mushrooms (optional, I like the added umami with these!)
  • 2 C water
  • 4 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 4 Tbsp tomato paste

For the meatballs

  • 1kg ground pork
  • 1/2 of aromatics
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp black pepper

For the Fixings

  • fried shallots (garnish for the meatballs)
  • fresh baguette
  • sliced cucumber
  • sliced avocado (a break from tradition, but I love it anyway!)
  • cilantro
  • some Vietnamese pickles

Cooking Directions
  1. First, make the meatballs.  Add all ingredients and mix by hand.  Roll into golf ball size meatballs. Do not over handle these babies.  Just get them into a roundish shape and move on.  You don't want tough meatballs, now do you?  Now, set aside.
  2. Next, make the sauce. Add the oil and heat over medium heat. Add the aromatics and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes or until softened.
  3. Add the extras - diced tomato and porcini mushrooms.  Cook for a few minutes then add the water, ketchup, fish sauce, tomato paste, and sugar.
  4. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the meatballs into a single layer. (See note.)  Crowding is totally ok so long as the meatballs are submerged completely in the liquid.  Then, decrease the heat until the liquid is at a steady simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, with minimal stirring.  Do NOT bring it to a boil or stir rigorously as the meatballs can break apart... which isn't necessarily THAT bad, because it'll make the sauce even better! (Charles Phan purees a portion of the ground and adds it to the sauce - I see where he was going here!)
  5. To test if the meatballs are ready, spoon out a meatball and cut it open; it should no longer be pink in the center.
  6. Remove from the heat and serve right away. 
  7. Serving suggestions - over rice, as a meatball sandwich on a baguette with all the fixings, or just use the baguette as a utensil and soak up the sauce and pieces of meatball in one bite!  Or make smaller bite size meatballs with slices of baguette for appetizers at a dinner party.  What a great alternative to Swedish meatballs!

To prep or not to prep the meatballs: Food for Four mentioned that you can steam these bad boys prior to adding them to the sauce.... or as an alternative, lightly pan frying to brown them a bit and to give them some shape to help them hold onto this shape after their time in the sauce.  Try both if you like.

I did neither.  I just threw them into the sauce like Charles Phan's recipe.  I tried to call my mom for her take on this... but she wasn't around.  Boo.  So, I just went with my (lazy) gut!

But, if you do decide to just toss them into the sauce with wild abandon... take note.  You must skim off all of the scummie bits that float to the surface.  And, in this recent attempt, I had a lot of it.  I almost wondered if it would ruin my sauce... but, I stayed the course and continued to skim, and skim, and skim... until there was none left and my sauce was perfect.

These tasted just like my mom's meatballs... she would be so proud!

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