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Beef Meatballs (Bo Vien)

Quick Meal or Appetizer - Beef Meatballs in a Light Broth Served with a Hoisin Chili Paste Dipping Sauce

If this is your first time trying these Vietnamese meatballs you may be surprised by the consistency.  They are not soft like American or Italian meatballs.  On the contrary, they are springy and sometimes described as “rubbery”–but in a good way.  There’s a specific Vietnamese word “dai” to describe the consistency of these beef meatballs.  The closest translation to this Viet word is perhaps “chewy” but I don’t think this accurately or positively describes the unique texture of these meatballs.  With that said, I hope you’ll try these one of a kind meatballs with an open mind.  In the below recipe, I share the techniques for achieving this desired springiness.  It’s a bit of work and the chilling of the meat throughout the various stages of preparation is essential.  The first time you make them, the meatballs may be soft and mushy but don’t give up!  Practice makes perfect!  Once you figure out the right chilling time (varies with your freezer), processing time (varies with your food processor) and cooking time (varies with the size of the balls), you’ll be able to make perfectly springy and delicious meatballs.  The true test of the success of these balls is to try and bounce them on your counter.  No joke!  If you can get at least one to two good bounces, Congratulations! You have the perfect Vietnamese beef meatballs. Enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

80/20 ground beef is meat that is comprised of 80% meat and 20% fat.  The fat is essential for flavor and juiciness.  You can go a bit leaner if you’d like but some fat is essential for this recipe.

It helps to spread out the meat as thinly as possible so it chills faster.  If you have a metal pan or cookie sheet, use that as it cools quickly.  Also, if your freezer doesn’t have any strange odors, you can leave the pan uncovered and that will speed up the chilling process.

Leave the meat in the freezer as long as possible so that it’s almost frozen but just before it turns into a solid chunk of meat.  (You should still be able to slice through it with a knife or large spoon.)  Depending on the freezer, this could take from 1 – 2+ hours.

Keeping the meat cold during the entire preparation process is key to achieving the springy texture.  Work quickly with processing the meat and then return it to the freezer right away.  Also, be sure to put the meat not yet processed back in the freezer.  If at any point during this entire process the meat gets warm, the meatballs will be soft.

Unless you have a really powerful or professional food processor, divide the meat into smaller portions for processing otherwise you will overwork the motor.  (I’ve had my share of burned-out motors.)

Do not use too much baking powder.  If you do, the meatballs will be nice and puffy immediately after cooking.  However after cooling they will shrivel and look pitiful.

Do not cook the meatballs in rapidly boiling water.  This causes them to lose their round shape.

Don’t skip the step where we dunk the meatballs in cold water after cooking.  This helps to firm up the meatballs and aids in the springy texture as well.

For folks looking to duplicate a restaurant recipe, my apologies, this is not that recipe.  These meatballs will not taste like the restaurant version because we are omitting two very hazardous ingredients commonly used in thie recipe:  MSG and Borax.  I cannot in good conscience share a recipe that uses MSG, known to cause hypertension and other health risks, and Borax, a chemical used in household cleaners and insecticides.  Our health is more important than a tasty meal.

Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Fish Cakes (Cha Ca) and Steamed Pork Roll (Cha Lua/Gio Lua).

Ingredients

1 lb 80/20 ground beef
2 Tbsp ice water
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp potato starch
1/2 tsp beef seasoning
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vinegar

Directions

Combine ice water, fish sauce, sugar, potato starch, beef seasoning, pepper in a bowl and stir to dissolve.  Add the baking powder and mix with the marinade.  Add beef to marinade and blend well using your hands.  Mix for about 1-2 minutes.  Do not overwork the meat.  Spread the meat mixture evenly into a large dish or plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.  Freeze for 1 1/2 hours.

Divide the meat into 3 equal batches.   Add the first batch into the food processor.  Place the remaining meat back in the freezer.  Pulse the meat 10 times.  Scrape down the edges of the prep bowl and spread out the meat if it has clumped together.  Processor for 10 seconds.   Scrape around the bowl again.   This is one cycle.  Repeat this pulse/process cycle 2 more times for a total of 3 cycles.  Scoop out the meat and place back in the dish.  Add the next batch and process in the same way.  Remember to return the dish back to the freezer each time you’re processing so the meat doesn’t thaw.

After the third batch is processed, add the first two batches back into the food processor.  Add the vegetable oil.  Process for another 30-45 seconds until thoroughly combined and smooth.

Divide the meat in half and shape into 2-12 inch logs.  Cover with plastic wrap and then freeze for 1 hour.

Remove one log from the freezer.  Pinch off a small amount, approximately 1/2 oz, of the meat mixture and roll into a ball.   Wet your hands with water if they get sticky.

Fill a large bowl with water and add 1 cup of ice and 1 tsp of vinegar.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.  Gently drop all the meatballs into the boiling water.  Turn the heat to Low and simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Gently rotate the balls every few minutes.  Transfer meatballs to ice bath and dunk meatballs in the ice batch for 30 seconds.  Transfer to a colander and allow to drain.

Repeat the same steps for second batch.

Serve this meatballs in soups, noodle soups, stir frys, etc.  If you want to enjoy these meatballs as an appetizer or snack, serve with a Hoisin Plum Dipping Sauce and Satay Chili Paste.

Yields:  32-1/2 oz meatballs

Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen

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Satay Chili Paste (Ot Sa Te)

Everyone who knows me knows that I love spicy foods.  I am so addicted and crave the spice so much that I often carry my favorite hot sauce around in my handbag so it’s always handy.  This chili paste is my favorite not because it’s super spicy but because it has lots of flavor.  The name should give you an indication of one of the key ingredients providing the bold flavor–lemongrass!  Combine that with the garlic and dried red chilies and we have a tantalizing chili paste that is a wonderful companion to dipping sauces or a spicy condiment for your favorite dishes.  Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

2 bulbs garlic
2 stalks lemongrass
1 cup vegetable oil (olive oil or canola works well)
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 oz dried red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp paprika powder

Directions

Trim off the ends of the garlic cloves.  Smash each clove with the flat end of a knife and then peel off skin.

Cut off the root of the lemongrass and then cut-off a 6-7 inch section of the stalk.  Peel off 1-2 layers of the skin and discard.  Slice the lemongrass into coins about 1/4-inch thick.

Put lemongrass in a food processor and process for 45 seconds.  Scrape around the bowl.  Add the garlic and then processor for another 45 seconds.

Heat a skillet over Medium High heat.  When the pan is hot, add the vegetable oil.  Add the lemongrass/garlic mixture and stir together.  Add the sugar and salt.  Stir together and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 3-4 minutes.

Add the red pepper flakes and paprika powder.  Stir combining all the ingredients together.  Place the skillet back on the burner.  Cook over Low heat for another 2 minutes.

Allow to cool before serving.  Store any remaining amounts in an air-tight jar and refrigerate.  (This keeps in the refrigerator for a long time but for the best flavor store for up to 3 months.)

Yields:  1 1/2 cups

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Grilled Chicken Lettuce Wraps

If you’re in need of a dish with some pizazz, look no further!  These Grilled Chicken Lettuce Wraps are beautiful when assembled, absolutely scrumptious and so much fun to eat.  There’s something so carefree (and messy!) about eating with your fingers and this is the dish for you to just dig in.  Grab a leaf of lettuce, add some chicken and then pile on the fillings: noodles, carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro and cucumber and shallots marinated in a light vinaigrette.  Then lightly wrap the leaf around the fillings.  Dip the lettuce wrap into your sauce of choice.  Check out the recipe for the Essential Dipping Sauces.  They go perfectly with these Lettuce Wraps.  Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

Grilled Chicken:
1.5 lb chicken breast tenderloins
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp minced lemongrass
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground ginger
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp crushed peanuts for topping

Marinated Cucumbers:
1 large cucumber
1/2 shallot
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp roasted black sesame seeds

3 oz dry, extra thin rice or wheat noodle

Lettuce Wraps:
1 head butter leaf lettuce
1 red cabbage, outer leaves
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup bean sprouts

Directions

Cut chicken tenderloins in half lengthwise so they are approxoimately 1/2-inch thick.  In a large bowl, add all ingredients (except for chicken and crushed peanuts) and stir together.  Add chicken and toss together coating chicken evenly with the marinade.  Cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Cut off the core and gently peel the leaves from the butter leaf lettuce.  Trim the leaves if needed.  Wash lettuce in cold water and drain well.  Use a salad spinner to remove any excess water.  Chill in the refrigerator.  Prepare the cilantro, shredded carrots and bean sprouts in the same way.

Cut red cabbage in half and slice off 1/2-inch section into the core.  Peel the the first 3 layers of the red cabbage being careful not to tear through the leaves.  Separate the leaves and cut each cabbage bowl in half to form cabbage cups.  Set aside for now.

Trim off the ends of the cucumber and then cut into thirds.  Use an apple corer to remove the core.  Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and then cut into thin slices, approximately 1/8-inch thick.  Thinly slice shallots as well.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for seasame seeds.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add cucumber and shallots and toss together.  Cover bowl and refrigerate.

Place noodles into a large heat-proof bowl.  Cover noodles with boiling water.  Stir the noodles and allow to soak for 2 minutes.  Drain noodles shaking off any excess water.  Spread noodles around a colander and allow to air dry.

Grill chicken using an indoor or outdoor grill.  Cook chicken for 3-5 minutes on each side depending on thickness of chicken.  Allow to cool slightly.

Cover a large plate with the butter leaf lettuce.  Place 5 red cabbage cups along the edge of the plate.  Fill each cup with noodles, cilantro, carrots, and bean sprouts.  Fill the last cup with the marinated cucumbers.  Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the cucumbers.  Add grilled chicken into the center of plate and garnish with crushed peanuts.

To enjoy this dish, take a piece of butter leaf lettuce, add a piece of grilled chicken and your favorite fillings.  Lightly wrap the lettuce around the filling and dip into your favorite sauce.  Enjoy!

Yields: 4-6 servings

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