Meatballs in tomato sauce
Makes about 30 meatballs, enough for 6 sandwiches ■ Takes about 1 and 1/4 hours
This tasty old school sandwich is a conundrum of sorts. It features delicate Viet meatballs called xiu mai, which are inspired by the filling for shu mai dumplings, the wildly popular Cantonese dim sum. The fragrant pork mixture is steamed as spheres, then put into a light tomato sauce bath. (Poaching the meatballs in the tomato sauce is my less fussy approach.) To distribute the meat in the bread and construct a sandwich that holds together, banh mi makers mash the meatballs when stuffing them into baguette.
Yes, a smashed meatball sandwich based on a dumpling is a crazy-delicious banh mi.
1¼ pounds (565 g) ground pork, about 85 percent lean
⅓ cup (2 oz / 60 g) finely chopped yellow onion
½ cup (2.25 oz / 70 g) finely
chopped water chestnuts
2 tablespoons finely
chopped cilantro sprigs or green onion (green part only)
¼ plus ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
About ½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1½ tablespoons regular soy sauce
1½ tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (see page 67)
1 large egg
A 14.5-ounce (410 g) can peeled whole tomatoes in juice (1¾ cups / 420 ml)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup (240 ml) water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup (2 oz / 60 g) chopped shallot
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
For the meatballs, in a bowl, combine the pork, onion, water chestnuts, and cilantro, stirring and mashing with a fork. In a smaller bowl, beat together the pepper, salt, sugar, cornstarch, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, and egg. Pour over the meat mixture. Use the fork, a spatula, or your hand to vigorously mix into a sticky, compact mixture. Cover and set aside.
Put the canned tomatoes in a bowl and use your hands to break and mash them up; discard any skin or hard stem ends. Add the 1 tablespoon sugar, ketchup, and water. Set aside.
To cook the sauce and fit all the meatballs in one layer, select a big, wide pan, like a 5-quart (5 l) Dutch oven or deep skillet. Heat it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, until turning golden. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant and no longer raw smelling. Add the tomato mixture.
Bring to a vigorous simmer. With wet hands, form meatballs the size of ping-pong balls (about 11⁄2 tablespoons each), gently dropping them into the bubbling sauce as you work. You’ll have about 30 meatballs total; toward the end, gently shake the pan or nudge semicooked meatballs to make room for new ones. When done, all of the meatballs should barely be covered in liquid; add water if needed.
Vigorously simmer for 10 to 20 minutes to cook through and reduce the sauce. When done, the meatballs should be about two-thirds covered by sauce; if you coat the back of a spoon and run your finger through the sauce, a line should hold. Taste and add extra salt, if needed. Cool for
about 15 minutes to further concentrate the flavors. Skim the orange oil that gathers at the top or leave it for richness. The warm meatballs are ready for banh mi.
Line the bottom of the bread with some sauce and smear mayo on the top portion; drizzle on a little Maggi, if you want.
Add the meatballs, breaking and mashing them with your fingers or a spoon to distribute well; or mash the meatballs in the sauce before adding them to the bread. Add any of the pickles, cucumber, cilantro, and chile. Eat your Vietnamese meatball sandwich fast or it will get soggy.
To make ahead, cool completely and refrigerate for up to 3 days; warm the meatballs in a saucepan or microwave oven.
(Reprinted with permission from The Banh MI Handbook by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Food Photography credit: Paige Green © 2014)