from one generation to the next
The sea of hands is proof. Age, race and gender are no barrier to meatball love, even vegetarians enjoy plant based versions. The four corners of the globe are united in their love of meatballs. Australians have even adopted the words polpette, kofta and keftedes into the vernacular as proof.
One of the very first challenges I encountered in the kitchen as a young adult was the frustration of making meatballs that didn’t fall apart. It took many, many attempts to succeed, and as I discovered along the way, it was as much about the cooking method as the meat mixture.
In the decades since that early fiasco, I’ve baked, sauteed, barbequed, grilled and poached meatballs. I’ve made them with beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, green prawns and white fish. My favourite is Italian style pork and veal meatballs, poached in a rich tomato sauce, spooned onto silky pasta and served with a generous grating of real parmesan. Poaching traps the delicious meat juices inside the meatball, and it also adds richness to the sauce.
I’d never steamed a batch of meatballs until I first made these rice studded meatballs of Chinese origin. Known as Pearl Meatballs or Porcupine Meatballs, the raw meatball mix is rolled in soaked rice, then cooked in a steamer until the rice is cooked. It absorbs any meaty juices that come to the surface adding the delicious essences to the pearlescent grains.
We ate our succulent meatballs straight from the steamer basket sauced with some ginger-soy. I wonder why I’ve never seen similar tasty little morsels at Yum Cha.
PS: Since originally writing and scheduling this post I’ve twice used different meat combos to make these meatballs. The first time I added the finely chopped meat from 500g of green prawns to the pork and dropped the mushrooms and water chestnuts. We liked this much more than the original recipe. The second time I substituted the minced pork with minced chicken, added prawns and reinstated the water chestnuts. It was excellent too.
Steamed Rice Studded Meatballs
1 cup short grained rice(I used sushi rice)
500g pork mince
2 tablespoons of finely chopped water chestnuts
2 tablespoon finely chopped, soaked shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons rice flour
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
1 tablespoon snipped chives
generous grinding of black pepper
Put the rice into a small bowl, cover with cold water allow to soak for at least 2 hours.
After soaking the rice, tip it into a strainer to drain, then spread the rice onto a couple of layers of kitchen paper to dry.
In a large bowl put the pork, shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, ginger, rice flour, spices and seasonings. Mix thoroughly to combine.
Roll the meatballs roughly 2cm in diameter, then roll in the rice so the meat is encased in a single layer of rice grains.
Line a steamer basket with a sheet of greaseproof paper and arrange the meatballs with a little space between, enough for the rice to swell.
You made need to steam the meatballs in 2 batches.
Cover the steamer tightly and cook for 30 – 35 minutes, timed from when the water starts boiling rapidly. Top the water up in the steamer as needed.
The rice will become transluscent when cooked.
Serve with ginger soy dipping sauce.
Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup light soy or tamari
1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
Mix all the ingredients together. Allow to rest for 15 minutes for the flavours to infuse.