I’m a big meatball fan using beef; I especially love meatball recipes which use small pieces of slightly moisten bread cubes folded into the meatball. (That’s how our maid, when I was growing up, cooked her meatballs.) But cooking pork meatballs never occurred to me until I saw recipes in various Chinese cookbooks. Recipes with pork and cabbage, as well as pork and potatoes, and pork with bok choy, mushrooms and rice, I saw were popular dishes. Seeing all these ideas was a wake-up call for me! What, a new combination! What, a delicious dish! What, pork with shrimp, how cool is that!
In one cookbook a certain recipe garnered my attention. As I inspected the process and ingredients, I saw immediately that I would have to make changes. While preparing the dish, combining the ingredients with my fingers, the mixture felt too wet! Because I’ve been cooking for so long, and remembering our maids’ method of adding bread, I did something similar: I added one to two hefty handful of bread crumbs. In addition, since I’ve been watching the Italian cook, Lidia Bastianach as she cooks beef meatballs, I made a mental note to copy her idea. She stated, to keep her meatballs more intact, to give them a crusty seal and to thicken the sauce slightly, she rolled them in a dusting of flour. And yes, keep the flour to a minimum, otherwise you’re creating a roux – a thick sauce. So that’s exactly what I did, rolled the meatballs in a thin layer of flour, even after I added the breadcrumbs since the texture was still slightly loose; it needed more firmness. I also eliminated one of the ingredients in this dish, which I felt didn’t fit well– water chestnuts. I didn’t want a crunchy bite to the meatballs. And, although I like ginger, I reduced that amount too. And there were other ingredients too which I adjusted to fit the recipe I wanted.
I love adding and eliminating ingredients to recipes. It’s a fun way to take a recipe to a fresh, unique level. You’re an artist in the kitchen, learning more skills by following hunches and ideas which feel right to you. Sure, sometimes as you experiment you may fall flat, but that is all part of the learning process- in the kitchen or elsewhere!
Meatballs Yields 12 meatballs
1 lb ground pork, 80% lean
3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
4 oz shrimp, shelled, deveined, and chopped fine
3/4 tsp ginger, minced, fresh, if possible
4 green onions, divided, 2 chopped fine, 2 chopped coarsely
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry, or wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1/2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1/4 – 1/3 cup bread crumbs
2-3 Tbsp flour
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 head Napa or savoy cabbage – about 1- 2 lbs- cut up in 3-4 inch pieces
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 For the meatballs, combine all the ingredients, except the oil, and use only the finely chopped scallions. Do not overly mix the ingredients. Add the bread crumbs, starting off first with one quarter cup, adding more if the mixture is still a bit wet. Shape the meat into 12 even balls. Roll the meatballs in the flour, but use only a light coating of flour, shaking off any extra. Lay them out on a large plate and put aside.
2 Heat the vegetable oil in a large 5-8 quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Carefully add the meatballs, brown, turning them occasionally, but still letting them stay in one spot for a few minutes as they turn a nice golden color. Cook for 7-10 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, add the other two chopped scallions, reduce the heat, and when about one minute remains, add the garlic clove, and turn the heat to low. Cook 2 more minutes. With a spoon, remove most, or as much of the oil as you can.
3 To the pot add the chicken broth, tomato sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes. Place the cut-up cabbage atop the meatballs, cover, and cook 10-15 minutes, until the cabbage is tender, checking the meat to make sure it is cooked through.
4 Using a slotted spoon, remove the the cabbage and meatballs to a serving platter, leaving the pot with just the sauce.
5 In a small bowl, mix the cold water and cornstarch. Bring the sauce to a low-simmer. Stirring constantly, add the cold water and cornstarch mixture. Cook for about one-three minutes as the sauce gradually thickens. Turn down the heat, add the sesame oil. Do not boil too long, otherwise the sauce will thin again.
6 Adjust for any additional seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and cabbage and serve.
Tips and Tweaks
- To add a taste and touch of greenery, in the middle of step 3, before you add the cabbage, add 1-2 cups of defrosted peas, or a small can of cooked peas of your choice.
- Alongside the warm cabbage and meatballs, serve dollops of sour cream.
- Add one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce at step 3.
- If you have extra cabbage, and the pot with the meat would be too full; saute the cut-up extra pieces in butter and serve at another meal.