When it comes to meatballs, simplicity doesn’t mean compromising on quality. As a discerning food enthusiast, you’ll appreciate that there are certain standards that this seemingly straightforward dish should meet. The meatballs should maintain their round, firm shape without crumbling. They should be packed with flavor, properly seasoned, and have an enticing aroma. Above all, they should be moist and tender, striking the perfect balance between succulence and greasiness.
Of course, that’s just my personal preference when it comes to food, but don’t be discouraged because these meatballs are actually quite easy to make. To avoid dryness, choose minced meat with a certain fat content. The meat should be finely minced, not as smooth as pork paste but more textured than what you would use for grilled pork patties. Adding tapioca starch, cornstarch, or breadcrumbs to the meat helps bind it together, preventing the meatballs from falling apart during cooking.
Now, let’s dive into the recipe for Vietnamese meatballs in tomato sauce. Instead of steaming, I prefer to briefly fry the meatballs to retain their juiciness. Fry them until they develop a delightful golden crust and release a mouthwatering aroma that will make your neighbors curious. Then, simmer the meatballs in tomato sauce. This method ensures that the meatballs retain their juicy texture without any dryness. They also absorb the flavors of the tomato sauce, making them a perfect complement to rice, bread, or pasta. Even better, they can be prepared in advance, frozen, and reheated whenever you need a quick and delicious meal during busy weekdays.
INGREDIENTS (make approximately 18-22 meatballs, depending on size)
- 1 medium onion (80-90 grams / 3 oz.)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic (10 grams)
- 250 grams / 0.5 lb. fresh tomatoes
- 500 grams / 1 lb. minced meat
- 2-3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs or tapioca starch
- 1 medium-sized egg (60 grams including shell)
- 3 tablespoons of ketchup
- Optional garnish: spring onions, coriander
- Optional thickening agent: 1-2 teaspoons of corn starch or tapioca starch for the sauce
- Salt or fish sauce to taste
- Ground pepper
- For these meatballs, I usually use a combination of half minced pork and half minced beef. You can use either entirely pork or entirely beef, but ensure that the meat has some fat to prevent dryness.
- A delicious variation of this recipe is to add cubed mozzarella cheese in the center of the meatballs. This gives them a fusion twist and enhances the flavor. However, this deviates from the traditional Vietnamese style.
- Prepare ingredients:
- Peel the onion and garlic, then finely chop them
- Make shallow cuts on the tomato skins, then dip them into boiling water for about 20-30 seconds. Peel off the skins and remove the seeds and excess juice. Cube or chop the tomato flesh.
- Chop the spring onions and rinse the coriander leaves.
- Make the meatballs:
- In a bowl, combine the meat with ¾ of the chopped onion and garlic, breadcrumbs (or tapioca starch), egg, salt (or fish sauce according to your preference), and ground pepper. Mix the ingredients together well. Roll the meat mixture into small balls, making approximately 18-22 meatballs depending on their size.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings according to your preference. Make sure the meatballs are not too salty as they will be cooked with the seasoned tomato sauce. If you’re unsure about the seasonings, you can take a small spoonful of the mixture and cook it in the microwave (or on the stove if you don’t have a microwave) to taste-test before cooking the entire batch
- Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs until the outer crust is browned, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. The interior does not need to be fully cooked as the meatballs will be simmered in the tomato sauce later. Avoid frying them for too long, as it can result in dry meatballs by draining out the juices. Once cooked, transfer the meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
- Make the tomato sauce:
- Wash the pan or use a clean one. Heat a spoonful of oil (or butter for a better taste and aroma) and sauté the remaining ¼ of the chopped onion and garlic.
- Add the cubed tomatoes to the pan along with ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir-fry until the tomatoes are well cooked and tender.
- Add 3 tablespoons of ketchup, around 2/3 cup of water, and ½ tablespoon of sugar to the mixture. Stir until well combined. Lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for approximately 5-10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Add the fried meatballs to the pan and simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure the meatballs cook evenly in the tomato sauce.
- Once done, transfer the meatballs to serving plates. If you prefer a thicker tomato sauce, mix 1-2 teaspoons of tapioca starch or corn starch with cold water, then gradually add it to the sauce. Stir gently while adding the starch mixture and stop when the sauce reaches your desired thickness. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add some water to thin it out. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle chopped spring onions, coriander, and ground pepper on top. Serve hot with steamed rice, bread, or pasta.
*The ideal meatballs are well-cooked, tender in texture, and have a rich flavor without any dryness. The tomato sauce should have a balanced and well-seasoned combination of sweetness and saltiness.