Meatballs. Strangely comforting for their rustic simplicity. Anyone can make meatballs with ground meat. But flavoring meatballs and giving them the best texture means adding the right ingredients in the correct amounts. That should explain why the list of ingredients for making meatballs in this recipe is rather long.
Adding chopped shiitake, black fungus and dried shrimps to the pork add such lovely flavor to meatballs. And, instead of breadcrumbs and egg to bind the ingredients together, I used a mixture of flour, corn starch and water. Unbelievable how much better the texture of the meatballs turned out! Light and bouncy, the meatballs left none of that bread-y sensation in the mouth.
Now, the sauce. The most common way of making sweet and sour sauce is to boil vinegar and sugar, add a red coloring agent (ketchup is a popular choice), drizzle in starch dispersed in water and stir until the mixture is thick.
But I find that starch is not essential in making sweet sour sauce. The better way is to boil sugar and vinegar until a syrup is formed. It’s the same technique I use for making sweet chili sauce (if you need a visual guide, see the linked post below) No starch but make a syrup instead. Sweet sour sauce cooked this way never clumps. And it coats the meatballs better too.
Meatballs in sweet sour sauce
- 400 grams ground pork - with at least 20% fat
- 2 shallots - finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped black fungus
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh shiitake - caps only
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimps - soaked then finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped carrot
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon grated ginger
- ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- ¼ teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
Sweet and sour sauce
- 1 white sugar - use the amount that suits your preference
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup rice wine
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon paprika - or 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- salt - to taste
- black pepper - to taste
To complete the dish
- cooking oil - for deep frying
- 1 red onion - diced
- 1 small carrot - thinly sliced
- 1 bell pepper - diced
- 1 stalk celery - thinly sliced
Marinate the ground pork
- In a bowl, mix together the ground pork, chopped shallots, wood ears, shiitake, dried shrimps, carrot, garlic, ginger, a teaspoon of salt, a quarter teaspoon of pepper, the five-spice powder, oyster sauce and sesame seed oil.
- In a small bowl, mix the flour and starch with two tablespoons of water until smooth. Pour into the ground pork and mix well.
Make the sweet sour sauce
- Dump the sugar into a thick-bottomed pan.
- Pour in the rice vinegar and rice wine.
- Boil over high heat, uncovered, until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the rest of the ingredients.
- Lower the heat to medium and continue boiling, uncovered and without stirring (stirring causes crystallization, for some reason), until the mixture is almost syrupy. Ten to twelve minutes. DO NOT wait for it to turn too thick as the sauce will thicken some more as it cools.
Fry the meatballs
- Form the ground pork mixture into two-inch balls.
- Heat enough cooking oil in a wok or frying pan to reach a depth of at least two inches.
- Over medium-high heat, fry the meatballs in the hot oil until nicely browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Scoop out and set aside.
- Pour off the cooking oil leaving only about two tablespoonfuls.
- Reheat the oil. Stir fry the onion, carrot, bell pepper and celery with a little salt and pepper for a minute or two.
- Add the meatballs to the vegetables. Pour in the sweet and sour sauce. Cook until the sauce is bubbly and the meatballs are glazed.