I love meatballs. Being part Italian I heavily favor the meatballs of my youth, piled on top of a mass of spaghetti and covered in grated cheese. While over the years I’ve taken the ones my mother and grandmother made for me growing up and added my own twist to them, they are essentially the same thing.
More recently I’ve started going beyond what I grew up with and started experimenting with other flavors, imagining what a meatball might be like in different ethnic and regional cuisines. I’ve mixed flavors and proteins, whether it was adding a gyro seasoning mix to lamb for greek style or hot sauce to ground chicken for buffalo wing meatballs, it has certainly been a tasty journey.
Recently I began experimenting with Asian and Thai flavors, as they are always so bright and fresh. In the past I’ve braised country ribs with a number of these elements and it always came out great. However, I began to wonder what would happen if I ground the meat and incorporated the elements into the meat itself rather than incorporating those flavors in a braising liquid.
Excited, I broke down my coconut and mango braised country rib recipe and went to work. I started out the process like every other meatball I’ve ever made by grinding the meat, then chopping and dicing the various elements that would season the meat. After mixing all the elements together I let it get happy in the refrigerator while I contemplated things like how to cook them, what to serve with them and garnishes.
Standard operating procedure for me has been to sear my meatballs in a dutch oven, then build my sauce around the meat. I knew that this would be the best way to go, but the real question was how to best build the sauce around them. I decided to stick with the script and used coconut milk, a touch of orange juice and some diced mango as a braising liquid to finish the meatballs after they had a good sear on them. Then, after they were cooked through, I would take the braising liquid and run it through the blender to make a nice, smooth sauce.
Originally I considered making a sticky rice to serve with them, but I was concerned it might tip the dish into a “too sweet” category and instead chose to run with soba noodles. Plus, I liked the playfulness of the noodles as a substitute for spaghetti. Armed with a finely diced mango, some roughly chopped cilantro and lightly crushed cashews my garnishes were ready to go.
The result was a well balanced dish that packed some bright flavors from the cilantro, lemongrass and ginger, sweetness from the coconut and mango, and, of course, a subtle heat that lingered in just the right amount with the sriracha. If there is one thing I would do different next time, it is that I would run the braising liquid through the blender at about the half way mark, return it to the pan and turn up the heat a little to reduce it a little more to thicken it up a bit.
If you like Thai flavors and are up for a little adventure, then I think you’ll enjoy these Thai style meatballs. I know they have certainly become one of my favorites.
What is your favorite meatball recipe?
Thai style meatballs
- 3# pork
- 1 cup panko
- 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- Grind the pork using a fine plate and return to the refrigerate to firm back up
- Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, chili powder, garlic and ginger to form a slurry
- After the meat has rested for about 20 minutes, work in the cilantro, scallions, lemongrass, red bell pepper, the slurry, and egg
- Add the panko slowly and use your hands to combine until the mixture is mostly dry (you may need a little more bread crumbs to make it all come together, just add a little at a time)
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the meatball mixture for at least an hour (overnight would be even better)
- Form into balls and sear them in a dutch oven, a large frying pan or a cast iron pan
- Cook on all sides, then add the elements of the braising liquid and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cooked through
Coconut Mango Sauce
- 3 cups coconut milk
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 mangoes, roughly diced
- 1 mango, finely diced (for garnish)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
- 4 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped (reserved one quarter for garnish)
- 1/4 cup cashews, lightly crushed (or peanuts, if you prefer, for garnish)
- Add the coconut milk, orange juice, mangoes, cilantro and lemongrass to the seared meatballs
- When the meatballs are cooked through (20 to 30 minutes), remove them and the lemongrass from the pan, then transfer the liquid and mango to a blender and pulse until smooth (make sure the hot liquid does not go more than 3/4 of the way up your blender carafe. If it does, blend in batches)
- Pour the finished sauce over the meatballs and noodles, then garnish with finely diced mango, reserved chopped cilantro and cashews