The Vietnamese have a version of meatballs known as Xíu Mại. At first glance, it may appear to be pretty typical of most meatball standards, but upon closer inspection, a few distinguishing factors set them apart. Firstly the addition of jicama, which is cut down to the point of being almost indiscernible, brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the texture and flavour of the meatballs. A subtle sweetness and unexpected crunch are a welcome change from the mealy texture of most meatballs. The second distinguishing difference is that although they are stewed in a tomato sauce, the sauce here leans more to the sweet and tangy side, prompted by the addition of sugar and everyday white vinegar. Traditionally served with crusty baguette-style bread (in either fully assembled sandwich form or a dip as you go setting) but can also be paired with steamed white rice and even vermicelli rice noodles, these meatballs can also be enjoyed with a fried egg for brunch. The pickled onions add a nice sweet and crunchy layer and, thanks to their quick pickle method, can be done at the top of prep and finished just in time to serve.
Xíu Mại (Vietnamese Meatballs) 9 Steps
Prepare the pickled onions: combine the granulated sugar, water, white vinegar and kosher salt to a simmer in a small pot. Once simmering, stir until the sugar has dissolved and remove from the heat. Slice the yellow onions into rounds approximately 2 millimetres thick, separate into individual rings then place into a bowl or jar. Cover the sliced onions with the warm pickling liquid and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Note: this can be done up to two days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
Combine the panko breadcrumbs and whole milk in a small bowl and set aside to absorb for at least 10 minutes.
Heat the olive oil up in a pan, add in the small diced onions as well as the small diced jicama (note that both should be about the size of lentils) and cook until softened and only lightly browned, allow to cool before assembling the mix.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, ground beef, cooked onion and jicama mixture, panko and milk mixture, beaten egg, half of the fish sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce, black pepper and mix until even (careful not to overmix or the meatballs will be tough) form a small patty and cook off to test for seasoning, adjust to preference.
Using a 2 oz ice cream scoop (or 3-4 tablespoons), scoop and form the meatballs onto a plate.
Heat a large shallow braiser or pan on medium high and add in the vegetable oil. Carefully begin browning the meatballs, working in batches if necessary so as to not overcrowd. Once the meatballs are browned on most sides, remove from the pan and continue cooking until they are all cooked off.
Discard any excess fat, leaving just enough in the pan to just thinly but evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add in the minced garlic as well as the granulated sugar and cook for 30 seconds. Add in the tomato paste and continue to cook for another minute or so.
Add in the white vinegar, the chicken stock, crusted tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and bring to a simmer. Gently nestle in the browned meatballs and continue to cook on a strong simmer for another 20-25 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through, turning the meatballs every 10 minutes or so.
Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve with the pickled onions, fresh cilantro sprigs and toasted crusty bread.