Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chicken Meatball Summer Rolls and Hoisin-Garlic Sauce

This recipe was inspired by a recipe that I found in my Vietnamese cookbook and the pork summer rolls at Ma Peche.  I was originally planning on making tiny pork meatballs or patties flavored with lemongrass for my summer rolls but then I decided to go a little healthier and stick with chicken meatballs.  Sometimes I do try to be healthy.  I periodically swear that I am going to eat more veggies and eat healthier, but throw me an interesting pork belly recipe and all of my good intentions go to hell in a handbasket.  I can't even count the number of times that it has happened.  But every once in awhile I pick the healthier option, like picking chicken over pork with this meal. 

In the end, I kind of wish I had made traditional summer rolls with poached shrimp and pork.  The chicken meatballs were good, but they made the summer rolls feel a little clunky/heavy.  Their heaviness obscured the fresh and delicate flavors of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce.  And just seemed out of kilter with the rest of the dish.  I think the meatballs would work really well in a play on a banh mi - with pickled vegetables and herbs.  I also think they would work better in the summer rolls if we adjusted the ratio of meatball to herbs.  I think that cutting the meatballs into quarters and upping the amount of herbs and cucumber would be better.  And they need a different sauce.  We served the summer rolls with the modified hoisin-garlic sauce from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, but the sauce really didn't work for me.  You couldn't eat the summer rolls without the sauce, but I felt like the flavors really didn't compliment each other very well.  I would prefer a more standard nuoc cham dipping sauce with those meatballs.  Or maybe a spicy sriracha mayo if you made banh mi.  Actually, that sounds like a pretty good idea.  But if I were to make the meatballs again I would play around with the ingredients a little to modify their texture.  I think I would add some minced lemongrass and more shallots and cut out the potato flour.  I might have to add more roasted rice powder to help bind the mixture together if I cut out the flour entirely, but I'm ok with that.

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken Meatball Summer Rolls and Hoisin-Garlic Sauce

For meatballs
1 lb ground chicken
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp potato flour
1/2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus 1 tsp, separated
2 tbsp roasted rice powder
1 shallot, chopped
For sauce
2 tbsp creamy salted peanut butter
2 tbsp, plus 1 cup water
1 tbsp neutral oil (canola or grapeseed) 
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 - 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
1 tsp tomato paste
6 - 8 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
For summer rolls
8 leaves of tender lettuce, leaves separated (we used red leaf, but butter lettuce works too)
1/2 of a English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced on the bias
1 cup assorted herbs (we used cilantro, mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander aka rau ram)
1 small bunch Chinese chives (garlic chives)
8 rice paper rounds, 8 1/2 inches in diameter 

Combine chicken, baking powder, potato flour, sugar, fish sauce, oil, rice powder and shallot in the bowl of a food processor.  Process in pulses until mixture forms a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, about 4-6 hours.  Remove chicken mixture from the refrigerator, and roll into golf ball-sized balls with lightly oiled hands.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Heat a large nonstick pan over moderately-high heat with 1 tsp vegetable oil.  Sear meatballs until lightly golden on all sides, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer meatballs to a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast meatballs until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Remove meatballs from oven and allow to cool until they are cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.  Cut meatballs in half and set aside.

To make the sauce, combine peanut butter with 2 tbsp water and mix until smooth.  In a small saucepan, combine oil, garlic, and chile flakes over medium-low.  When the oil is sizzling, add tomato paste and whisk.  When the oil is bright yellow-orange, pour in 1 cup water to stop cooking.  Increase cooking time to medium and whisk in peanut butter mixture.  When the sauce begins to boil, whisk in 6 tbsp hoisin sauce.  Let the sauce cook for 1 minute and taste, adding more hoisin if necessary.  Add fish sauce.  Bring sauce to simmer and then cook for 30 seconds, or until sauce thickens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, uncovered.  Transfer sauce to a bowl and sprinkle  peanuts, sesame seeds and scallion on top.  

On a flat work surface,  set up a bowl of warm water for dipping rice paper and place meatballs, lettuce, cucumber slices, herbs and Chinese chives nearby.  Drip a rice paper into water until it softens, approximately 5-10 seconds, and then place on work surface.  Place lettuce on the lower third of the rice paper round, then place a few slices of the cucumber on top of the lettuce and arrange herbs and Chinese chives on top.  Add 3-4 chicken meatball halves on top of herbs.  Roll the rice paper up over the meatball and herb filling.  Roll up both sides of the rice paper so that it forms a tight package.  Continue to roll until you have a snug package.  Place platters on a roll, making sure that the rolls do not touch.

 Serve summer rolls with dipping sauce.

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