Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

After knocking out a bunch of (Belated) Chinese New Year meals two weeks ago, we seem to have detoured into meals that come from or are inspired by Southeast Asia.  Part of that is totally random but a lot of the ingredients that work for Chinese food work just as well for Southeast Asian.  And since I don't make it to Chinatown that often, every time I go down there I tend to buy a ton of Asian ingredients that I can't find anywhere on the UWS.  Then I have to figure out a use for all of the random ingredients, like the Thai basil that we used in these pork meatballs.  But don't worry, this weekend we went back to our (Belated) Chinese New Year meals for some homemade dumplings that require a bunch of time and effort to put together (hence my need to make them over the weekend).  I'll try to post about the dumplings tomorrow.

I have been thinking about making these banh mis for some time.  I love banh mi and I am a big fan of meatballs so this recipe represents a very a natural pairing for me.  But the recipe ended up at the bottom of my list of bookmarked recipes so I sat on it for a long time.  But I was trying to come up with a recipe to use some ground pork so here I am.  When I tried just a bite of the pork meatballs I wasn't blown away.  They were flavorful, but they felt a little heavy and dense.  But when I took a bite of the sandwich with the hot chili mayo, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro and jalapenos it all came together.  You got heat from the hot chili mayo (which I loved and I never ever love mayo) and jalapenos, bright acidity and snappy texture from from the carrots and daikon and bright herbaceous-ness from the cilantro.  All of the components just worked beautifully together.  The only component that didn't work was the bread and that was our fault.  By the time I made it to Fairway on Wednesday night the only baguettes left were slightly doughy whole wheat baguettes.  I did my best, but they were kind of leaden and spongy (and tasted really blah).  If the baguette had been nice and fresh, with a crackly exterior and a really tender crumb I think the banh mi would have been really tasty.  Because it really was the bread here that killed it for me.  So if you want to make this recipe (and you should because the sandwich has serious potential), do yourself a favor and either get proper crusty banh mi bread, or pick up a nice baguette and go to town.

Recipe after the jump!

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit
January 2010

For hot chili mayo:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 scallion, finely chopped
2 tsp sriracha 
For meatballs:
3/4 pound ground pork
generous 3 tbsp fresh Thai basil, finely chopped 
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 scallions, finely chopped
generous 2 tsp fish sauce
generous 2 tsp sriracha
generous 2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
For sandwiches:
1/2 cup carrots, coarsely grated
1/2 cup daikon, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tbsp cup sugar
1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 10-inch-long individual baguettes or two 8-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette 
Thinly sliced jalapeƱo chiles
10 large fresh cilantro sprigs

Stir all ingredients for the hot chili mayo in small bowl.  Season with salt.  Cover and set aside to hang out in the fridge.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap.  Gently mix all meatball ingredients together in large bowl.  Do not overmix.  Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs.  Arrange on baking sheet.

Toss first carrots, daikon, rice vinegar, sugar and salt together in medium non-reactive bowl.  Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.  When ready to serve, drain the pickling liquid.
Preheat oven to 300°F.  Heat sesame oil and vegetable oil in large oven-proof skillet over moderately high heat.  Add meatballs.  Depending on the size of your pan you might be able to cook them all in one batch, or you might need to cook in multiple batches.  Either way, don't overcrowd the pan.  Saute meatballs until golden brown all over and almost cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 12-15 minutes.  Transfer pan to oven.  If you are cooking your meatballs in batches, transfer the meatballs to a rimmed baking sheet and put the baking sheet in the oven and cook remaining meatballs.  After 3-5 minutes, the meatballs will be cooked through.  Cut one in half to test.
Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half.  Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell.  Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell.  Arrange pickled carrots and daikon and jalapenos in bottom halves.  Top with meatballs.  Top meatballs with cilantro.  

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