Saturday, May 5, 2012
Meatballs: Binder Not Necessary!
It turns out you don't actually need a binding agent for your meatballs not to be too dense!
I'd previously talked about meatballs without a binder of some sort being rather dense and hard. However, after that post, I came across a recipe for shi zi tou (lion heads--large pork meatballs) that I adapted and wrote about, that didn't use a binder, but also braised the meatballs for a long time to tenderize the meat. In John Sinclair's recipe, linked in that post, he used water to somewhat thin out and cohere the ground pork. I noticed that the meat became more moist and less "crumbly" as a result.
Well, this was intriguing, so with my most recent couple of experiments with my pork meatballs, I tried just mixing in water but no binding agent. The result: the meatballs are less dense and hard without having to cook for a long time! Of course, they aren't as tender as they would be if braised or with a binder. But, they are better, and don't take so long to prepare (yay) and don't require flour or starch in the recipe.
The watered pork also reminded me of these bamboo half-pipes with uncooked pork meatball mixture ready to cook that you can order at shabu-shabu restaurants. You just push off a portion into the boiling soup and you have a meatball cooking in the pot. I think there's probably some egg in the mixture, and not just water, to get it to be more tender.
Unfortunately, I don't think there's really a set proportion of water to pork, though; you have to go by feel. To put you in the ballpark, though, I'd say start with about 1 TBS water : 1/4 lb. ground pork (or a little less, especially if you're adding egg or other binder) and add more if necessary.