Hello! Look, no guest this week, it is me! With A Taste Of You releasing in a few weeks, I thought I might share with you a recipe that was the inspiration for one of Garrett’s dishes.
Garrett took a fussy bite of the meat. “The meatball is actually pretty good. Maybe a tad salty.”
“Fine. I give up. I don’t know what you have against regular food.”
“I could make a better one.”
“No. Don’t. Please, just don’t even.” Because he was sure Garrett could make a better one. Except the meatball would probably be the size of a pea. He would serve it in a spoon or some shit and call it an amuse bouche. It would be delicious. Real meatball subs everywhere would curl up and die of shame. He loved Garrett, god help him, and Garrett was a freaking genius in the kitchen, but he drove Carlo up a wall sometime with his quirks. Turning every damn thing he ate into a work of art was the best and worst of them.
Well, of course Garrett doesn’t give up on his meatball and it re-appears later…in drastically altered form.
A variation of Garrett’s meatball is what I have for you today.
To be honest, meatballs are one of those things that elude me as a cook. I don’t know why, but I’m seriously horrible at them. Bones gets takeout for his meatball subs. However, I can make these. And they are yummy. And Bones loves them. (Or he loves me and lies well, you’ll have to be the judge.)
LEMONGRASS-CHICKEN MEATBALLS ON RICE VERMICELLI
If I can make these, anyone can, but there are a few special ingredients involved, like lemongrass and fish-sauce – so make sure you have those on hand. I grow my own lemongrass, but forgot last night that I would need it for this and had to go root around in the dark with a flashlight to get some. Don’t be like me. Plan ahead. Proper prep makes an easy meal. Mise en place, y’all.
Now, this recipe has three parts, the meatballs, the noodles, and the dipping sauce (not pictured)
Let’s start with the meatballs, because they need to sit for a bit
Lemongrass Chicken Meatballs
1 stalk lemongrass
1 pound ground chicken
1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 Thai bird or serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Remove and discard the outer layers from the lemongrass to reveal the pale yellow inner stalk. Trim off the bulbous tip of the stalk. Using a very sharp knife, thinly slice the lemongrass into rounds until you reach the very tough upper stalk. Discard the upper stalk. Transfer the sliced lemongrass to a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Pulse about 12 times, until the lemongrass is finely minced. Measure 1 1/2 tablespoons of the minced lemongrass. (The remaining lemongrass can be frozen for up to 3 months.)
Combine the minced lemongrass, ground chicken, shallots, fish sauce, cornstarch, chile, garlic, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 4 hours.
While our meatballs are in the fridge, we can prepare the rest of the dish.
Next up is the dipping sauce.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1/4 cup distilled white or rice vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 carrot, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
2 Thai bird or serrano chiles, seeded and minced
Bring 1/2 cup water and the granulated sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a bowl and let cool. Add the fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, carrot, and chiles and stir well.
Hi – It’s me! Okay, so I’m chronically late getting supper on the table and Bones came home at this point and insisted on doing the carrots because I forgot to buy carrots and the only ones on hand are those little faux baby carrots and he thinks I’ll slice my fingers off on the box cutter. Also, he is nice enough to seed and chop the bird pepper. Then, later, when we are eating supper, he looks at the dipping sauce and,
“What are those seeds?”
“I think those are from the pepper.”
“The one I seeded and chopped for you?”
“Oh. I guess I just scraped off everything on the cutting board.”
Anyway, the dipping sauce was still fine, so don’t worry if you go a bit off track here and there.
OH – ALSO, this makes way more dipping sauce than we seem to need, so if you want to cut something down, this is the place.
Vermicelli and scallion oil
10 ounces thin rice vermicelli
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Prepare the vermicelli according to the package directions and toss with 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil.
Pour the remaining vegetable oil into a medium skillet. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Okay, while the vermicelli is cooking you can start finishing up the meatballs.
Using your wet hands rinsed under cold water, shape the meat mixture into 12 equal meatballs.
It’s me! First of all, that wet hand thing is important, otherwise that shit is just going to stick to your hands and make a big sloppy mess. Second, I actually make these into about 20-24 meatballs rather the 12 mentioned in the original recipe. This makes them closer to bite-size and, more importantly, makes them way easier to cook evenly.
More me! Now, the original recipe says to grill the meatballs. I’m sure that way is wonderful, but it’s 30 degrees outside, Bones is already home and hungry, and I don’t grill. I pan-cook these suckers. Just put a little oil in a non-stick skillet, hot it up, and cook the meatballs until they are done. (Way easier at the smaller size, I promise).
Pour the dipping sauce into 4 ramekins. Divide the rice vermicelli among 4 deep bowls. Top each with meatballs and equal amounts of the scallion oil. Serve with the dipping sauce.
NOTE ON THE PICTURE: That cute little meatball is a nod to Garrett’s amuse bouche. That is my actual meatball (at 1/2 size the original recipe). I’m sure Garrett’s would be even smaller, perfectly round, and uniformly seared on the outside. Presentation is not my strong suit, so we’ll have to use our imaginations for that bit. This recipe makes a supper for 3-4 people (or however many in your family it takes to eat a pound of chicken and a bunch of rice noodles).
Also, please be aware I shamelessly stole this recipe from Epicurious.com, if you want the proper instructions. They reprinted it from the original in I Love Meatballs by Rick Rodgers (and they actually got permissions).
I think these would also go great in a nice lemon-grass soup broth. If anyone wants to try that, let me know how it turns out!