By Maggie Conklin
My friends Ingrid, Liz and I loved watching videos by Ziqi Li, a young woman who lived in northern China with her grandmother and made just about everything from scratch. They had a large garden, she foraged from local forests, made wonderful meals from scratch as well as her own clothing, drying racks and screened-in porches.
I recently watched her make these pork meatballs that, deep fried, open up into lovely blooms. Kind of like a blooming onion, but in meat form.
I had a 9-lb. pork shoulder in my freezer perfect for the job, so I thawed it, cut it in half and put the half with the bone in it into the slow cooker for pork roast that night.
The videos were in Chinese, so I had no instruction except watching her go through the process. I admit my endproduct wasn’t the best, but I will make a couple small adjustments here for you so yours turns out better than my first attempt.
4 lbs. lean pork shoulder or butt roast
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 cups cooking oil, like peanut or canola.
Vegetables for stir-fry
Soba (buckwheat) noodles
Soy sauce and Hoisin sauce to taste
Slice or cube the raw pork, then lay in on wood chopping board sandwiched between plastic clingwrap. Use a tenderizing mallet or rolling pin to hammer the daylights out of it until it is thin and practically pulp. These meatballs are not like ours made of ground meat; they are much smoother as they are made of meat pulp.
Pull any fat and sinew from the meat, keeping the leanest parts. Put lean pork pulp in a food processor with the plastic not-too-sharp blade attachment. Sprinkle salt on top. Run for about two minutes, or until meat is pulverized and makes a nice ball.
Boil water in pot. Grab a handful of meat and squeeze a 1-inch ball out between the crook of your thumb and first finger. Drop in the water to boil and repeat for the rest of the meat. Balls are cooked when they float; I let them cook another minute or two before ladling them out to dry on paper towels.
Now for the fun part: Cool balls in refrigerator for an hour or overnight. Cut small slits 3/4 of the way through each ball in one direction, then crisscross cuts in the other direction, leaving the base of the ball intact. This will allow them to open into flowers when deep-fried.
Heat cooking oil in a smaller pot to medium-hot and drop in a few blooming meatballs. I did my first batch about 8 to 10 minutes, which was too long and they got tough. The next batch was 5 minutes and was much improved.
Serve with soba noodles on the bottom, stir-fried veggies on that, arrange blooming meatballs around the dish and cover with more soy and/or hoisin sauce to taste.