XI’AN-STYLE SMUSHED LAMB MEATBALLS BRAISED IN JOY-JUICE, STUFFED IN CH-ENGLISH MUFFINS… MORE THAN WORDS
I can’t even… I won’t even… I’m not even gonna… Look, my friends, this is my Xi’an-style smushed lamb meatballs braised in joy-juice, slobbering in between a layer of sesame/peanut sauce and cilantro/red onion slaw, my signature chili oil and Xi’an burger buns (call it Ch-english muffins). If you are looking at them and doesn’t have the urge to tell me to shut the fuck up now, and get to it, then I don’t know nothin’ about foods. This is where that song – More Than Words – was written for, a song that I suffered through 20 years of karaoke with and couldn’t figure out the appeal, until now.
And you wouldn’t have to saaayeh~ that you love me. Cuz I’d already knowoah~
- 17.6 oz (500 grams) ground lamb
- 17.6 oz (500 grams) ground pork
- 1/2 medium onion, finely minced
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil + 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1/2 medium onion, finely minced
- 7 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1" square peeled ginger, finely minced
- 2 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tbsp ground sichuan peppercorn
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3~4 dried bay leaves
- 3 star anise
- 2 whole cloves
- 2 cups (475 grams) low sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 cup (118 grams) Chinese rice wine (not shaoxing wine)
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) soy sauce
- 2 tsp dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup (70 grams) toasted white sesame paste (or equivalent amount of white sesames in weight)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 1/2 tbsp (24 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 1 tbsp (15 grams) soy sauce
- 2 tsp (14 grams) honey
- 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 4~5 ice cubes (about 1 tbsp each)
- 1 cup (54 grams) chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
- 1/4 cup (15 grams) chopped fresh mint
- 2~3 tbsp mayonnaise
- Xi'an-style chili oil to serve
- TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS: Evenly mix ground lamb, ground pork, mined onion, cornstarch, toasted sesame oil and salt in a large bowl. Line a large baking-sheet with parchment, and prepare 1/4 cup of soy sauce on the side (not in the list). Form 8 equal sized, tightly packed meatballs, then dab your hands with soy sauce and thinly rub it over the exteriors of the meatballs (this will help the caramel-coloring as they bake). Space the meatballs on the baking-sheet, then bake under a preheated broiler on high (middle-upper rack in the oven) for 15 min, turning once in between, until evenly browned all over.
- TO BRAISE THE MEATBALLS: In a heavy bottomed skillet large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer, heat toasted sesame oil and canola oil on medium-high heat. Cook the minced onion, garlic and ginger for 1 min until fragrant, then add cumin, coriander, sichuan peppercorn, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise and cloves. Cook for another min until fragrant, then add chicken stock, rice wine, soy sauce and dark brown sugar, and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs and all the drippings, then put the lid on and turn the heat down to low.
- Cook for 1~1:30 hour, turning the meatballs occasionally, until the liquid has reduced down by 1/2 and the meatballs are tender. Carefully remove the meatballs from the liquid and set aside. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract as much sauce as you can, then discard the solids. Whisk the Dijon mustard into the sauce (*I know this sounds weird, but trust me, just do it. Dijon mustard*), then return the meatballs and simmer for another 5 min. Can be made up to 3 days before hand. To reheat, keep the lid on and warm through over low heat (add a couple tbsp of water if the sauce has reduced too much).
- TO MAKE THE SESAME AND PEANUT SAUCE: If you can't find toasted white sesame paste (not tahini, which is barely toasted), toast the equivalent amount of white sesame seeds in a skillet over medium-high heat for a few min, stirring constantly, until they turn golden and fragrant. In a food-processor or blender, blend the toasted white sesame paste (or toasted white sesame), smooth peanut butter, soy sauce, honey and balsamic vinegar for 2~3 min until smooth. Then blend in the ice cubes, 1 at a time, until the mixture reaches a mayonnaise-consistency. Can be made the day before.
- TO MAKE THE TOPPING: Combine chopped cilantro, diced red onion and chopped mint, then stir in 2~3 tbsp of mayonnaise just to bind.
- TO ASSEMBLE: Toast the Xi'an-style burger buns in the oven (recipe on the bottom, or substitute with sandwich rolls), or a few min on each side in a skillet. Slice it across the middle, leaving just a small hinge to keep it attached, then smear a layer of sesame/peanut sauce on the bottom. With a spoon, smush a meatball right inside the sauce, soaking it during the process, then transfer it onto the bun. Spoon extra sauce over the top, then add the cilantro-topping, and drizzle with Xi'an-style chili oil. Station your napkins close, then dig in.
XI’AN STYLE BURGER BUNS:
Makes: 8 buns
- 3 cups (400 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided in half
- 1 tbsp (21 grams) honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup (225 grams) water at 140F/60C (it should be uncomfortable to leave your finger in it for more than 3 seconds)
- 2 tsp (6 grams) instant dry yeast
- 2 tbsp (28 grams) vegetable oil, plus more to rubbing
- Ground white pepper for dusting
In a stand-mixer bowl with dough-hook/or with hand-held mixer with dough-hooks/or by hand, mix 1/2 of the flour, honey, salt and water for 1 min until it comes into a thick batter. Add the remaining flour and instant dry yeast, and knead on medium speed (or by hand) for 5 min until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the vegetable oil, then knead again for 6~7 min on medium-high speed (or 10 min by hand) until the dough is shiny, smooth, and tacky. The dough should be warm and soft, but shouldn’t try to stick to your hands or the working surface too much. If it does, knead in 2 extra tbsp of flour at a time, until it doesn’t. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let proof until doubled, approx 1 hour (the dough is warm so it will proof very fast!).
Dust the working surface lightly with flour then transfer the dough on top, and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll 1 portion out into a very thin, round sheet, then rub a little vegetable oil over the top surface evenly with your hand, and sprinkle lightly with ground white pepper. Roll the sheet into a log, then twirl it into a snail-shaped dough. Pinch the end tightly underneath the dough and press it down slightly, then set aside on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with the rest, and arrange them in the order they are made. Cover them with plastic-wrap and let rest for another 20 min, during which they should slightly expand again.
Coat the bottom of a heavy skillet with a little vegetable oil, then heat over medium heat. Starting with the first dough you made, arrange 2~3 in the skillet with 2″ (4 cm) of space in between, then cover with a sheet of parchment paper and place another pot that’s approx the same size over the top. The parchment will keep the steam inside and help cook the buns, while pot keeps them in disk-shape. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 5~6 min, until the first side is golden browned. Remove the pot and the parchment (the buns should have expanded considerably in diameter), and flip the buns (NO need to put the parchment or pot back on) and cook for another 5 min until the other side is browned as well. The thickness of the buns should be about the width of your toe. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the rest. Can be made the day before.
*I’ve tried baking them in the oven, sandwiched between two baking-sheets, but the result just wasn’t the same. The oven-method gave them a tougher crust, and a drier interior.