The original Shan recipe is for meat balls made with ground beef or pork flavoured with minced lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. I’ve found it easier in a North American kitchen to flatten the balls and cook them as sliders. They cook slowly in a little oil, which gives them a slight crust and succulent interior. You want some fat for tenderness, which is why the recommended cuts are flank steak or pork shoulder. Traditionally the meat is chopped by hand, using two cleavers and alternating chop-chop-chop, as it’s done by all the Tai peoples (the word for the technique in the Tai languages is laap). Hand-chopped meat has a different texture from ground meat, and I urge you to try it. And chopping the meat yourself means that you know the quality of the meat. You can instead chill the meat and use a food processor to grind it.
- 450 g (1 lb) boneless beef chuck or boneless pork shoulder, or 450 g (1 lb) ground chuck or ground pork
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp minced lemongrass
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- ½ cup minced shallots
- 2 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup chilled cooked jasmine or other rice (see note)
- ½ tsp red chilli powder or cayenne
- ¼ cup finely chopped roma tomatoes
- about ¼ cup peanut oil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time: 15 minutes
If using meat that has not been ground: To hand-chop the meat, thinly slice it, then place the slices on a large cutting board. Holding a cleaver in each hand, chop the meat with alternating hands, chopping across the piled meat one way, then another, and repeating until finely chopped. Sprinkle on the turmeric and set aside in a large bowl. Alternatively, to use a food processor, cut the meat into 5 or 6 pieces and place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Transfer the meat to the processor, add the turmeric, and pulse to finely chop. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
If using ground meat: Place in a bowl, sprinkle with the turmeric, and set aside.
To make and cook the sliders: Combine the lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, and salt in a large mortar or the food processor and pound or pulse to a coarse paste. Add the rice, chilli powder, and tomatoes and pound or pulse again.
Add the flavour paste to the meat and knead it thoroughly into the meat. Shape the mixture into balls about 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter, then flatten each one gently into a thick patty. Set aside on a lightly oiled plate.
Place a large frying pan (skillet) over high heat. Add the oil, then lower the heat to medium-high and add the sliders, being careful not to splash yourself with oil; arrange the first ones around the edges of the frying pan and work your way in to the center. Cook for 3 minutes or so, then use a wide metal spatula to turn the sliders over. As the meat starts to release water, raise the heat a little to evaporate it. Remove the sliders from the pan when they are firm to the touch or have reached the degree of doneness you like.
• The Shan traditionally use minced shavings of green makawk wood in the meatballs. They help hold the meat together. I use a little leftover rice instead.
Recipe from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid, with photographs by Richard Jung . Published by Artisan Books (copyright 2012).