The textured, golden-brown exterior imparted by searing improves most meats, but not all meat preparations need that caramelization. Gently steamed ground-meat preparations, such as ngao yuk kau in Chinese cuisine and klopsiki in Polish, have a creamy texture and soft exterior that searing or simmering can't produce. Although steaming doesn't have any particular advantages over simmering -- both techniques deliver moist heat at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit -- it's what steaming doesn't do -- agitate the food -- that makes it the better choice for ground-meat dishes like ngao yuk kau and Danish frikadeller.
Beef or a combination of beef and pork typically comprises Chinese and Asian variations of meatballs. Some variations use veal, which gives the dish a milder beef flavor, but it's mainly a regional choice and doesn't change the preparation or cooking technique. Corn starch is the binder of choice for its superior thickening ability at relatively low quantities -- 3 teaspoons of cornstarch binds and thickens 1 pound of ground meat -- but it activates during cooking, so the meatballs need to be packed more firmly than when using other starches.
Chinese Ingredients and Options
Ingredients and options vary according to region. Ngao yuk kau, for example, usually calls for beef, dried orange peels, a dash of chicken stock, a pinch of sugar, a drizzle of sesame oil and a few drops each of oyster sauce and soy sauce. Each portion might get wrapped in a tofu skin before steaming, but it's optional. Other steamed-meat dishes, such as siu mai, contain pork or shrimp, but use the same cooking technique.
Mix the ingredients with a slurry of 3 teaspoons of corn starch and 3 teaspoons of cold water for every pound of meat. Form 1 1/2- to 2-inch meatballs; toss each meatball against your palms forcefully to pack them. Line a bamboo steamer with a layer of cabbage or watercress and set the meatballs on it in a single layer. Set the bamboo steamer over a wok of simmering water and steam the meatballs until they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the center, about 12 minutes.
Flavorings, binder and technique differ between European and Chinese versions of meatballs. European variations typically use a panade, or cubed bread soaked in milk, at a rate of about 1 cup of bread per half cup of milk. Types of ground meat include mutton, beef, pork or veal; pork commonly makes up 50 percent of the meat mixture, particularly in Eastern European variations. Instead of a steamer, European meatballs steam in a pan using a small amount of liquid that later serves as a sauce base.
Ingredients vary slightly with region. Polish klopsiki typically contains beef and minced onions; whereas, the Danish version, frikadeller, gets veal, pork and minced onions. Mix the meat, onions and 1 cup of bread soaked in 1/2 cup of milk and season to taste. Form the mixture into 1 1/2- to 2-inch balls and place them in a saucepan. Pour about 1/4 inch of chicken stock in the pan and set it on the stove over medium-low heat. Cover the pan and steam the meatballs until they reach 165 F. Set the meatballs aside and thicken the stock with roux. Add fresh herbs and serve the sauce over the meatballs.
Use a steamer insert to steam whole meats, such as chicken breasts, steaks and pork chops. Steam the meat over 3 or 4 inches of water or stock in a pot until it reaches the minimum internal temperature for safe eating -- 145 F for beef and pork and 165 F for chicken -- or about 12 minutes per pound.
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