I have a sinful relationship with Asian street food. Late-night Uber Eats orders tend to be Hakka food orders, tipsy strolls through the city almost always take us to China town; and don’t even get me started on how many multi-packs of Wai-Wai I have stashed away in the pantry for those lazy Monday night dinners.

My go-to street food is often some version of modern Chinese snack. It’s spicy, its tangy, sweet and tends to be fried and swathed in sauce. Granted, traditional Chinese food is not what we are exposed to in North America, but hey, it hits the spot, especially for an over-worked palate like mine that craves salt, sugar and a lot of spices.

If there is one thing you’ll notice about this blog, it’s my penchant for trying out new recipes, and mostly, it’s because I find store bought/ ready-made food lacking in flavor. It takes several iterations to create new recipes, but until I make it just right, I don’t rest. So natually, my love for Chinese take-out and recipe building has culminated in these little delights of heaven.

My one beef (heh!) with frozen ground meat is the weird metallic/frozen taste even the well-cooked meats give off. It’s off-putting and cannot be masked with any amount of sauce. The key to a juicy, flavorful meatball – season it liberally! Seasoning your meat, especially ground meat goes a long way. I like my meatballs soft on the inside, juicy yet slightly crunchy on the outside. I tried a few different variations to get them just right i.e. saucy, tender, juicy yet able to hold their own on a fork. Here are my top four tips for getting your meatballs done just right every single time:

  1. Season your meat liberally. Use salt, pepper and any other ground spices your recipe calls for
  2. Soak dry breadcrumbs in warm milk and add them to your mixture. They add moisture and hold all the flavors of your spices and sauces
  3. Add a little flour or cornstarch for structure, this will help hold the shape of the meatballs and thicken your sauce as it cools
  4. If you have the time, bake your meatballs first, then slow cook them. Baking them renders the fat to give you that crunch and slow-cooking infuses all the flavors of your spices (also gets rid of that metallic frozen taste). Baking is also a healthier alternative to frying them.

The sauce gets less of an honorable mention in this recipe, unlike Italian meatballs, because it is relatively easy to get the sauce right and the Instant Pot (or crockpot) does all the work here.

I made these meatballs as an appetizer once, and before all the guests arrived – they were gone. Gone! I remember putting my Instant pot insert on the dining table, coaster and all, and by the time the last of the guests trickled in, the pot was empty. There was tons of other food, but trust me, this is a massive crowd-pleaser. Before the night was done I was doling out verbal instructions to friends who wanted to make it.

Lastly, here’s the holy grail for why you should make them stat – they freeze well! Yup! So you got your homemade, preservative-free, perhaps lean protein meatballs that taste like Chinese street food one nuking session away at all times. As long as they’re sealed in an air-tight container with wax paper or parchment between layers, you’re solid for at least 6 weeks.

Edit: Someone asked me why I use two different proteins for this recipe, that’s mostly a personal choice. I like the texture, fat (even if it’s lean) and unctuousness that the mixture brings. I’ve borrowed this idea from traditional Italian meatball-making which uses veal, pork, and beef. Ground veal, though rich, is not cheap or easy to find, and traditionally doesn’t feature in Chinese cuisine much. If you can, try the duo of proteins – you will like it, I promise.

Print Recipe
Szechuan Meatballs
Flavorful Asian-style meatballs that is crisp outside and tender, juicy inside; slow-cooked in the Instant Pot with Szechuan style sauce.
Cuisine Chinese
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Meatballs
Sauce
Cuisine Chinese
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Meatballs
Sauce
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a small bowl, soak the breadcrumbs in the milk. In a another bowl mix together the eggs and all the other ingredients required for the meatballs (except the meat)
  3. In a large bowl, gently mix together two ground proteins with the egg mixture and soaked breadcrumbs. Take care not to overmix, the less you handle the meat, the better
  4. Shape into ~1" diameter meatballs and place them on the prepared baking sheet
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, turning over halfway
  6. While the meatballs are baking, mix together all ingredients required for the sauce in your Instant Pot insert (or crock pot)
  7. Remove meatballs from the oven and let cool slightly before adding them to the sauce
  8. Add the slightly cooled meatballs to sauce mixture. Close the Instant Pot lid with Sealing on. Use the 'Slow Cook' mode timed for 3 hours. If using a crock pot, set to low and cook for 2 hours and 45 minutes
  9. Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Chopped cilantro stems can also be added as an optional garnish