Mama's Meatballs Vietnamese Sandwich

  • Preparation: 15 mins
  • Cooking: 30 mins
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Servings: 4

Description Mama's Meatballs Vietnamese Sandwich

Mama's Meatballs Vietnamese Sandwich for these meatballs comes from my aunt, who we all call Mama. In the Vietnamese Cuisine, meatballs are all about texture: fish balls must be as springy as rubber balls, and pork meatballs, like these, must fall apart in a sandwich, approximating an American Sloppy Joe. I like to hand-chop the pork for meatballs , starting with fatty pork shoulder. If you choose to have your butcher grind the meat, ask for a coarse grind. These meatballs make a wonderful, messy sandwich, but they’re also good spooned over steamed rice. Meatballs Vietnamese Sandwich yields a lot of meatballs. But I figure if you’re going to go to the trouble of making them, you may as well make a big batch. If you aren’t feeding a crowd, they freeze well.


  • Sauce
  • 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, finely hand-chopped , or coarsely ground pork shoulder
  • 4 cups chicken stock or water
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground annatto seeds
  • 2 cups finely chopped shallots (about 5 large shallots)
  • 2 cups finely diced yellow onions
  • 1 cup vegetarian stir-fry sauce
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce
  • Meatballs
  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, finely hand-chopped , or coarsely ground
  • 1 ½ cups finely diced fresh water chestnuts or jicama
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 cup finely diced shallots
  • ½ cup chopped scallions, white and light green parts only
  • ¼ cup fried shallots , coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Method Mama's Meatballs Vietnamese Sandwich


To make the sauce, in a large, wide, high-sided pot, combine the pork and 2 cups of the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat so the liquid is at a steady simmer and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming any scum that forms on the surface. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, and transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Set aside.


Return the empty pot to the stove top, add the oil, and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, until lightly toasted. Add the red pepper flakes and annatto and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds more. Add the shallots and onions and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the stir-fry sauce, ketchup, and soy sauce and stir to combine. Pour in the pureed pork mixture and the remaining 2 cups stock and mix well.


Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, then decrease the heat until the liquid is at a steady simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.


While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Using your hands, gently but thoroughly mix the ingredients together. Take care not to overwork the mixture or the meatballs will be tough. Form the mixture into loosely packed balls about 2 inches in diameter. Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce. The meatballs can be crowded in the pan but they should all be below the surface of the sauce. Cook, without stirring, for 45 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do not let the liquid boil, or the meatballs will break apart. To test if the meatballs are ready, retrieve a meatball and cut it open; it should no longer be pink in the center.


Remove from the heat and serve right away. Or, if you’re making the meatballs in advance, let cool and then reheat them fully in the sauce before serving. Cooling them in the sauce will prevent them from drying out.

Chef's Note

To Freeze The meatballs can be frozen: Put them in a single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the meatballs to a resealable plastic bag and freeze until ready to use. They can be added to the sauce while still frozen; increase the cooking time by 10 minutes. The cooked meatballs can also be frozen with the sauce. Let the cooked meatballs and sauce cool, then transfer meatballs and sauce to a resealable plastic container, filling the container three-quarters full. Cover and freeze. Meatballs (and meatballs and sauce) will keep, frozen, for up to 3 months.
How to Hand-Chop Pork
1. Trim the pork shoulder of some but not all of the fat.
2. Cut the pork into ¼-inch slices, then cut each slice into ¼-inch ribbons, then cut the ribbons crosswise into small cubes.
3. With a cleaver or heavy chef’s knife, finely chop the cubes, running the knife through the meat until it’s evenly chopped but still more coarsely textured than store bought preground pork.

Related tags