The elusive quality known as Q, which is pronounced exactly the same in Mandarin Chinese and English, is one of the most sought-after textures in Taiwanese cuisine. A meatball that you can aggressively bounce off of a table and have it smack you square in the head is described by Q. It speaks of a dish that is elastic and chewy, such as warm tapioca pearls that have been dipped in brown sugar or springy, alkaline noodles. It resembles a gummy bear more than a perfectly cooked spaghetti thread.
Even though many dishes satisfy this elusive, amorphous standard, Taiwan’s great variety of meatballs best exemplify it. Meatballs have historically been used to utilize leftovers and scraps all throughout the world. Particularly in Taiwan, stocks of unsold fish and various shellfish are ground up with starch to make a batter, formed into balls, and fried in barely simmering water to serve as the base of a lovely supper.
Taiwanese meatballs have a tight, elastic structure, in contrast to Western meatballs, which are frequently formed by clumps of meat being loosely packed together. The boiled versions are typically served in a clear pork broth soup with daikon cubes and a sparing sprinkle of celery leaves as a garnish. Meanwhile, deep-fried meatballs are consumed as portable snacks with a sprinkle of white pepper.
There are several recipes, but there are some important rules which must be followed when making this dish.
One, a lot of fat must be added to every meatball. Juicy balls require fat, which is essential. Secondly, a small amount of starch is required for balls made with seafood in order to improve the mixture’s structure and ability to retain water. The seafood ball will be mushy and missing the crucial Q if the starch isn’t included. The standard starches in Taiwan are tapioca and sweet potato starch. The former produces a harder texture, thus I personally prefer it even though the two are frequently combined or used interchangeably.
Whatever meat you’re working with, it’s crucial to partially freeze it beforehand. Colder temperatures aid in the appropriate bonding of the fish proteins and prevent the fat from spreading, which could otherwise result in a mealy texture.
- 340g cleaned squid bodies (about 4 medium squid), cut into small squares, divided
- 75g skinless fatty pork belly or pork fatback, cut into small cubes
- 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper, plus more to taste
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons (55g) sweet potato or tapioca starch
- 28g ice (about 1 ice cube)
- 6 cups canola or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- The squid should be washed under running water and then dried with paper towels.
- 28g of the squid should be minced, then transferred to an airtight container and chilled.
- The remaining squid, pork, sugar, salt, and freshly ground white pepper should all be properly combined in a medium bowl. For about two hours, cover securely and partially freeze.
- The partially frozen pork and squid mixture, sweet potato starch, and ice should be combined in a powerful blender or food processor and processed at high speed for about three minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. It should be perfectly smooth, with no ice or squid chunks or lumps visible.
- Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl or container and stir in the chilled minced squid until evenly combined. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours.
- Over medium-low heat, bring a big pot of water to a simmer until the water’s surface starts to bubble slightly. Cut the heat off. Grab a handful of the paste, squeeze it with your thumb and index finger to form a golf ball-sized ball (like making the “okay” gesture), then pinch the ball off and release it into the water. Be sure to squeeze tightly when forming the balls to reduce air pockets. Alternatively, scoop out golf-ball-size portions of the squid paste mixture with a wet spoon and gently shape into a rough ball shape with a second wet spoon before releasing into the water. When all of the squid balls have been added to the water, turn the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil. Then, reduce the heat to maintain a rapid simmer and cook the balls for about 5 minutes, or until they are fully cooked through. The squid balls should be drained in a colander and shaken to dry. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, then dry completely with more paper towels (it’s crucial to completely dry the squid balls to prevent splattering while frying). Before frying, let air-dry for 15 minutes.
- Heat the oil to 375°F (190°C) in a wok or Dutch oven over high heat. Carefully lower half of the squid balls into the oil using a spider-skimmer. When you add the squid balls, the temperature of the oil should decrease; adjust the heat to maintain a frying temperature of 350°F (175°C). Be careful, as squid balls can pop and spatter during frying. Deep-fry, stirring frequently, and carefully breaking apart any balls that have stuck together, until balls are beige and slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. Repeat with the remaining squid balls after transferring the drained ones to paper towels.
- Reheat the oil to 375°F (190°C), add half of the previously cooked squid balls, and fry for a further 2 minutes at 350°F (175°C) until the squid balls turn a light golden brown. To drain, move the squid balls to new paper towels, then repeat with the remaining squid balls.
- Season squid balls with ground white pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately.