Tuesday, 3 May 2016

My Meatballs in Chilli Oil, and Chopsticks Brunch Club

Just a little glimpse into what's been cooking the past brunch clubs... and a tiny restrained shout-out:

The past months have been a rather haphazard series of small challenges– events that put me just outside of my comfort zone, though not horribly so and probably good for you, sort of like when your PE teacher would force you to do sit-ups. Among these are exams (a shock for me after years of art school and then working as a designer); filming recipe videos for Sainsbury’s Magazine and Happy Foodie (you know when you cringe hearing your own voice recorded? Except this time it’s also your face and your garlic-crushing un-manicured hands); auditions (no comment); planning for the cookbook launch (in a week!!!) and finally, hosting pop up events again.

Since the start of the year, I’ve started doing monthly brunch clubs out of my home, in support of Action Against Hunger. I haven’t shouted about it much on the blog; just quietly sneaked in an extra “Chopsticks Brunch Club” tab at the top– but I’ve gathered enough stories and pictures now I figured it’s time to share them, along with my crowd-favourite meatballs recipe.

You can find great brunches in London but almost every cafĂ© just serves variations of avocado and poached eggs on toast, which albeit yummy, doesn’t do justice to the range of deliciousness you can have in the morning. Back home there's light noodle soups, congee (rice porridge), fried rice cakes, and sometimes even curry. No forks and knives– hence Chopsticks Brunch Club. Brunch club was also a welcome change from supper clubs because I didn’t have to deal with a dirty kitchen in the wee hours of the day, hurrah. I’ve been having lots of fun writing menus every month using whatever seasonal ingredients look best at the farmers’ market or the little independent grocers/ fishmongers/ butchers in my neighbourhood.

It’s funny because years ago, you would have to twist my right arm off to get me to regularly cook for people, let alone a dozen strangers. Coming to London 6 years back was a huge step for introverted me– and learning to cook was really me finding my way, and then later, friends, in this scary new city. I’ve missed hosting supper clubs and delicious events. So despite my oily, sweat-soaked state at the end of each brunch club, I beam stupidly looking at the East London ‘hipster’ sharing jokes and pickles with the banker that’s made his way down from Fitzrovia.  Food has such a weird wonderful way of bringing people together.

Makes 12 big balls

600g fatty minced pork (outdoor-bred preferably)
5 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
4 tbsp good light soy sauce
1 heaped tbsp sea salt
1.5 tbsp light brown sugar
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp grated ginger
½ cup spring onions, finely chopped
1 heaped tbsp tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
125g panko breadcrumbs

for the dressing (double/ triple as needed)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, in a pinch)
1 tablespoon chilli oil

to finish
Fresh coriander or
Spring onions, thinly sliced

1.  Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stirring vigorously clockwise (don’t ask me why, Mum insists) till everything is well mixed.  Gather the mixture and then throw it back down into the bowl. The mixture should sort of come together and firm up after a few times of slapping. (I swear I am not making you do all these weird things just for laughs.)
2. Wet your hands; this helps to stop the meat from sticking to your fingers. Form golf-ball sized meatballs with the mixture, smoothing them out with your fingers. Arrange on a greaseproof-paper lined platter.
3. Place the meatballs overnight in the fridge to marinate and help them firm up slightly. (This is a great make-ahead recipe for brunch clubs and dinner parties!)
4. When ready to cook, prepare your steamer (a deep pot or wok with a steaming rack really). Bring water to a boil, and then set the platter of meatballs onto a rack set over the boiling water. Steam over high heat for 15 minutes, till cooked.
5. Meanwhile, make the sauce by stirring all the dressing ingredients together.
6. Remove the meatballs and dish out onto plates, along with any juices that have accumulated in the steaming platter. Douse with the dressing, and finish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander or spring onions for some greenery.


Steaming is a very typically Chinese style of preparing meatballs, and it helps the meatballs retain all the lovely flavours of their marinade. A bite will immediately send salty rich juices oozing so they mingle in your mouth with the fiery kick and sharpness from the chilli oil and black vinegar dressing. I served them with light congee for the brunch club but plain steamed rice or blanched noodles will be perfect too– make sure to spoon all the sauce over.

It’s been a busy month of (see above) so I was planning to give May a skip but due to popular demand (yay) I might do one at the end of the month after all– sign up to the mailing list to get first wind of menus/ dates! And also, all the latest exciting cookbook news!


Related reads/ recipes
Chopsticks Brunch Club past menus
No-churn rhubarb condensed milk ice cream
Crispy roast pork belly
How to sweet-asian-pickle anything

To hopefully get you inspired to start your own supper/ brunch club
Action Against Hunger interview

My first time being filmed and awkward for Sainsbury's
Stir-fry tips for Sainsbury's Magazine