Glazed meatballs with pineapple is a dish often labeled as Hawaiian. The label is rather constrictive because the dish is common in many Polynesian islands where pineapples grow; Hawaii is only a part of Polynesia.
But what is Polynesia? It isn’t a nation, right? Right. Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania made up over over a thousand islands and more than a dozen countries and dependencies, many of which are volcanic including New Zealand, Samoa and Hawaii. If the term Polynesia is unfamiliar, just think of James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific which became the famous Broadway musical and film South Pacific. While Polynesia is not the same as South Pacific, all the Polynesian islands south of the equator also belong to the region known as South Pacific.
So, when you think of Polynesian meatballs, think of Pacific islands, balmy breeze, beaches, coconut trees and fields of pineapple. That makes the rather unexciting meatball a lot more exotic. Of course, the imagination part is just extra. Even without conjuring up all those lovely visions, Polynesian meatballs are an amazing fusion of lively colors, dramatic textures and provocative flavors.
And what makes my version of this rather common dish so special? I cooked fresh pineapple chunks in a little hot oil until the natural sugars of the fruit caramelized and created golden maps all over the surface. I don’t think it’s possible to do that with canned pineapple so go for fresh.
And the meatballs? Finely ground pork with about 20 percent fat. There’s coarse grind and there’s fine grind; for meatballs, fine grind is best. The binder is just cornstarch. No egg? Nope. That’s why you want finely ground meat — coarsely ground pork won’t hold together well during frying.
Polynesian meatballs with pineapple
- 250 grams finely ground pork with at least 20 percent fat
- 1 red onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon rock salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups cooking oil for frying
- 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
- 1 red onion diced
- 2 bird's eye chilies finely sliced
- 1 splash rice vinegar
- 2 generous splashes rice wine
- 1/4 cup honey
- sliced scallions to garnish
- Mix together the ground pork, finely chopped onion, garlic, rock salt, black pepper, chili powder and cornstarch. Form the mixture into six to nine meatballs, depending on whether you're serving two or three persons.
- Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. Fry the meatballs until nicely browned and cooked through, about eight minutes.
- Pour off the oil.
- Reheat the pan. Throw in the pineapple chunks and cook over high heat until the edges are lightly browned.
- Throw in the diced onion and chilies. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss.
- Pour in the vinegar and wine. Cook until the liquid in the pan in no more than two tablepoonfuls.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the pan. Pour in the honey. Toss a few times and turn off the heat.
- Sprinkle the meatballs with finely snipped scallions before serving.