Bakso is Indonesian meatball, and is an extremely popular Indonesian food. It’s everywhere; you’re just as likely to find it being sold by street vendors (called kaki lima), mom and pop eateries and swanky restaurants. I used to love ordering these fresh from the street vendors. And having them with all manner of chilli condiments. But I didn’t have to be in Indonesia to enjoy its delights.
Indonesian food has always been easily found in Singapore, given the close proximity of the countries and the many, many Indonesians studying and working on the island. I always had Indonesian classmates, 2 of them come to mind particularly; we met at 13 as classmates, and are still in touch all these years later, thanks to modern technology.
Remember the Chinese meatballs we did about a month ago? These Indonesian meatballs are pretty similar in make up and in the method. In fact, many believe that Bakso was introduced to Indonesia by Chinese immigrants, while others contend that it is a copy of the Western meatballs via the Dutch (Indonesia was a former Dutch colony).
I had half a dozen emails after the Chinese meatballs post to do Bakso, and so here we are, it went right to the top of the to-do list. And all these balls are coinciding perfectly with this post I did on foodies+, the almost 200 000-strong food community that I manage on Google+. I’ve asked all our members to come up with recipes or posts that involve balls, savoury or sweet. And the response has been deliciously overwhelming!
Bakso are pretty easy to make, you only need a few ingredients to make the actual balls. Then, you just drop them in boiling water or stock to cook them, which only takes a couple of minutes or so. It is also not uncommon to fry Bakso, but if you are planning to do that, I would suggest going smaller in size.
For our Bakso recipe today, we’ll do the whole lot, the meatballs, the super easy meat broth and finally, the noodles to serve them up with. In Indonesia, bakso is often served this way, with a side of Sambal Ijo (green chilli past, click for recipe), chopped up chillies in dark soy sauce (like dipping sauce) and the ubiquitous sambal, of any kind. Click here to read more about different types of soy sauces.
Beef Broth for Bakso
If you are planning to serve the bakso as suggested here, with the noodles, don’t take a shortcut with the broth (or soup as we call it). The beef broth may take about 3 hours to make but only 10 minutes of that is actual hands on time, the rest is just about letting it simmer away, as you would when making stock. All you need is some beef bones from your butcher and some aromatics and spices. If you can’t get beef bones, get some beef ribs, plenty of bone, with a little meat.
Bakso, like many other Far Eastern meatballs and fishballs, have an almost rubbery texture. This is from the blending of the ingredients in a food processor, the cornflour and the raising agent. To get this rubbery texture, you need a food processor. Mixing with a spatula won’t give you the same result. However, I am not a fan of that almost tough, elastic feel, so I cut the blending time right down, along with the amount of flour I use in the mix.
How to Serve Bakso
You can serve Bakso with any type of noodles you wish, or non at all. Bakso make fantastic finger food, place them on a platter with a cocktail stick in each, and have some ketchup or chilli sauce on the side.
Slice them up and the make a great filling ingredient in stir fries.
If serving with noodles, as in here, my favourite are rice vermicelli, the thin rice noodles, known as bee hoon or bihun.
If you are using dried noodles, always follow packet instructions for serving and cooking times as they can vary. A rough guide though would be 50 – 75 g (2⅔ oz) per person of dried weight (egg noodles weigh slightly more), to be cooked for 2 – 4 minutes (egg noodles take longer).
Fresh noodles – about twice the weight and they only need about a minute of cooking time.
You can make bakso with any meat you like: chicken, lamb, turkey, pork and even seafood.
That’s it, with all the boring stuff, let’s get cooking! As the method is exactly the same as making Chinese meatballs, here’s my video showing you how to roll them, followed by step by step pictures:
- 4 beef bones, weighing about 700 g (roughly 1.5 lb)
- 2 litres (8 cups) water
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- 5 cm (2") ginger, sliced
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 spring onions (scallions), chopped in three piece
- 1 star anise petal
- 1 very small cinnamon stick
- half tsp sugar
- half tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 500 g (just over 1 lb) extra lean minced beef (5% fat)
- 100 g (3.5 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced/pounded
- 1 small handful fresh coriander leaves and stalks (cilantro)
- 1 tsp salt
- half tsp ground white pepper
- half tsp baking powder
- Noodles of your choice, amount, see explanation above
- 4 small handfuls beansprouts
- a large handful of any greens like pak choi or spinach
- sambal or chilli paste of your choice
- sliced up red chillies in dark soy sauce as in the image
- crispy shallots homemade or shop bought, click to read more
- Place everything in a large saucepan and bring to boil.
- Lower heat and simmer for 3 hours, removing any scum that surfaces.
- At the end of the cooking time, strain into a clean saucepan, and measure the amount. You need at least 1 litre of broth (4 cups). Add some water if you need to.
- Set aside until needed to cook the bakso and the noodles.
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend for 1 whole minute, until it's all thoroughly mixed and you have a smooth mixture.
- Tip the meat paste into a bowl. If you are not ready to cook them yet, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge until needed.
- When ready to cook, do a taste test first. Microwave a pinch of the meat paste for about 30 seconds, then taste it. Add more salt if needed.
- Let's make some balls! Scoop a small amount of the meatball paste in your hand, clench your fist and push the paste between the "hole" made by your thumb and forefinger (see images and video).
- Use a teaspoon to scoop the ball off your hand.
- Keep doing this until all the meatball paste has been used up. Rinse your hands regularly to keep the balls from sticking.
- At this stage, you could roll them between your palms to create more rounded and smooth meatballs, if you like. Again, don't forget to dip your hands in the bowl of cold water to keep the paste from sticking.
- Bring a pot of water or the beef broth to boil.
- Lower the heat right down and slowly, slide the meatballs into the simmering water. You want them to form roughly a single layer, don't overfill the pot, so you may have to do this in 2 batches.
- Increase the heat to medium high and keep a close eye on the meatballs.
- As soon as the water starts to boil, lower the heat down to medium-low or low and simmer for 3 minutes. This should be enough time for the balls to cook. Don't let the water come to a rolling boil as the meatballs might fall apart. The balls should also float to the surface when they are done.
- When they are done, scoop out with a skimmer or slotted spoon and set aside.
- Have 4 bowls ready.
- Cook the noodles in the simmering water following the packet instructions. Dried noodles will usually take about 1 - 2 minutes but each brand will be different. If you have fresh noodles, this will only take about 1 minute.
- Drop the beansprouts in with the noodles in the last 30 seconds, just to scald. Drain and divide amongst the 4 bowls.
- Divide the bakso equally and place on the noodles.
- Add the greens, you can blanch them in the broth or use them as they are, up to you.
- Now ladle the beef broth onto the bakso and noodles.
- Scatter some fried shallots all over and serve immediately with the sambal and dark soy sauce.
- Cool to room temperature, place in a freezer proof bag and freeze for up to a month.
I've excluded the beef broth from the total time. The total time reflects the time it takes to make the actual bakso.