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Pho beef balls

Recipe for Vietnamese Beef Meatballs with Tendon (Bo Vien Gan)

This is the homemade version of the Crunchy beef meatball in Vietnamese style with the extra tendon. Rich in flavor, aromatic, and totally safe from raw ingredients. Recommend to be made in large batches due to the long passive time required.
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Vietnamese
Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 40 minutes
Servings 5 lbs
Author Victoria


  • 4 lbs lean Ground beef chuck shank , stew chunk or mixed
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 8 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ground pepper
  • 4 Tbsp potato starch
  • 140 g crushed ice
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • lots of ice cubes for icy water bath

Tendon fillers (optional)

  • 1 lbs tendon optional
  • 2 Tbsp vodka or similar optional
  • A quarter size piece of ginger optional
  • 4 garlic cloves optional


Grind the beef

  • It's best to ask the butcher to grind the beef for you, if not, you can grind them yourself. To grind the beef, start by cutting them into 1-inch cubes.
  • Wrap all those cubes in a large plastic bag and chill in the freezer for 1 hour.
  • Remove the half-frozen beef from the freezer and grind them in the food processor, starting in small batches, one-by-one and work them through (I divided into 4 batches for grinding in my 16 cups food processor).
    Ground beef
  • Use 4 quart-size freezer bags to store ground beef. Flattening the bags down so that ground beef will be chilled evenly. Chill the beefy bags in the freezer for an hour.

Regrind into paste

  • For each batch of half-frozen ground beef (1 freezer bag), divide and use 1/4 part of seasoning as the following.
  • First, take out 1 bag of half-frozen beef and add to food processor.
  • Now add 1/4 portion of the fish sauce, sugar, and ground pepper into the food processor and pulse/grind for about 20 -30 seconds.
  • Beef mixture should turn to a lighter pink and smooth to semi-paste-like texture with a few of darker spot. Transfer back to the freezer bag and chill for an hour.
  • Repeat with other remaining beef batches.

Regrind Paste - Second time

  • Take out 1 half-frozen beef-mixture bag and add to the food processor.
  • Also add ¼ of the baking powder, potato starch, vegetable oil, and crushed ice; then process on medium to high for 20-30 seconds.
  • Beef should be in paste-like texture, super smooth, and light pink color.
  • From here on, you can either mix with tendon or skip that step and go straight to the shaping and boiling steps.

(Optional) Tendon

  • If you choose not to use tendon, just skip this part of the procedure and go straight to shaping & boiling meatballs.
  • Start by washing tendon, patting dry before soaking with 2 Tbsp of wine (I used vodka) for 5-10 minutes. This will help removing any strange odor.
  • Pressure cooker: boil enough water, then add tendon and 1 Tbsp of salt, pressure cooked for 20 minutes so that tendon is almost done, but not fully tender. Vent manually.
  • Regular pot: boil tendon with 1 Tbsp of salt, but cook longer, 40-60 minutes
  • Prepare an icy cold water bath with 1 Tbsp lemon/lime juice, upon remove tendon, dip and soak them immediately in the cold water bath.
  • When the tendon is fully cool, cut it down to shorter length and throw into your food processor, pulse a few times to chop into smaller chunks, but not paste.
  • Grate ginger and finely mince garlic (if using) and mix together with the tendon bits.
  • Wrap tendon bits and store in the fridge until use. Do this while you're waiting for the beef mixture to chill in the freezer to save time.
  • Once you finished the second regrind paste step, take out tendon bits, divide and mix together the beef mixture. Use a stand mixer with a flat beater to achieve this. Don't prolong mixing time more than 30 sec, add crushed ice to cool the mixture down if you're in a hot climate.

Shaping and boiling

  • You want as low to no air bubbles as possible in every meatball. To achieve this, you could either use a pastry bag and large coupler (no nozzle), use a thick plastic bag and cut off one corner to an inch diameter, or simply pull and pluck with your hand (already coated in veggie oil). Just choose whichever works best for you.
  • Now let set up the working area. You will need a "before" icy water bath (to pre-chill meatballs), a large pot of water on the stovetop (to cook the meatballs), and a "finish" icy water bath (to help set the texture and quickly chill meatballs after cooking).
  • Depend on your pot/container capacity, you can work on them at once or divide them in bag like when you're grinding earlier.
  • Anyhow, Pipe or pluck to form ball-shape and drop each meatball into the icy-cold water bath. Doing this will help them retain their crunch and chewy texture while keeping their color on the brighter side.
  • Once you finish forming balls out of one beef batch, transfer the chilled meatball from the water bath into the boiling pot to cook them.
  • Meatballs will be floating up and inflating a bit when they are done cooking. So once done, transfer them out to the "finish" chilling bath.
  • When meatballs are fully cool down, transfer out to a mesh/drip baskets.
  • Now you can enjoy them immediately as an appetizer, use in other recipes like Pho, Pad Thai, stir-fried noodles, etc. Pat dry and store the remaining in freezer bags/containers for future use.