Lion Head Meatballs
8-10 meat balls
This dish owes it's name to the way the meatballs look like a lion's head with the green leaves of the Shanghai Pak Choi behind them as the manes. The Chinese name for this dish is literally "lion heads", 狮子头 [shī zi tóu] in Mandarin (simplified Chinese characters) and 獅子頭 [shi1 zi3 tou2] in Cantonese (traditional Chinese characters). Traditionally there was a rule, that said that the bigger the meatballs were the more prosperous your household. Myself, I prefer them when they are not too big, so I always make them more bite-size, something you can eat in two bites. My mother and aunt used to make this dish from time to time. It was not something we ate often, probably because it takes quite some work to make. Well, if you want to do it the right way. Savoury meatballs with just the right feel to them, that is why it is important to make your own minced meat for this dish. If that is too much work or if you want to save some time, you can also try to buy some fat minced pork (sowbelly) from your local butcher, as long as it is not the type that is squeezed through a machine. That type of minced meat is too fine and does not have the right texture and will not give the right mouthfeel to the meatball. Hand chopped fat pork meat sticks together in a sticky stringy way and that is what makes these meatballs taste so good. I use two <a href="https://dunyong.com/en/catalogsearch/result/?q=hakmes">Chinese chopping knives</a> to mince the meat. These knives are called choppers but they are actually made for chopping and cutting, a real multi-purpose chef's knife. I just chop alternating between the two hands on a heavy chopping block or board. Just make sure you don't chop down until the other hand is well out of the way and try to find a rhythm. I used Romana lettuce while making this recipe, but you should use Shanghai Pak Choi if you can get it. I actually had Shanghai Pak Choi, but found them to be a bit too big and the Romana lettuce's shape looks like lion's mane as well. Unfortunately, I don't have that many photos of the different parts of this recipe because halfway through I found out there was no memory card in the camera...
400 gram pork (fatty)
1 stalk scallion (spring onion)
1 clove garlic
10 gram grated ginger
5 pcs dried shiitake mushroom
3 tbsp shaohsing rice wine
3 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp white pepper powder
½ tsp corn starch
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp chicken powder
80 ml hot water
Put the dried shiitake mushroom in a bowl of luke warm water in the morning or afternoon to well. This has to be for at least 3 to 4 hours. If you use fresh shiitake, you can skip the welling part and save some time.
Remove the stem from the shiitake and cut the shiitake in strips.
Cut the bottom off the Shanghai Pak Choi so the leaves will come apart by themselves. If the outermost leaves are too big cut them in half. The Shanghai Pak Choi looks best uncut in this dish.
Take the sowbelly and start chopping it until it has the right texture. This will take at least 5 minutes or longer. If it is all flattened, just pick it up and make a mound out of it and continue chopping. Now and then, pick it up and turn it around so the bottom part will be facing up and continue chopping.
Cut the green part of the scallion into small pieces.
Chop the clove of garlic into small pieces until it is minced. You could use a garlic press, you'll get the flavour but it's not the same. With minced garlic, when you eat the meatball you will now and then bite into a small piece of garlic and get that tiny burst of flavour.
Cut or scrape the ginger. I usually scrape the ginger with my knife under an angle of 90 degrees after I cut off the skin of that part of the ginger of course.
Put the minced pork into a bowl and break two eggs into it.
Add the chopped scallions, garlic and ginger to it.
Add 1 tablespoon of shaohsing wine, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½ a teaspoon sesame oil, a ¼ teaspoon white pepper powder and ½ a teaspoon corn starch.
Mix everything together.
Take some of the meat into your hand and make ping pong ball sized balls with it.
Heat the wok and when it is warm enough, put 2 tablespoons of oil into it.
Put the lion's head meatballs into the wok, 1 by 1 and stir-fry them until they are brown on the outside.
Take out the lion's head meatballs and put the aside in a small bowl.
It's best to re-use the oil in the wok because it contains the flavours of the meatballs, if you decide to re-use the oil make sure to sieve it to remove small bits of the meatballs. Otherwise just use some fresh oil.
Stir-fry the shiitake and the white parts of the scallion for about 3 minutes.
Put 2 tablespoons of shaohsing wine to it, 1 teaspoon of chicken powder and keep stir-frying it for 1 more minute.
Add 80ml of hot water to the wok, 2 tablespoons of (light) soy sauce, the Shanghai Pak Choi and stir everything together.
Put the lion's head meatballs back in and put the lid on the wok and let it simmer for 5 more minutes on low fire.
Scoop out the lion's head meatballs and the rest from the wok and put everything on a (deep) plate. Arrange the Shanghai pak Choi so it will sit in between the meatballs and pour the sauce from the wok over the dish.