Saturday, February 25, 2012

Braised Lion Heads 紅燒獅子頭 Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou

Now that's what I'm talking about! These are those pork meatballs that I'd been trying to recreate. Or thinking about trying to recreate mostly. Maybe I should have included something for scale in this photo; the meatballs are pretty big. And you know what? You don't necessarily need a binder in your ground meat ball/steak/loaf for it to be tender! (See my previous ruminations here.) There is no binding agent in this recipe--but that's because it's braised for a long time, taking the pork past the tough stage to collapse-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Now, if you want your meatballs to cook in a shorter time (like if you're making dumplings), then you may need the binding agent after all. And if you're talking about baking, like with meatloaf, then I don't have much experience to speak to that.

shi zi statue
image by Allen Chang

These are called Lion Heads, shi zi tou, because of their resemblance to the traditional Chinese stylization of lions' heads. Poetic, don't you think?

My recipe is adapted from John Sinclair's, over at Traditional Chinese Recipes. I've mentioned his blog before, but again, he really knows his Chinese cooking, and it's a great resource. I was missing a couple things he calls for, and so had to substitute for them, but they weren't big deals. He asks for dark and light soy sauce, both, and a sand pot, which is used a lot in Chinese braising. Grace Young also calls for a combination of dark and light soy in her recipes, so I might have to finally pick them up instead of subbing "normal" soy sauce for both. For the sand pot, I just use a 2 qt. pot, which worked just fine. I don't even have a casserole, which he mentioned as an alternative to the sand pot.

Anyway, this was exciting; I love this dish. It's also kind of a pain to make, taking a lot of time. Well, I also happened to have a pound-and-a-half of pork shoulder, and decided to try just grinding my own ground pork. It worked great, but added to the prep time. Fortunately, I have no problems at all with leftovers, and it provided many meals worth of protein.

Recipe after the pics:

 lion heads, dusted with cornstarch, ready to fry

 lightly seared, ready to braise

covered with napa cabbage before braising

[Update: check out my newer alternate recipe here! I cut out a couple things that I don't think are necessary, and changed the ingredients a little for a more tender meatball.]

Braised Lion Heads 紅燒獅子頭

1 1/2 lbs. Ground Pork
4 TBS Water
8 Water Chestnuts, large mince
3 Scallions, minced
3 tsp Ginger, minced
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1 TBS Rice Wine
1/2 tsp Salt
2 - 3 TBS Cornstarch for dredging pork balls

3 TBS Peanut Oil
20 oz. Napa Cabbage, root end trimmed, leaves separated

4 TBS Soy Sauce
1 TBS Brown Sugar
1 1/4 cup Chicken Stock

Potato flour slurry: 2/3 tsp each potato flour & water
1 TBS Scallion or carrot, shredded, for garnish

  1. Make potato flour slurry (equal parts water and starch, ~ 2/3 tsp each; cornstarch is okay, though it will not make as thick a sauce).
  2. In a separate container, mix chicken stock, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
  3. Combine pork and water in large bowl. Mix meat in one direction until it is somewhat fluffy and cohered, a few minutes.
  4. Add water chestnuts, scallion, ginger, sesame oil, rice wine, and salt. Mix well and form into 5 large meat balls about 6 oz. each, 2.5”  to 3" in diameter.
  5. Dust meatballs in cornstarch, remove excess, and set aside.
  6. Heat wok over medium heat with peanut oil. When wok oil is just barely smoking, add meat balls one at a time and fry, rolling and turning very gently, until slightly firm and browned.  Remove. 
  7. Clean wok, heat to medium, add 6 TBS of water and cabbage leaves, cover and steam ~5 minutes or until leaves are flexible.  Remove.
  8. Line 2 qt. pot (or sand pot (sha guo) or small casserole) with 2/3 of the cabbage. Gently add the five meatballs, then pour in chicken stock, soy sauce, and brown sugar.  Lay remaining cabbage over meat, cover, and simmer balls for 1.5 hours over low heat. 
  9. When done and cool enough to handle, carefully remove meatballs to a plate.  On the service platter, arrange braised cabbage in a circular pattern with meatballs in the center.  Reduce braising liquid to desired flavor intensity, give slurry a stir, and add slurry in a stream until liquid is thickened, coating spoon thickly, but still runs.  Pour sauce over lion heads, garnish with shredded scallion or carrot.

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