Lionhead Meatballs

Lionhead Meatballs

Cook time: 45 minutes  |  Total time: 1 hour and 30 min  |  Serves: 4

Lionhead Meatballs (狮子头 *shīzi tóu*) is a popular Chinese dish from the Jiangsu region—my father originally hailed from rural Northern Jiangsu province, where the culture is actually more similar to Shandong province, especially the country dialect that they speak out there. One could liken it to the Chinese rustbelt or northern Brexit country, but let's not go there... At my family's Chinese restaurant back in North Carolina in the '80s, this dish was always a popular hit with our regular customers. I suppose down south, it resembled a kind of savoury meat loaf, which if you don't know is an American casserole made of ground beef with a tomato seasoning and well... it's ok if I'm being polite. Lionhead Meatballs, however, are delicious.

In my family recipe, we use minced (ground) beef instead of pork as my father considered beef slightly more prestigious over pork. Traditionally, pork is used, however, you can use either really. We also mix the meat with minced Napa Cabbage, which is more of a Hakka way of cooking meatballs—my mother's side is Hakka by way of Mauritius. The name Lionhead comes from the steamed Napa Cabbage presented around the meatballs to look like a head and the mane.

What you'll need and how much:

— 1000G Minced (ground) beef
— 1 head of 大白菜 (Chinese Leaf in the UK, Napa Cabbage in the US)
— 5 cloves of minced garlic
— 4 tablespoons of minced ginger
— 6 tablespoons of spring onions (scallions)
— 1 egg
— 1/2 cup of corn flour (corn starch)
— 4 tablespoons of minced coriander stalks (cilantro)
— 3 tablespoons of salt
— 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
— 1/2 cup of light soy sauce
— 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
— 2 tablespoons of sugar
— 5 cups of chicken or pork bone broth (or just plain water)

See and read

Or skip to abridged recipe

Prepare the minced garlic, ginger, spring onions and coriander stems.
 

Cut the end of the napa cabbage (discard end piece and inner yellow sections). Of the leaves, mince the outer half. Salt the minced cabbage with 3 tablespoons of salt in a colander and let rest for 15 minutes. The salt will suck the water out. Reserve the other whole leaves.
 

Grab the cabbage by the handful and squeeze the water out. Set aside.
 

Mix the minced beef with the garlic, ginger, and spring onions with your hands. Top with an egg and mix more thoroughly. the mixture should start to get stickier. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and sugar and continue to mix until the meat mixture is fully mixed. Add the corn flour and mix again. The meat mixture should start to thicken at this point. 

* One of my secrets to tenderising meat is to add a little rice vinegar and sugar
 

Line a plate with corn flour. Roll the meat mixture into balls and roll over the corn flour to coat it.

Heat oil in a wok on medium high heat and fry the balls lightly until golden brown. Turn over so all sides are browned. Remove from pan.

Place all balls back in the wok. Heat wok to medium high and pour in the broth. You can use plain water if you don't have broth. The broth in this recipe is broth made from pork ribs. When the liquid comes to a boil, lower heat to low and cover. Let it simmer for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile cut remaining cabbage leaves into medium sized pieces. After the balls have simmered for 25 minutes, place the cabbage on top and cover. Steam for an additional 15 minutes. 

* The traditional recipes calls for putting the cabbage with the meatballs from the beginning, but I like my cabbage to be alittle on the crunchy side.

After the cabbage has been steamed, remove from the wok. Place cabbage leaves around the edge of the serving plate or bowl. Add meatballs on top and douse with the broth and coriander.

Abridged Recipe

Ingredients

— 1000G Minced (ground) beef
— 1 head of 大白菜 (Chinese Leaf in the UK, Napa Cabbage in the US)
— 5 cloves of minced garlic
— 4 tablespoons of minced ginger
— 6 tablespoons of spring onions (scallions)
— 1 egg
— 1/2 cup of corn flour (corn starch)
— 4 tablespoons of minced coriander stalks (cilantro)
— 3 tablespoons of salt
— 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
— 1/2 cup of light soy sauce
— 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
— 2 tablespoons of sugar
— 5 cups of chicken or pork bone broth (or just plain water)

Recipe

  1. Prepare the minced garlic, ginger, spring onions and coriander.
  2. Cut the end of the napa cabbage (discard end piece and inner yellow sections). Of the leaves, mince the outer half. Salt the cabbage with 3 tablespoons of salt in a colander and let rest for 15 minutes. The salt will suck the water out.
  3. Grab the cabbage by handfuls and squeeze the water out. Set aside.
  4. Mix the minced beef with the garlic, ginger, and spring onions with your hands. Top with the egg and mix more thoroughly. the mixture should start to get stickier. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and sugar and continue to mix until the meat mixture fills fully mixed. Add the corn flour and mix again. The meat mixture should start to thicken.
  5. Line a plate with corn flour. Roll the meat mixture into balls and roll over the corn flour.
  6. Heat oil in a wok on medium high heat and fry the balls lightly until golden brown. Turn over so all sides are browned. Remove form pan.
  7. Place all ball in the wok. Heat wok to medium high and pour broth. When the liquid comes to a boil, lower heat to low and cover. Let it simmer for 25 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile cut remaining cabbage leaves into small pieces. After the balls have simmered for 25 minutes, place the cabbage on top and cover. Steam for an additional 15 minutes.
  9. After the cabbage has been steamed, remove from the wok. Place cabbage leaves around the edge of the serving plate or bowl. Add meatballs on top and douse with the broth and coriander.

Photo Credits: Sophia Stupperich

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