I guess this dish is named so because of its size. It is a common dish in Northern cuisine. Basically it is one ginormous meatball on a bed of vegetables. I had made another version of this while the girls were younger, instead of one big meat ball, I would make individual smaller ones. I think the only reason was I could not get the meat balls to hold its shape unless I made them smaller.
I have not made this for a long time, I think the last time I cooked it was almost 7-8 years ago. I got really nostalgic and on my way home from work the other day and I decided to make it for old-time sake. So many things have changed in my life and so have my cooking. That thing about live and let learn? I guess it is only from trial and errors that one learns how to improve and make progress.
Well, change I did, in my mind as I took the 30 minutes drive back, I was already formulating how to make one giant meatball and without it turning into a pancake on me. I know the proper way of making it is to deep fry the meatball in seemingly ten inches of oil. This will make the meatball stay “round”. I do not like to deep fry foods, not only I find it troublesome to handle the left over oil, the deep-frying will really smoke up my house. In my moment of brilliance I thought of another way, which is steaming it. I thought in order to retain its shape I could put the meat ball in a small rice bowl and steam it until it is almost done. Of course, lots of cornstarch to hold it together as well.
My version of the lion’s head did work out. ( I have to stress on it is my version, I know for those experts, they will frown on it) However, instead of getting a rounded meatball, mine looked more like a giant muffin. I am not picky about it so long it tastes good. Now, to make the texture more like the meatballs I taste in restaurant, I kneaded the meat for a long time. You can do it in a food processor, but my concern is that the meat might be overmixed.
The second thing that make this dish is the sauce. Some places serve it in a thickened sauce, and other places serve it in a broth. I did not realize I used to do the later one, until Ariella pointed it out to me.
So here is my new and improved version of the Lion’s head:
11/2 pounds of lean ground pork
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped scallions ( white part)
a dash of white pepper
1 tbsp of soya sauce
1/4 tsp of five spice powder
1 tsp of sesame oil
1/2 tsp of salt
4 tbsp of cornstarch
1 head of chinese cabbage
2 cloves of crushed garlic
dark soya sauce and oyster sauce to taste
1 tbsp of cornstarch
dash of sesame oil
Mix ground pork with all the seasonings and cornstarch. Mix well with wooden spoon. Afterwards, use cleaned hands and start kneading the meat mixture for about 15 minutes ( like kneading dough), turn meat over in bowl at least 3 times. Fill a steamer with hot water and boil. Fill a small rice bowl with the meat mixture so it resembles a giant meatball.
Steam meatball over boiling water for 20-30 minutes, until it is no longer pink when you poke it. Take meatball out and cool.
Cut and trim chinese cabbage to about 1/2 inch long. Blanch it in hot boiling water until they turn soft. With a strainer, drain all water from vegetables, and put it on a plate to use later. Chinese cabbage do tend to sweat a lot, so make sure you get rid of all the liquid before serving.
Heat a tbsp of oil, add in garlic until it is fragrant, put in giant meat ball and gently fry on all sides until it is lightly browned. You might want to cut a tiny piece of meatball to taste. You can adjust the taste in the sauce. Soya sauce will add saltness, whereas oyster sauce will be a little sweet, so adjust to your taste accordingly.
As you add all the sauces in a boil, add about 1/4 cup of water to the liquid. Then in a small bowl add cornstarch and mix it with a tablespoon of water, making sure that the flour is all dissolved and you end up with a smooth paste.
Once it is a paste like, then pour the cornstarch in the boiled liquid and stir gently until the sauce is thickened. You might end up with a very thick sauce, but remember the cabbage will continue to sweat, so by the time you serve it the sauce will not be as thick.
In a serving bowl, arrange the cooked cabbage on the bottom, then put meatball in the middle. Finally pour the sauce over it. Enjoy.