Lion’s head meatballs are one of the crowning glories of the cooking in the beautiful Lower Yangtze River region of China. The essential trick for this recipe is to cut the pork by hand. The legend says that the meatballs resembled lion’s heads as they are made from hand-chopped, coarse and chunky meat. I have never been struck by the resemblance. But I adore the dish because of its interesting texture, tender meat and exquisite sauce. You can replace the red-braised sauce by simmering the meatballs in a clear broth.
For the meatballs
- 450g ground pork ideally made from pork belly (30% fat in minimum) and cut by hand猪肉末（5 到7成瘦）
- 6 water chestnuts荸荠 (skin removed and coarsely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon spring onion (white part only)，葱白末
- ½ tablespoon ginger, minced姜末
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil香油
- ½ tablespoon light soy sauce生抽酱油
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper 白胡椒粉
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar白糖
- 30g water starch (1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 20g water)水淀粉
- 4 cups cooking oil for deep-frying
For the braising sauce
- 1 teaspoon chiankiang vinegar镇江香醋
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar白糖
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce老抽酱油 (optional)
- 1 cup water
- 1 and half tablespoon corn starch淀粉 ( mix with 3 tablespoons of water)
Bok Choy (optional) 青菜 (poached or quickly stir-fried) 白灼或者清炒的青菜芯, for decoration
- Put the meat in a mixing ball. Add all the ingredients (except water starch and cooking oil). Mix the ingredients by stirring in one direction so that all the fibres of the meat will line up, making it very smooth. Add in water starch and mix well by stirring in one direction until all water are incorporated.
- Now let’s shape the meatballs. Pick a handful of walnut-sized mixture. Keep slapping the mixture against the inside palm of the other hand, then slap it back to the original hand. Repeat and do it for 4-5 times. This helps meat become springy and sticky in consistence. Now shape it into a ball. Repeat to make rest of the meatballs.
- Now let’s deep fry the meatballs. Pour the oil in a wok and turn up the heat to high. When the oil becomes very hot, add a few meatballs (do not crowd the wok. Otherwise the oil temperature would drop down too quickly and meatball would stick to the bottom of the wok). Cook over high heat for a few minutes. Then use a spatula to gently nudge the meatballs then flip each of the balls to the other side. Continue to cook for a few more minutes until brown/golden. Remove the cooked meatballs. Deep fry the rest of the meatballs.
- The last step is quick. Get a clean work. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil (use the leftover from deep-frying process) over medium high heat. Return all the meatballs, add the braising sauce including 1 teaspoon of chiankiang vinegar, 1 teaspoon caster sugar, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (if you prefer darker and shining meatballs) and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil. Turn the heat to medium. Move around the meatballs to ensure they are evenly coated with sauce. Let it simmer for 5 minutes. In the meantime, use a small bowl to mix 1.5 tablespoon corn starch with 3 tablespoons water. Add the mixture into the wok. Turn the heat to HIGH. The starch helps make sure all the meatballs evenly coated with the sauce. Turn off the heat once you see it becomes less watery and sauce has thickened.
- Place pre-cooked bok choy on a serving plate. Place onto all the meatballs. Drizzle with the remaining sauce in the wok.