YANG ZHOU SHI ZI TOU (Chinese lion’s head, for four as part of a Chinese meal with several main dishes — if this is your only entrée at a Western style meal and each guest will eat more than one meatball, you might want to double the number of meatballs)
“It’s an old and oft-repeated story that this dish — a big, round meatball surrounded by cabbage and noodles — got its name from its resemblance to the shaggy mane of a lion. (The Chinese language is nothing if not descriptive)…..Lion’s head is a Shanghai specialty, although two towns with a friendly rivalry, Wuxi and neighboring Yangchou, also claim to have invented the dish…..The food of Shanghai and its region is renowned for deeply flavored, slow-cooked and braised dishes.” Cecelia Chaing, The Seventh Daughter
1 large head (about 1-½ pounds) napa cabbage
4 ounces bean-thread (cellophane) noodles
1 pound lean ground pork
¼ cup (about 4 ounces) drained and finely minced canned water chestnuts
1 tablespoon minced green onions, white part only
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh gingerroot
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons premium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
peanut or vegetable oil for frying
1-½ cups chicken broth
½ cup water
- Trim off the root end of the cabbage head and reserve. Quarter the leaves lengthwise and then cut them again crosswise into thirds.
- Prepare the noodles. Pour hot water over the bean thread noodles in a bowl and let them soak until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Keep the noodles in the water until ready to use, as they tend to dry out quickly.
- Form the meatballs. Combine the pork, water chestnuts, green onions, ginger, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, wine and white pepper in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix all of the ingredients together until well combined. Don’t over mix, or the pork will become gummy. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Using a ½ cup measure, loosely form the pork into 4-ounce balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Set aside.
- Line a plate with paper towels and have it ready near the cook top. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat until a bead of water dances on the surface and then evaporates. Cover the bottom of the skillet with a thin film of the oil and swirl to coat. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, but do not overcrowd (depending on the size of your pan, you might need to cook the meatballs in several batches). Decrease the heat to medium and cook the meatballs, turning with tongs to cook evenly, until all sides are well browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared plate. Repeat this process for as many batches as needed.
- Put the reserved root ends of the cabbage in the bottom of a large saucepan. Gently place the meatballs on top, and pour over the chicken broth and the ½ cup of water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, uncovered, until it has cooked down a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the cut up cabbage leaves and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and continue to simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the cabbage is tender, 10 minutes more.
- Drain the noodles, add to the saucepan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and stir to combine well. Remove the pan from the heat. To serve, arrange the meatballs on top of the cabbage and noodles on a platter. Serve immediately.
from Cecelia Chaing, The Seventh Daughter