A couple of weeks ago, as I was getting ready to do my dinner prep, my mother walked into the kitchen and asked what I was going to make. I had the ground pork out on the counter and have not decided on its final apotheosis yet.
I remembered I had some napa cabbage in the fridge, and thinking I could save some cleanup time by doing a one-pot meal, combining my protein and my vegetables, I must have casually tossed out, "Maybe lion's head meatballs."
My mother oohed, then said, "Just don't make them too big."
So I heeded my mother's instructions and made these "lion cubby head meatballs."
Lion's Head is so called because the dish consists of large meatballs -- the lion's head -- on a bed of cooked cabbage -- the mane.
Although, when I think about it, how could our little cubs have wilted cabbage manes? They're still little cubbies, after all.
The Cubby Heads
I started with approximately 3 pounds of ground pork and mixed it in with some chopped green onions. Then, I added some ginger, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, and finally, a pinch of sugar to balance the soy sauce. I mashed everything up with one egg and formed little 1-inch cubby heads.
I decided to fry up the cubby heads first before dumping into a pot. As I was standing there batch-frying, I realized precisely why I don't make lion's head meatball casserole more often, even though it is a family favourite -- and particularly, my favourite.
For the "mane" of my cubby heads, I used napa cabbage.
I sliced them and sautéed them lightly with some garlic. After which, I added my liquid (chicken stock, although I've gotten away with using only water as well), and the meatballs.
Eating the result with some steaming white rice, I must say that there's something really great that happens when napa cabbage meets the cubby heads in some chicken stock.
The vegetal sweetness of the napa cabbage just complements the deep, brown savouriness of the pork meatballs so well.
This is definitely another one of those dishes whose sum is greater than its parts.
eatingclub JiangZhe dishes
Jade Tower ( 翡翠塔), or Tofu with Aster Indicus (香乾馬蘭頭)
Wuxi Pork Spareribs (無錫排骨)
"Little Cubby Heads", Lion's Head Meatballs (小獅子頭)
Supreme Lion's Head Meatballs with Crabmeat (清燉蟹粉獅子頭)
Suzhou Deep-fried Fish, or Suzhou Smoked Fish (蘇州燻魚)
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Lion's Head Meatballs
3 pounds ground pork
12 stalks green onions, chopped finely
1-inch ginger, minced (approx 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
1 liter chicken stock (and/or water)
2 cloves garlic
2 heads napa cabbage, separated into leaves
Mix pork, green onions, ginger, sugar, salt, pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine with one egg until all ingredients are well-incorporated. Form into 1-inch diameter meatballs.
(Or, for a more traditional take, form them into large meatballs about the size of one's palm.)
Pan-fry meatballs in a sauté pan until browned on the outside. The meatballs do not have to be cooked through, as they will be simmered with chicken stock and cabbage.
In a pot or Dutch oven, sauté the garlic until fragrant, then add the napa cabbage until slightly wilted. Add the chicken stock and layer the meatballs on the bed of cabbage. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer until cabbage is tender and the meatballs are cooked through.