Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (Red Braised Lion's Head)
It is not often you'll find this very traditional dish in stateside Chinese restaurants, yet in China north and south, Shi Zi Tou (Lion's Head) is very common. The poetic name of this dish results from its appearance: large meatballs in a bed of cooked cabbage suggests, with a little imagination, a lion's head surrounded by his mane. Variaions exist, especially in southern China, where Shi Zi Tou may have a lighter broth or sauce, and possibly cellophane noodles (fen si), in addition to the cabbage. The present recipe is a Shanghai version, utilizing the famous "red cooked" (hong shao) method of poaching in soy and stock; if you prefer a lighter, "Southern" variation, you can simply omit the two soy sauces and substitute 4 tablespoons more chicken broth. This recipe also calls for water chestnuts, and it is highly recommended that you buy the fresh ones rather than canned, available at most Chinese groceries, even though it takes a few minutes to peel them. Once you experience the sweet, tender fresh water chestnuts, you'll never go back.
- 1 1/2 lbs Ground Pork
- 4 TABWater
- 8 Water Chestnuts, large mince
- 3 Scallions, minced
- 3 tsp Ginger, minced
- 2 tsp Sesame oil
- 1 TAB Sherry
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 2 - 3 TAB Cornstarch for dredging pork balls
- 3 or 4 TAB Peanut oil
- 2 TAB Dark Soy
- 2 TAB Light Soy
- 20 oz Napa Cabbage, root end trimmed, leaves separated
- 2 tsp Brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cup Chicken stock (homemade is far superior, see Technique)
Make a potato flour slurry (equal parts water and starch, appx 2/3 tsp each; you can also use cornstarch, though it will not result in as gelatinous a sauce)
Combine pork and water. Mix meat in one direction, and keep mixing until it is somewhat fluffy and cohered, a few minutes; add large mince chestnuts, minced scallion, minced ginger, sesame oil, sherry and salt; mix well and form into 5 large meat balls approx 6 oz each, 2 1/2" to 3" diameter.
Dust meatballs in cornstarch and remove excess--set aside.
Heat wok with 3 TAB peanut oil over medium heat; when wok oil is just barely smoking, add meat balls one at a time and fry, rolling and turning very gently, until slightly firm and browned. Remove.
Clean wok, heat to medium, add 6 Tablespoons of water, put in cabbage leaves, cover and steam 5 minutes or so until leaves are flexible. Remove and allow to cool enough to handle.
Line sand pot (sha guo) or small casserole with 2/3 of the cabbage; gently add the five meatballs, then pour in chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauces. Lay remaining cabbage over meat, cover and braise balls for 1 1/2 hours on top of stove.
When done and cool enough to handle, carefully remove Lion's heads to a plate. On the service platter, arrange braised cabbage in a circular pattern; arrange meatballs in the center. Reduce braising liquid to desired flavor intensity and add stream of slurry until liquid is thickened, coats spoon thickly, but still runs. Pour over Lions head, garnish with slivered green onion or slivered carrot.