I have cooked lion's head meatballs (狮子头 or shī zi tóu), hand-sized pork meatballs that can be braised, boiled or steamed, many times. The name of this dish comes from the meatball's shape, which looks like the head of a Chinese guardian lion.
The meatballs are typically very big, but you can shape the pork mixture into smaller ones, which may be more suitable for children.
I like to buy fresh, lean pork from a local butcher, then prepare the meat at home. Lion's head meatballs are mainly made from pork. However, I have tried to cook them using chicken mince and they weren't as tasty as the minced pork ones and require more spices.
Most Chinese chefs mince the pork themselves. My mum told me to do the same because you can control the mince's texture. The taste does seem better than pork mince from the supermarket. It's also easier to form a ball shape. In addition, store-bought mince could contain some unnecessary fat and expired meat, and you wouldn't find out until you taste it.
There are many ways to cook lion's head meatballs in China. A popular version is to have them plain, usually steamed in pork-bone broth. A version that's popular in northern China is braised meatballs. These meatballs are also referred to as being "red-cooked", which means "braised in soy sauce". The braising process is simple. You just need to braise the meatballs in a soy sauce mixture after browning, instead of steaming. However, this method is usually quite salty. You can use either mild soy sauce or dark soy sauce for this cooking, but remember that the darker the sauce is, the darker and saltier the meatball will be.
Some people may prefer to marinate the mince with oyster or soy sauce, then deep fry the meatballs. Others like to boil the meatballs in water.
This dish is a family essential. The plain version is simple and suited to winter. It can be served in a clay pot as a mild broth with some greens. It's nice to have a bowl of big meatballs in a warm soup.
"This dish is a family essential."
The dark-sauced braised lion's head meatballs have more flavour and juice in the dish. You can easily mix them with steamed rice or noodles.
In fact, eating large meatballs with steamed rice is as addictive as eating hot pot. They can also be served for lunch or dinner. We usually eat more than three big bowls.
This dish is perfect for festive occasions, such as Christmas and Chinese New Year, or even a small family and friends' reunion. It's an ideal dish to greet your guests, and you can always decorate them with cooked vegetables or sprinkle them with chopped spring onions and coriander. Your guests will be impressed.
Lion's head meatballs
- 750 g pork mince (see Note)
- 2 tbsp chopped ginger
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or dark soy
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 4 cups of hot water or chicken, pork bone or vegetable stock
- 1 egg
- 1 heaped tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Chopped coriander and spring onions to garnish
- Green vegetables or tofu (optional)
Prepare the meatball mixture
- Mix the pork mince with minced garlic, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine and 1 tbsp soy sauce. Add the egg and cornstarch and combine well.
- Take 2 tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a meatball shape. Repeat. If you want to create bigger meatballs, grab more mixture, and create a ball with both hands.
- Place the meatballs onto a large plate. You can choose to pan-fry them here or braise in a hot water or stock with the additional 1 tbsp of soy sauce and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Feel free to add chopped tofu and drop a little sesame oil on top prior to serving.
- Spoon four lion's heads, also known as four happy balls, into a dish, serve with steamed greens and pour the broth over the top.
• Before you make your meatballs, marinate the mince with oyster sauce and soy sauce for 2-3 hours prior to cooking or overnight.
• To test if the meatballs are cooked, insert a metal skewer into the centre of a meatball for a couple of seconds and then touch it with your top lip. If the skewer is warm, the meatball is cooked through.