Braised Lion's Head Meatballs aren't always available at your favorite Chinese restaurant, so why not make them yourself? It's easier than you think.
Braised Lion’s Head Meatballs (Shizitou in Chinese) is a popular dish across China. Don’t worry, no endangered lions were harmed creating this recipe. It consists mainly of pork and napa cabbage. The name comes from its appearance. The large meatball surrounded by napa cabbage resembles a lion’s head and mane.
Variations of Shizitou
There are many variations of Lion's Head Meatballs, which differ from region to region across China. This recipe is commonly referred to as the "white" version, meaning it has been cooked in a light broth. After par cooking the meatballs, it's simmered in a a lightly flavored broth to complete the cooking.
The other popular version is referred to as "red," which is simmered in a soy sauce-based braise, very popular in Shanghainese cuisine. The sauce is heavier and very rich, typical of Shanghainese style cooking. I will be posting a "red" version of Shizitou soon, so check back with us.
How to Make Braised Lion's Head Meatballs
Making Braised Lion's Head Meatballs can be divided into two general steps, making the meatballs and braising the meatballs. If you've ever made any type of meatballs, the first step should be very familiar.
First, mix all the meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix it very, very well until it becomes a sticky paste. Use your hands to form meatballs into any size. I lean towards a larger size but this part is completely up to you. The meatballs in the photo are about 2.5"-3" in diameter.
After the meatballs are formed, we brown them. There are several ways to go about this. You can deep fry, shallow fry or bake them. I usually opt for shallow frying. It's less involved than deep frying and gives more flavor than baking.
No matter which method you choose, the goal is to brown as much of the meatball as possible. No need to cook it through, just a nice golden outer layer is all we need.
Braising the lion's head meatballs is next. After stir frying some aromatics and spices, the meatballs are added to the braising liquid and braised until they're fully cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- 1 lb fatty ground pork, 20% fat preferred (80/20)
- 4-5 water chestnuts (canned), minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 4-6 napa cabbage leaves, cut into 1-2 inch segments
- 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 1 hour, then sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 star anise
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 bundle bean thread noodles, (optional) soaked in water for 15 minutes
- 3 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 tablespoon water
- Start by soaking the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for at least 1 hour.
- When the mushrooms are fully reconstituted, give them a gentle squeeze to remove some of the excess water. Trim and discard the thick, woody part of the stem. Slice the mushrooms into thin slices. Reserve the soaking liquid for the braise.
Making the Shizitou Meatballs
- Combine all the MEATBALL ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well until the mixture forms a sticky paste. It's very important to reach this stage, otherwise the meatballs will fall apart during cooking.
- Separate the pork mixture into 5 equal parts. With your hands, form each portion into a round meatball, rolling them in between your palms.
Browning the Meatballs (3 Methods)
- Deep fry: Gently place the meatballs in 375° F oil and fry until a golden crust forms. They don't need to be fully cooked at this point.
- Shallow fry: In a wok or skillet, heat about 1 inch of oil over medium heat. Carefully place the meatballs in the oil and fry as many sides as possible until browned. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. They don't need to be cooked all the way through.
- Bake: Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake at 450°F for 15-20 minutes, until they develop a crust. Flip the meatballs halfway through cooking.
- Heat a medium-sized pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add a tablespoon of oil.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and stir fry until they become lightly browned.
- Add garlic and star anise and stir fry until the garlic becomes aromatic.
- Add napa cabbage and stir fry until the thicker stems begin to soften.
- Stir in Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, five spice powder and white pepper.
- Pour in the chicken stock and mushroom soaking liquid. Bring to a boil.
- Add the browned meatballs, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry. Give the cornstarch and water a good stir and slowly drizzle a tablespoon of slurry into the braise. Stir it well and let it return to a boil. You'll notice the sauce has thickened. Repeat with the slurry until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.
- If you're using bean thread noodles, now is the time to add them. Let the braise come back to a boil then turn off the heat.