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Baby Lion’s Head Meatballs

The best thing about these meatballs is the coating. Each meatball is dipped into a coating made of stock, dark soy sauce, and cornstarch, then seared until nicely brown before being braised further. The seared layer of soy sauce coating each meatball is a tremendous burst of flavor, and absolutely makes the dish for me.

The name Lion’s Head comes from the story that the meatballs are supposed to look like, well, lions’ heads, with the bok choy being the lions’ wavy manes. I must admit, to me they just look like dinner. Still, as I would rather find dinner in my kitchen than a pack of lions, that is quite all right with me.

To be honest, this time I am perhaps even prouder of the bowl than I am of the food. As I mentioned in my last post, Dave and I have been taking a glassblowing class, and we’ve been making some pieces that I think are pretty good. I created the bowl you see pictured in this post, and I think the angle of it is just right for serving some sort of amuse bouche. I may have to make a set of angled bowls at some point.

It’s an addictive hobby, working with hot glass is, so don’t be surprised if you see many more of my meals being served in dishes which we’ve made from now on.

The recipe below mostly comes from Barbara Tropp, but I mixed in some inspiration from Martin Yan, and made further changes of my own to create the version I’ve posted here.

Baby Lion’s Head Meatballs
For the meatballs
1 1/4 lbs. ground pork
1 1/2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1/4 C everday or chicken stock
2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp kosher salt (or any coarse salt)
2 tbsp dried tiny shrimp
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For coating the meatballs
1 tbsp everyday or chicken stock
1 tbsp Chinese dark soy sauce
1 tbsp corn starch
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the rest of the dish
1 1/2 lbs. baby bok choy
Shaoxing rice wine
About 2 C everyday or chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Reconstitute the dried tiny shrimp in hot water for about half an hour. You can find these in any dried foods or seafood shop in Chinatown. They smell pretty strong, but they don’t really add a fishy flavor to the final dish, just an extra dose of umami. They’re often used in dumpling fillings for precisely that purpose. If you can’t find them, try substituting something else that adds umami, like meaty mushrooms of some sort.

Rinse the baby bok choy, dry it as best you can, and set it aside.

Mince the reconstituted shrimp, then mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs.

(Note: Chinese everyday stock is a pork and chicken stock. It is very tasty, and very convenient for everyday use. If you don’t have any around, chicken stock really will do just as well. Worry not.)

In a separate bowl, mix together the ingredients for the meatball coating.

Create the meatballs one at a time, rolling about 2-3 tbsp of meat stuff into a ball, then coat it in the coating and place it on a plate.

Once all the meatballs are created, coated, and set aside, start heating up your wok. Once the wok is hot, swirl in enough oil to coat the bottom. Stir fry the baby bok choy in batches (you want it to fry, not steam, after all), just for a few moments, then add a bit of salt and pepper and a dash of Shaoxing to each batch in turn, and remove them to the pot you will be using to braise the final dish.

That being done, swirl a bit more oil into your wok and sear the meatballs, flipping them with tongs, until they are browned all around. Remove them to the pot as well.

You want the pot arranged such that about half of the bok choy is below the meatballs, and the rest lie atop them.

Pour the stock into the pot over the rest, adding more salt and pepper if you like. Remember that Shaoxing and soy sauce are both salty, and be wary of oversalting if you add any more at this point. The stock should come up about halfway up the rest of the ingredients. Turn the heat on low under the pot, and let it come up to a simmer. Continue to let it simmer, covered, for about an hour, and then it is ready to serve.

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14 Responses to “Baby Lion’s Head Meatballs”

  1. mr.ed says:

    Please make salt optional in your recipes, and call for light soy sauce. Some of us were raised on low-salt diets and find that a recipe like this is inedible, besides being a danger to those with hypertension or water retention, which salt is a big contributor to. BTW, it pays to read the label on low salt soy sauce. I’ve found a variation of sodium content to be as much as double in some than others.

  2. ilva says:

    Oh! To both. I really like the idea to make a coating for the meatballs, thanks! And I’m so impressed by your bowl-it’s really beautiful! Brava!!

  3. Lydia says:

    That bowl is absolutely beautiful! And the recipe looks wonderful. I’ll try it with ground turkey in place of the pork — a substitution that usually works pretty well.

  4. novalis says:

    Actually, sodium only affects about 1/3 of people with hypertension (about 8% of the total population), according to Steingarten. Also, Chinese dark and light soy sauces differ not so much in salt content (why should salt make sauce darker in color?), but in flavor. They are not substitutes. If we’re catering to 8% of the population, we should probably start with vegetarians, who form at least 8% of our friend circle.

    We do make all of our stocks without salt, so that we can individually adjust the saltiness of any dish, and so that we can share with Danielle’s grandmother, who does need a low-salt diet.

    But we write the recipes as we cook them, since we assume that everyone will adjust them to their own tastes as we do whenever we read a recipe.

  5. deinin says:

    Oh! The meatballs look scrumptious, and I will definitely need to try out the coating thing, but the bowl! I’m completely bowled over! You’re on to a good thing there, clearly.

  6. Terry B says:

    I love the idea of individual glass bowls, each with their own slight differences, used as a set. For our dining room, we have mismatched old wooden kitchen chairs, all painted black. While their designs are different—some wildly so—the color unifies them and makes for interesting seating around a simple modern table.

  7. Helen says:

    Beautiful to both! If you are on an angled bowl making frenzy I will gladly be a buyer!

  8. Great minds (cooks?) think alike, LOL. I made some meat balls too, but a Japanese yakitori ones.

    Anyway, I absolutely love your serving bowl, the shape seems unique…looks like I will have to head out to NYC and you can take me shopping for plates. I am sick of my all white plates now. :(

  9. Danielle says:

    mr. ed – My recipes are always entirely optional.

    ilva – Thank you so much!

    Lydia – I imagine turkey would work nicely, yes.

    deinin – Thank you!

    Terry – I love your description of those chairs. I’m very into mismatched settings. We had 15 people over for the first seder a few weeks ago, and we used our whole mess of mismatched little plates and bowls to serve them. I really think it’s more fun that way.

    Helen – Thank you! I actually think I will put up an Etsy shop with my glasswork at some point. I’ll let you know when I do.

    RM – I saw your yakitori, they look great! And you should definitely come to NYC. I’d be delighted to take you shopping when you get here.

  10. Yvo says:

    God, as if I didn’t already love your dishes enough, now you’re making them. I am entirely impressed with both this dish/bowl and the pitcher. And the food sounds yummy, too, just right now I’m gaping at the swirls on your pitcher. Brava.

  11. Victoria says:

    The meatbals looks absolutely divine, I can almost imagine sinkig my teeth into them. I loved it when they were so huge you only needed one to feel full. I’ve never made meatballs before though, maybe I should try…

  12. My grandmother makes delectable lion’s heads. I would argue the best. :-) They’re comfort food. IIRC, the mane is actually the cellophane noodles (clear vermicelli made from mung beans). I’ve never had lion’s heads with bok choy.

  13. Kristen says:

    You made that bowl? Wow! I am amazed!

  14. Julie says:

    Wow…looks really good!

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