Monday, January 14, 2019

Perfect Jiangsu lion heads

An iconic dish of the entire Jiangsu area, each town seems to have its own take on how to season and present these giant, juicy meatballs. 

Fried green onions add a lovely toasty layer to the dish and excellent depth to the sauce, turning into blackish strips that melt on the tongue.

The mung bean sheets are a personal favorite because I love the silky touch of the fěnpí

If you are looking for something carnal to serve, this is it.

Red-cooked lion heads
Hóngshāo shīzitóu 紅燒獅子頭
Jiangsu cuisine
Serves 4 to 8

Fried green onions and míngyóu:
1 bunch green onions, trimmed
½ cup | 125 ml peanut or vegetable oil
Fried green onions
Seasoned water:
1 scallion, trimmed and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
6 tablespoons | 90 ml water

1 pound | 500 g good quality ground pork (see Tips)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons regular soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sea salt
8 fresh or frozen water chestnuts, or 5 ounces | 150 g jicama, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground raw rice (see Tip)

¼ cup | 60 ml green onion míngyóu (above)
1 quart | 1 liter unsalted chicken stock
6 thin slices ginger
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons rock sugar

The rest:
8 ounces | 250 g napa cabbage, trimmed
3 mung bean sheets (fěnpí)
Boiling water, as needed
2 teaspoons mushroom seasoning 
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
Peeled & unpeeled water chestnuts
1. First make the fried green onions: Chop the green onions into 1-inch | 2-cm lengths and put them in a wok with the oil. Fry these together over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned and toasty. Strain out the onions and place them in the bottom of a large (6- to 8-cup) sandpot or covered casserole. Set aside ¼ cup | 60 ml of the green onion míngyóu (a seasoned oil that literally means “bright oil”) for Step 3 and use the rest for something else, like the TK on page TK.

2. Next, prepare the seasoned water: Place the green onions, ginger, and water in a blender and whirl these together until the ginger is pulverized; scrape down the sides a couple of times to get everything liquefied.

3. Place the pork on a cutting board and smack it with the backs of two heavy knives, scraping it up and turning it over again and again, until the meat looks pale and sticky. Place the meat in a medium work bowl and use your hand as a paddle to beat in the seasoned water and then the egg, soy sauce, rice wine, and salt until the mixture is light and fluffy. Pick up handfuls and energetically smack the meat mixture back into the bowl to lighten it even further. Mix in the water chestnuts and rice.

4. Set a wok over medium heat and swirl in the míngyóu. Wet your hands and scoop out about one-eighth of the pork mixture form it into a ball. Toss it back and forth between your hands like it was a baseball and you’re warming up for a pitch, as this will make it even more tensile. Shape it into a ball before sliding it into the hot oil. Do this again with 3 more meatballs, so that you are frying half of the mixture at a time. Brown the meatballs all over until they have a crunchy crust, and then place them in the sandpot. Repeat with the rest of the pork mixture in order to have 8 fat meatballs. Strain the oil in your wok into a bowl and use it for something else, like a stir-fry.
Beat stuff in with your hand
5. Add all of the stock ingredients to the sandpot, cover, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook the lion heads for about 2 hours with the lid slightly ajar so that steam can escape.

6. While the sandpot is cooking away, thinly shred the napa cabbage. Place the mung bean sheets in a wide pan and cover with boiling water. By the time the water has cooled, the fěnpí will translucent and soft, but still chewy. Drain. If it hasn’t fallen apart into strips, tear or cut them up into pieces not much larger than 4 inches | 10 cm. Layer the softened fěnpí into the sandpot and add just enough boiling water to come halfway up the sheets. Add the mushroom powder, rice wine, and cabbage. Cover the sandpot and simmer for around 15 minutes so that the vegetables barely cook through and the sheets absorb the rich flavors of the stock. Serve hot. Use tongs to serve the fenpi, as it is pretty slippery.


Grind raw rice in a food processor or mortar until about the size of sesame seeds. Or, get “broken jasmine rice,” which already is busted up into small pieces from the milling process.