Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lion's Head Stew!

Every family has that one dish there Grandmother ALWAYS makes. Rain or shine, hot or cold your grandmother will always make this whenever there is a special occasion. For us it's Lion's Head. My grandmother will call me to have me come over to eat dinner on days she makes Lion's Head. My grandmother is SO proud of her Lion's Head that one Christmas Eve we decided to just order a feast of Chinese food from a local restaurant and insisted she not cook. When the food all arrived, she went into the kitchen (where I followed her) and she had HIDDEN Lion's Head in the cabinets.

I never really thought to myself to try and make Lion's Head but after watching a recent episode of Iron Chef I thought to myself it would be an inexpensive dish that I could eat for a few meals.

A tidbit about Lion's Head from Wikipedia if you've never heard of this classic Chinese dish

Lion's head is a dish from the Huaiyang cuisine of eastern China, consisting of large pork meatballs (about 7-10 cm in diameter) stewed with vegetables. There are two varieties: the white (or plain), and the red (红烧, cooked with soy sauce). The plain variety is usually stewed or steamed with napa cabbage. The red variety can be stewed with cabbage or cooked with bamboo shoots and tofu derivatives. The minced meat in the meatball tends to be made from fatty pork (lean pork making for a less desirable taste), often with some chopped water chestnut for textural variation.

The name derives from the shape of the cabbage, which together with the meatball and a bit of imagination, resembles a lion's head.

The dish originated from the region of Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in JiangsuYangzhou and the red variety more common in Zhenjiang. The dish became a part of Shanghai cuisine with the influx of migrants in the 19th and early 20th Century.

I took some liberties with the dish, since I'd like to eat "healthy" as often as possible when I cook at home I replaced the pork with lean turkey. When I was first making this dish I was very fearful that the turkey would work as well as Shaq shooting free throws, but it turned out okay.

I started out with the basic recipe from and I added a few extra ingredients to KICK IT UP A NOTCH.

You first start out by creaking a shitake mushroom "broth", put in about 6-8 shitake mushrooms (fresh if you can) into a bowl with 2 cups of boiling hot water. Let it rest for 30 minutes or so. Discard the stems and cut up the mushrooms into thin slices. Keep 1 cup of the broth on the side for the dish.

While waiting for the broth to finish, you can mix the meat. I deviate from the recipe here.
I wanted a thicker , meatier dish full of deep rich flavor so I changed to turkey from pork and added a few different ingredients.

Take a pound of ground turkey mix it with a large handful of scallions, 1 table spoon of ginger, a shot of rice wine, 2 lightly scrambled eggs, three long squirts of sesame oil, generous salt/black pepper/ and white pepper, a few pinches of sugar, and 3-4 caps of soy sauce.

The meat will look a bit runny so add enough corn starch where the mixture doesn't stick too much to your hands. (it will stick!) Slam it around for a bit and then shape it into 6 meat balls. The original recipe says 4, but you'll notice this meatball is VERY dense and meaty. The lean turkey is much thicker than the fatty ground pork.

Take a head of Napa Cabbage, peel it and cut it in half (along the head). Mix it with your shitake mushrooms, vegetable oil, a few pinches of ginger for a few minutes. Add in the mushroom broth and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Remove and put into a large pot.

Take out the meatball patties and brown the outside to seal in the flavor.
Layer the meatballs with the vegetable mixture and empty in 2.5 cups of chicken broth
Cover the meatballs with as much cabbage as you'd like.

Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Throughout the simmering taste the broth to see if you need to add salt, water, or pepper to taste. After about a hour the cabbage should look like the picture above.

Spoon a meatball, some cabbage, and a few pieces of mushroom in a bowl. I cooked some fresh Chinese noodles and mixed it with the dish with some of the broth for a soup noodle dish.

The fresh shitake mushrooms really make a difference. They add in an earthy and dark mushroom flavor and they absorb all the turkey, ginger, and chicken broth.

The best part of this dish is it keeps very well, I've eaten it over the course of a week and it tastes just as good each time.

Hope you enjoy it!



Roger. said...

One of my favorite Chinese dishes. I like the Western presentation you made there on the 2nd pic, Charlie :P

Zhi said...

Ground Turkey Charlie? You are not asian. Pork. Not turkey...

Anonymous said...

I love that second photo! Looks scrumptious...and the turkey is a nice low-fat, Western adaptation of an age-old Chinese recipe

Dennis K. said...

Mmm, I've bookmarked this page and am definitely going to try this! Thanks.

Nancy Deprez said...

Okay this is really ironic, but I have been thinking about making this great winter dish all week! I can't believe we are on the same wavelength. I love Lions heads and they are delicious, as are the soft stewed vegetables that cook alongside it.

Awesome. Thanks for your recipe. And happy upcoming Chinese new year!

Nancy Deprez said...

..... and I will make it with ground pork. Nothing is as delicious and sweet as ground pork. I'm with Zhi on this one.

Barefoot Plumies said...

This was something my grandmother made too, but not my mom. It's been so long that I can't remember her version.

I'll have to make this because I think the hubby would love it, but I'll have to use ground pork. :-)

Charlie Fu said...

Roger: I try to be fancy, but it also makes for good portion control!

Zhi: I'm trying to eat healthy, we can't all have slim bodies like you

Anonymous: Exactly!

Dennis: You'll probably want to make smaller meatballs than mine, mine ended up a bit meatier than i'd like.

Nancy: Happy CNY to you too!

BP: Pork is really the way to go, but at least I now know turkey is a half decent alternative for chinese food =P

Curtis said...

Thanks Charlie, I can finally make it now :P

mothermayi said...

this seems like an interesting and not too hard to make recipe...i'll have to try it out soon. thanks! how many servings does this come to to roughly btw?

Charlie Fu said...

Mothermayi: It's roughly 4-6 servings. About 8 total meatballs.

MISA said...

It is interested very much.
Please link to this site.

V said...

OMG! That looks delectable. :)

Gwen said...

It won't work in actual fact, that is exactly what I suppose.