Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ma's Lion Heads (Shi Zi Tou)

Shanghainese lion heads meatballs

I'm talking about the famous Shanghainese meatballs, not real lion heads. If you've never heard of Shanghainese lion heads (shi zi tou), I don't blame you. I didn't know about them until I went out with a boy from Shanghai whose mom made scrumptious lion heads for her mom-in-law, who was in her 80s then, and didn't have much chewing power left in her teeth.

Lion heads are giant pork meatballs, seasoned, fried and braised in soy sauce and shao xin wine and traditionally served over chinese cabbage although my MIL uses bak choy too. This dish is to the Shanghainese what yong tau foo is to the Hakka. It is considered a humble everyday home dish and I think apart from old folks, most picky eaters of the juvenile kind will love it with plain boiled rice. Even if you don't belong to either group, you'll find lion heads very appetizing and tasty on a day when your taste buds are too jaded.

My MIL's lion heads are more cat heads now since we have all become more conscious about our weight. Her lion heads are now smaller than a tennis ball and one is just not enough. So don't make them too small or they loose their lion likeness although frankly, I've looked at lion heads from all directions with great imagination and still can't see their resemblance to the King of the Jungle.


Cat heads...adjust the amount of dark soy sauce to get the shade you want

Ma's Lion Heads
800g fresh shoulder pork, mostly lean with some fat*
1/8 t (or to taste) white pepper
1 egg
2 T cornstarch
2 T light soy sauce
1/4 t salt (depending on your taste)
2 t sesame oil (optional)
1 t minced ginger (optional)

*I've tried making with all-lean pork and the meatballs turned out very dry and firm. They should be soft and moist. I would suggest at least 700g lean meat: 100g fat if you are health-conscious but the meatballs would be slightly dry. If you dare, use more fat to get better tasting meatballs. It's best to use fresh pork and chop it (add the salt when chopping) rather than use ready-ground pork.

1. Mix all the above ingredients well, stirring in one direction forcefully 20-30 times so that the protein in the meat will firm up. Shape into 6-8 meatballs of 100 to 150 g each (I usually make them 120g each) and chill at least 1 hour.

2. Heat up 3-4 cups of veg oil in a wok, rub several slices of ginger (using a frying ladle) against the wok's bottom, then remove the ginger when the oil is hot. MIL insists this will give a flavor and make the wok non-stick.

3. Fry the meatballs in batches until quite browned and crusted outside (if not, they will break up when you braise them later) but not cooked inside. Remove onto kitchen paper.


4. Put the following into a pot, preferably a clay pot or glass dish like Corningware:

1 cup water or better still, chicken stock
2 T Kikkoman soy sauce (or a good light soy sauce)
1-2 T Lee Kum Kee dark soy sauce (1 T for light meatballs n 2 T for dark)
3 T Shao xin wine
1 piece (about 2 cm in diameter) rock sugar

Chinese cabbage or bak choy, in large pieces

5. When the sauce boils, add the lion heads. You may add a piece of fresh or the fried ginger if you like. Add enough water to just cover the meatballs. Cover the pot and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Thicken slightly with cornstarch if like although it is better to reduce and thicken the sauce by boiling at a high heat towards the end of the cooking time.

6. Fry some bak choy (use the small type & leave it whole) or Chinese cabbage (cut into lengths of about 10 cm) in a little bit of oil until it is cooked. Arrange the fried veg (do not add the liquid that comes out after frying the veg) in a claypot and top with the braised lion heads, then cover and heat until the sauce starts to boil so that the veg will have enough flavor. Serve with plain boiled rice. Traditionally 4 lion heads are served in one claypot.

If you are using Chinese cabbage, you can skip the frying and just put the cabbage into a clay pot, arrange the lion heads on top, pour the sauce over, lay more cabbage on top and braise until meatballs are done and the veg is soft. If you don't like the veg too soft, add it later but make sure not to break up the meatballs, and when you serve the dish, put the veg at the bottom of the plate. Take off the lid towards the end if there is too much liquid (from the veg, which would dilute the flavor and taste of the sauce) and boil at a high heat to reduce and thicken the sauce.


TeaLady said...

Terri - these look easy enuff. May try my luck. I even know what bok choy is.....

The corn pudding is more like a pudding than a corn bread. Hope you try and like it.

Eunice said...

Hi, i like your blog.
You are welcome to visit us. Thx for your support!
Search PAOBING and add us in Facebook and Friendster.
See you~! :)

Zurin said...

Hi terri, I take it you havnt read your dong dong chang comments yet? :D I requested for your seaweed crackers recipe so I was wondering if you wld be kind and generous enough( I know u are!) to pass me the recipe please please please. Im crazy about those crackers...just love them!

Unknown said...

Hi Terri, have you seen the ancient chinese lion statues guarding the house of the wealthy? If you have, remember that those lion's have curly-wurly mane that resembled that of the buddha? Now, imagine the pork ball and the lion's head... do you see it now? I guess its all in the imagination like how it fascinates me that ancient astrologer/dreamers can conjure up shapes/zodiacs by connecting star to star.

Beachlover said...

oh!now I know this meatball called shi zi tau!! thanks for the info:))

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

hey, I wanted to sms u tat day.
ur post on sat, the next day sunday, daily express has a recipe of lion's head too. from the same lady who always provide recipe weekly one. I dunno if You know what I mean. but after read hers, argh, yours far better.

foodbin said...

real delicious.

Rei said...

Thanks for sharing this! This looks really good. The recipe I tried had vegetables added to the meatballs. Guess it was unnecessary.

Zurin said...

Terri, I cant find your water chestnut gao post. Help!

terri@adailyobsession said...

tealady: yes, it's easy. i wonder if Hunk would like it. it's very authentic chinese...

eunice:will do

zurin: go to my search box (left column, above categories) n type waterchestnut jelly or ma ti gao.or go direct

some of my friends tell me an easier way to season the crackers: mix the salt, msg n pepper itno the egg white for even distribution n convenience. clever!

johnathan: u really r imaginative, n tt would be d best way to imagine how these meatballs got their names. chinese lions don't have big manes it seems

beachlover: :)

foodbin: foodbin?!

rei: oh no, wouldn't the meatball break up?

Agnes @ rB said...

Sha Guo Shi Zi Tou, I see this alot in my Mom's piling recipe books.

Had it in Nanjing before, its nice but Nanjing's Yan Sui Ya (Salt Water Duck?) is their best delicacy!! :))

Anonymous said...

another wonderful dish. certainly looks very appetizing esp with a bowl of rice.

Anonymous said...

GOodness... My mom grinds her own pork to make these goodies.. Staple for every new year. SO good. We cook it with soup and chinese cabbage together with mung bean vermicelli. Mmmmmm.... Mom says its what grandma used to make for them and she's from ning bo. Hee.. THanks for posting this.

terri@adailyobsession said...

agnes: oh i love nanjing yan sui ya too, n even the ya's giblets. i like nanjing too despite its tragic past.

nee: it is but i usually control myself

frequent reader: hi, how have u been? oh soup lion heads with chinese cabbage n fun see sounds very very good. does ur ma also cook tofu bok with funsee n ja cai soup?? yumz isn't it!

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Those look incredible!

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Looks delicious but I am not understanding why it is named as lions head. It's more like Chinese dish as you are using soy sauce in it.

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