Author Alphie Liao
Photos Gao Zanxian
Is there a dish that makes you think of someone in particular? Do its taste, aroma, and flavor bring you back to an earlier time?
With a dash of effort and seasoning, you can make rich lion’s head meatballs (紅燒獅子頭) served with simmered Chinese cabbage and rice.
Chen Mingshiun (陳銘薰), who recently left a teaching position to serve as chairperson of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC), Taipei City Government (台北市政府研究發展考核委員會), learned this recipe from his late mother-in-law. With a busy schedule and his grown children mostly away from home, Chen rarely finds the time to make the meatballs. He often orders the dish when eating out, though he learned long ago that his mother-in-law made it best.
Chen saves the real deal for Lunar New Year. Despite only making the dish once a year, the ingredients and steps are etched in his mind. Rather than use measuring cups or spoons, Chen relies on his senses of sight and smell. His most important secret is replacing the water chestnuts typically mixed into the meat with white bread that has had its crust removed. After frying, the bread is no longer visible, but it leaves its mark by making the meatballs crispier on the outside and more tender on the inside.
Chen’s lion’s head meatballs have no luxurious ingredients or carefully designed presentation. They are simply a homespun version of a classic comfort food.
Lion’s Head Meatball Recipe
Ingredients: 1 lb. of minced pork (about 450 g ), two slices of white bread (with crust removed), chopped ginger, chopped scallions, one egg white, two teaspoons of salt, two tablespoons of oil, soy sauce, alcohol, sesame oil, a pinch of pepper, and eight teaspoons of cornstarch.
1. Mix the above ingredients until they are evenly distributed. Then, stir in one direction until the meat appears fibrous.
2. After heating the frying pan, switch to medium heat. Knead the mixture from Step 1 into a ball (smaller than a tennis ball), pass the ball between your hands several times, then drop into the oil. Occasionally stir, frying until a golden yellow. Remove and allow the excess oil to drip away.
※Passing the ball between your hands releases air from the meatball, leaving a heartier finished product.
3. Leave 1-2 tablespoons of oil from above in the frying pan. Turn up the heat to high. Then, add the scallions and large cuts of Chinese cabbage. After stir-frying for a short time, add a bowl of water and some soy sauce. Then, continue to cook. Add the meatballs from Step 2. Turn the heat to between low and medium and simmer for 10-20 minutes. Then serve.