Lions’ Heads

Shiz Tou

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: UniqueMeal: Easy, Made in AdvanceMeal: One-Dish

    Lions’ Heads came originally from Yangchow, near Shanghai, though the dish is now also a specialty of Peking. Lions’ Heads are big, soft meatballs, simmered in a rich, dark sauce and served on a “mane” of barely cooked Chinese cabbage. By the time the recipe reached Szechwan, almost everything but the name was changed. True, Szechwanese Lions’ Heads are meatballs, but they are smaller and firmer and come in a clearer and less elaborate stock, one that contains carrots and cellophane noodles as well as Chinese cabbage. The finished product is a savory meatball stew, at once lighter and yet more filling than the original.

    Mrs. Chiang’s recipe for Lions’ Heads is representative of a style of cooking called daguocai, or “big pot food.” Dishes prepared in this manner resemble American casseroles in that all the ingredients are cooked and served together in one large pot. Also like American casseroles, they are the easiest way to feed a lot of people, especially when cold weather demands hot and filling food. They are meals in themselves, and no other dishes are ever served with them. Mrs. Chiang’s mother used to prepare these hearty peasant stews for the men when they were planting and harvesting rice. We serve them at informal family suppers, where the meatballs and cellophane noodles make a big hit with the kids.

    Method

    Preparation

    8 large dried black mushrooms

    1 cup boiling water

    Wash the mushrooms very carefully under cold running water. Then put them in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let soak for at least 20 minutes.

    1 package (2 ounces) dried cellophane noodles

    2 cups boiling water

    Put the dried cellophane noodles into a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside to soak.
    4 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop them, both the white part and most of the green, into tiny pieces, approximately the size of a match head.
    2-inch piece of fresh ginger Peel the ginger and chop it very fine, until it reaches the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
    6 fresh water chestnuts (optional) Cut off the black outer part of the water chestnuts and chop the inner parts into tiny pieces, the size of a match head.

    1 pound ground pork (scallions)

    (ginger)

    (water chestnuts)

    2 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 tablespoon sesame oil

    2 egg whites

    1 teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

    1 teaspoon salt

    ½ cup cornstarch

    Put the pork in a bowl and add the chopped scallions, ginger, and water chestnuts to it, along with the soy sauce, sesame oil, egg whites, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, salt, and cornstarch. Mix well.
    1 medium head Chinese cabbage (see note) Separate the leaves of the Chinese cabbage. Discard the tough outer ones and wash the rest carefully, then chop them into segments 2 inches wide.
    2 small carrots Peel the carrots and cut them into 3-inch lengths. Cut these pieces into very thin slices about ⅛ inch in width.
    (mushrooms) Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid they soaked in. Cut off the hard stem, and then, if any of the mushrooms are very large, cut them into quarters.

    Cooking

    ½ cup peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for about 10 seconds, then add the oil. It will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
    (carrots and mushrooms) When the oil is ready, put the carrots and mushrooms into the pan and stir-fry them for 30 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to scoop the ingredients from the sides of the pan and then stir them around in the middle.

    (cabbage)

    (mushroom liquid)

    3 cups water, approximately

    Now add the cabbage shreds, stirring them very carefully in order to keep them from spilling over the sides of the pan. Cook the cabbage for about 3 minutes before adding the mushroom liquid and enough extra water to make 4 cups of liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil over a high flame.
    (meat mixture)

    While you are waiting for the liquid to boil, you can begin to form the meatballs.

    Use a wet spoon and your hands to shape the meat mixture into balls about the size of large plums. You should get about 9 or 10 of these balls.

    Place the meatballs on top of the cabbage and cover the pan. As soon as the liquid is boiling heavily, reduce the heat and let the meatballs simmer for 45 minutes. Then remove the meatballs from the pan.

    (cellophane noodles) Drain the cellophane noodles and rinse them thoroughly under cold water. Add them to the simmering liquid.
    1 tablespoon salt, approximately (meatballs)

    Taste the soup and, if it needs it, add some salt.

    Return the meatballs to the soup and let them simmer for 2 minutes before serving.

    Serving

    This is a real one-dish meal. The best way to serve it is to give each person a soup bowl and then ladle out his portion of meatballs, vegetables, cellophane noodles, and soup into it. You won’t need rice.