This is a family recipe passed down from my Shanghai-nese grandmother. The big fluffy meatball represents a lion's head and the surrounding leafy greens, its mane. Don't you love the fanciful name? Just as much to love is the dish itself, a mainstay comfort meal to be certain. The secret to these meatball's fluffiness is a few tablespoons of water mixed with egg white...and using some vigor when mixing the ground pork with it before they're formed into balls. Who would've thought? Because of those tricks, the meatballs don't require bread or bread crumbs like most meatball recipes, making them gluten free too. I love eating this atop a bowl of steamed rice, so the flavorful brothy-ness soak all the way down into the rice. Yum! I hope you give this delicious dish a try.
Note: I made a double batch in the images used in this post. You may want to as well, since this keeps very well overnight and reheated on the stove. Leftovers are also great made into lunches - but don't forget to cook extra rice for it - it's absolutely essential! ;)
Shanghai 'Lion's Head' Meatballs
Recipe serves 4.
1 to 1 1/2 lbs (450g to 675g) baby bok choy
1lb (450g) raw ground pork
1 large egg white
5 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp light soy sauce or tamari if gluten-intolerant
1 tsp dark soy sauce (omit if gluten-intolerant)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp raw cane sugar
3-4 dashes of white pepper powder
Cornstarch, for dusting the meatballs
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 scallions, chopped into 1" pieces
1/2" knob of ginger, cut into 3-4 slices
450ml (1 3/4C) chicken broth, preferably homemade or store-bought low sodium
Prepare the baby bok choy by cleaning the leaves, taking care to rinse any debris in the area where the leaves join up. I like the leaves attached and whole for this dish, but you can trim the stem if you wish, especially if you are using full-sized bok choy.
Preheat a large casserole (cast iron or enameled cast iron preferably) or heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat.
In a small bowl, combine the seasonings (tamari or light soy sauce, dark soy sauce (if using), kosher salt, sugar and white pepper powder) and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the raw ground pork, egg white and cold water. Using your hands preferably, mix everything together with vigor! This is important for fluffy light meatballs and you'll want to put some elbow grease into it! Work the mixture including throwing it against the side of the bowl to tenderize the meat. Once the mixture is fluffy, add in the seasonings and continue to mix another minute either by hand, or as my dad taught me to do, switch to chopsticks (two thick pairs of chopsticks held together in one hand). I'm not sure why? It's one of those "that's just how I do it" things. I suppose a narrow wooden spoon may achieve the same. Whatever you do, just don't use a food processor for any of this. It will toughen the meatballs.
Next, do yourself a solid. TASTE IT. Scoop 1 tsp of the meat mixture and put it in the microwave on high for ~20 seconds or cooked through. Taste and make sure the seasoning if to your liking. Add more salt or tamari / soy if required.
Divide the meat mixture and roll into six large balls (remember, I made a double batch so the images show 12 meatballs). Dust lightly with cornstarch. Add 2 tablespoons of a neutral oil like grapeseed to the heated pot and immediately add the meatballs. Do it in batches to avoid overcrowding. Brown all sides about 1 minute each and keep rotating until it's nicely brown all over. Set aside.
In the same casserole with all the good bits from browning the meatballs, add the garlic, scallions and ginger slices and stir around for 30 seconds.
Add the bok choy leaves. At first it may seem like there is way too much. You may question if you've picked too small a pot, or question the recipe and begin cursing me. But have faith, soon the leaves will begin to wilt and it will be easier to stir them around. Just try to keep things moving and be patient. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Once the stock is boiling, add the meatballs back in, cover and turn heat down to get a low simmer. Cover and braise for about 1 hour, until meatballs are cooked through and greens are rather wilty (I like it even better the next day when everything is reheated and the bok choy is almost 'dissolving' into the broth). I'm hungry.
Serve on top of steamed rice with some of that broth ladled over it. Enjoy! xx