“A story of struggle and perseverance”, this is how Chef Brandon Jew describes the immigrant experience in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Jew gave up on a successful career working with some of the city’s most iconic chefs when her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. He describes his move to Shanghai to find an identity, then his return to San Francisco to open Mr Jiu‘s. Her new cookbook embraces the history and recipes of the 24-block neighborhood.
LION’S HEAD MEATBALLS
Makes 4-6 servings
Active time — 1 hour, 15 minutes
Plan ahead – You’ll need about 3 hours total, plus time to make chicken broth; pre-
soak the clay pot for 2 hours
Special Equipment – Meat grinder (optional), 9-inch tempered clay pot, or small Dutchman
Anything that requires slow braising will do well in a clay pot. The porous clay distributes
a gentle enveloping heat while sealing in the juices. Slightly alkaline clay
also keeps proteins loose and tender. I appreciate a clay pot for its friendliness to cooks. This
retains heat so well that you can set it aside for an hour or two and return to
find everything inside still nice and toasty. And if you don’t have one, a little Dutchman
oven with an airtight lid will do. The lion’s head (獅子頭, shī zi tóu in Mandarin) is a classic
Chinese meatball (the bumpy texture resembles the curly manes of mythical lions). We
use savory ingredients – mushrooms, seaweed and a mixture of pork – which
compounds the sīn flavor exponentially. Use all the delicious mushrooms you have.
Sometimes I drop a handful of fresh cordyceps (蟲草花, chóng căo huá) sautéed with
garlic, or shave matsutake as in this recipe. For the bacon, choose intense smoked
kind. You can use a meat grinder or chop everything by hand the old fashioned way.
- 3 oz / 85 g nettles or lacinato kale
- 1 teaspoon of neutral oil
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz / 115 g pork belly with skin on
- 12 savoy cabbage leaves, thick stems trimmed
- 12 oz / 340 g pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
- 3 oz / 85 g pork fat
- 3½ oz / 100g semi-firm doufu
- 4 teaspoons peeled and chopped ginger
- 1½ tablespoons light soy sauce (生抽, sāng chāu)
- 1 tbsp powdered milk
- 1¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1½ cups / 360 ml Matsutake broth (recipe follows)
- 2 tablespoons of neutral oil
- 3 oz/85 g fresh wild mushrooms (such as matsutake, black trumpet or chanterelle mushrooms), chopped if large
- ½ sprig of rosemary, about 2 inches long
- Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1 fresh matsutake mushroom, very thinly sliced or thinly sliced using a mandolin
-To make the meatballs: While wearing thick gloves, strip the leaves from the nettles and discard the stems.
-In a wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat neutral oil until shimmering.
-Add nettles and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted but still bright green, about 1½ minutes. If using kale, this will take about 3 minutes.
– Finely chop and set aside.
– Boil a large pot of water over high heat. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towel.
-Remove the skin from the pork belly. Add skin to boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds to firm. Using tongs, remove and set aside.
-Add the cabbage leaves (working in batches, if necessary) to the water and blanch until just wilted, about 30 seconds, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet to drain.
-Place the pork skin, pork shoulder, brisket and backfat in a single layer on a plate and freeze until the surface is just frozen but the center is still soft enough to be crushed, about 15 minutes.
-If using a meat grinder, grind the fat and skin through a fine grinding plate (⅛ inch / 3 mm holes) in a large bowl. -Switch to a coarse grind plate (¼ inch / 6mm holes).
-Grind about half of the fat-skin mixture back into the large bowl, then grind the shoulder and brisket through the same grinding plate.
-Stir gently to combine.
-Mash again about half of the pork mixture.
-Grind the doufu through the coarse grinding plate in the large bowl.
-If chopping by hand, chop the pork belly skin, pork belly, pork shoulder, pork fat, and doufu separately using a chef’s knife or cleaver (two if you have any).
-Transfer to a large bowl as each has formed a sticky batter then mix well.
-Add the nettles, ginger, soy sauce, powdered milk, 1½ tsp salt, pepper and fish sauce to the bowl and use your hands to mix until well combined and a sticky dough forms but the meat is not overworked.
-Divide the mixture into six portions.
– Roll each portion into a tight, smooth ball. Wrap a cabbage leaf around each meatball, leaving the top exposed (save the remaining cabbage leaves for the clay pot).
-Refrigerate until ready to cook, up to 4 hours.
-Preheat the oven to 450°F.
-Place the wrapped meatballs in a single layer in a 9-inch-wide tempered clay pot or small Dutch oven.
-Tuck the remaining cabbage leaves between the meatballs, then add the broth.
– Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
-Transfer the pan to the oven and bake uncovered until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, heat a wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat.
-Add the neutral oil and let it heat up for a few seconds. Add mushrooms and rosemary, salt and sauté until mushrooms are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
– Discard the rosemary.
– Pour the sautéed mushrooms and the remaining oil in the pan over the meatballs and garnish with pine nuts and grated mushrooms.
– Serve immediately.
Makes 1 ½ cups / 360 ml
- 1 slice thick cut bacon
- ⅛ medium yellow onion
- 1 pint / 950ml chicken stock (see separate recipe)
- 5 pieces of dried matsutake mushrooms
- 1 small dried shiitake mushroom
- A 3 x 1 inch kombu
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
-In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, sear the bacon until dark brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
-Transfer to a plate.
-Add the onion to the skillet and sear until nicely browned on one side, 1 to 2 minutes.
-Reduce the heat to medium-low; add seared bacon, chicken broth, dried mushrooms and kombu; and simmer until reduced to 1½ cups/360 ml, about 1 hour.
-Fix a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl.
– Strain the broth and discard the solids.
-Add the fish sauce to the broth.
-Let cool, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.