Lion’s Head Casserole
Betty Lee’s Family recipe 6-8 servings
1½ pounds ground pork (not too lean; about 12-15% fat)
1 large or extra large egg, lightly beaten
1 T cornstarch
3 T good quality soy sauce (e.g. Kikkoman regular)
1 T dry vermouth, dry sherry, or Chinese rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
1 T finely minced or grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely diced (about 1/8” dice) water chestnuts
3 T peanut oil or other high smoke point oil, e.g. grapeseed, safflower, etc
3 T cornstarch mixed with 2 T water
6 -8 dried shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated in 1 ½ C hot water till softened, stems removed, sliced to ¼ inch slices)
1 pound Chinese nappa cabbage (sometimes spelled napa), or bok choy
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or more to taste)
2 T good quality soy sauce (e.g. Kikkoman regular)
2 T dry vermouth, dry sherry, or Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 bunches watercress cleaned & drained (before unbundling, trim about 1 inch from ends)
1/2 cup finely julienned carrots (about 1 medium)
Reserved cornstarch/water mixture left from coating meatballs
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
Arrange half the cabbage (reserve remaining cabbage) in the bottom of a heavy heatproof casserole. Scatter the mushroom slices over cabbage. Set aside.
For Meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the pork, egg, 1 T cornstarch, 3 T soy sauce, 1 tablespoons vermouth, 1/2 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt and pepper, scallions, ginger, and water chestnuts. Stir vigorously till the mixture is like a thick paste – about 3 minutes. Shape the mixture into 6-8 large meatballs.
Preheat skillet over high heat for about 30 seconds. Turn heat to medium and add 3 T oil and swirl to coat bottom of skillet. Meanwhile, stir cornstarch mixture to recombine. Dip meatballs one at a time into cornstarch mixture to coat thoroughly and place into hot oil (meatballs will be soft and may flatten slightly, which is fine). Reserve any remaining cornstarch mixture. Fry meatballs turning gently with tongs until deep golden on all sides, about 5 minutes total (they will not be cooked through). Carefully remove meatballs with a slotted spoon and place over the prepared bed of vegetables in the casserole. Arrange the remaining cabbage over meatballs.
For Braising: Mix the 1 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt, 2 T soy sauce, 2 T vermouth, and chicken stock and pour into the casserole. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover tightly and reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for about 50 -60 minutes till meatballs are very tender but still hold their shape.
To serve: Use a large slotted spoon and arrange the cabbage in the bottom of a warmed deep serving platter and place the meatballs in the center. Cover dish tightly with foil and keep warm. Meanwhile heat the remaining liquid in the casserole and add watercress and carrots cooking just till watercress is wilted. Arrange the watercress and carrots around the meatballs. Add the reserved cornstarch mixture and the sesame oil to the sauce. Bring to boil to thicken (if too thick, add a little chicken broth or if too thin add a little more cornstarch slurry. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and vegetables. Serve hot.