The Namesake of Lion-Head

25 Mar

On a Chinese food blog authored by a well known chef and food historian in Taiwan, I finally found the origin of this bemusing and slightly odd name.  Here it is:

These meatballs were originally served to the emperor and the aristocrats, and considered quite a fancy treat.  It had a different name back then: Sunflower Treasure, as it was served to the rich and famous during the occasion of viewing sunflowers in bloom.  But soon the politically savvy at the time found a even better name for it, as the flag of the dynasty featured a lion, and the meatballs at the time were the size of wash basin— hence the “lion-head.”

Once this delicacy was introduced to the commoners, the size had quickly shrunken to fist size, since no one had that kind of abundant access to pork.



Braised “Lion Head” Meatballs (紅燒獅子頭)

23 Mar


***I apologize for the quality of my photos.  Please know that I understand the importance of visuals in food blogging and am working on it. ***

First of all, what a funny name.  Disclaimer: Lion heads are NOT made of lion meat.  They start with a combination of 3:7 ratio fat to lean ground pork.  To make 10-12 fist size meatballs, you need about 1.5 lbs of ground pork.

Mix the pork with white pepper; one table spoon of rice wine; one table spoon of soy sauce; 20 shitake mushrooms, chopped; and— one box of soft tofu, broken down to tiny pieces. When I first learned of the tofu ingredient, I was surprised.  But apparently by adding tofu, the meatballs will have a silkier texture. You may also add other crunchy ingredients such as water chestnut, dried shrimp, etc.  Different chefs get liberal with what they like in their meatballs.  For me, I chopped some ginger for the crunchy purpose.

After thorough mixing and kneading, form the pork mixture into fist size meatballs, and throw each one down against the bowl repeatedly to loosen the meat.  This technique is used across cultures: Italian meatballs need this step too, to make the texture of the meat more gelatinous, of which Chinese people call “flicking at your teeth (彈牙).”

Work that right arm...

Now roll them meatballs in corn starch and pan fry all sides until golden.  At the same time, start a pot of water to blanch some Napa cabbage.  I used about 10 leaves.  They shrink after being blanched, so if you want your veggies, don’t be shy.  The water used for blanching can also serve as the soup base for the meatballs.  To make the soup: Add a few pieces of ginger, one scallion, and a dash of soy sauce and a table spoon of rice wine to the water.  Depending on what you like, you can add more shitake mushrooms (as I did), or bamboo shoots.  Once the soup came to a boil, add them meatballs in there.  Now give the meatballs a nice long bath by simmering at low heat for at least 45 minutes.  To complete the dish, add rehydrated maun bean threads to the pot when ready to serve.

Voila, now you are a lion head eater.

Antonio Carlos Jobim in My Kitchen

31 Aug

Most of my cooking is decidedly Chinese.  The reason is simple (other than the fact that I am Taiwanese-Chinese): It is the only way I get to eat what I crave. 

 My very first residence in San Francisco was the bottom unit of a 2-story flat located in the Sunset district—18th Ave and Taraval— to be exact.  And the kitchen, due to its position in the back of the house, was shunned from all natural light even on the sunniest days in San Francisco.  To lighten up the mood while constantly cooking in an overcast room, I would bring music with me into the kitchen.  That’s when I discovered Bossa Nova to be the best musical sous-chef for me. 

Somewhat like falling in love, it is quite ineffable how this is the case, but Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Finest Hour is simply the best album to accompany me when I chop, mince, boil, and taste. 

 I usually start with Águas de Março to get into the mood for prepping.  The playful melodies make my fingers dance and my hips sway, as I romance myself a very Portuguese afternoon in the otherwise plain kitchen. 

And by the time Stan Getz’s sax takes over in the second verse of Girls from Ipanema— I don’t know anything about Jazz and most likely never will— I am usually in the middle of seasoning my food.  By the first verse of Corcovado,  that’s when everything comes together for tasting. 

I admit to being a bit of a diva when I cook, preferring to be the only one in the kitchen.  But I always make room for Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Shanghai Bok-Choy Rice (上海菜飯)

21 Jun

The origin of Shanghai bok-choy rice is similar to the one of cippino, as it was first served as a fast and easy-to-make meal  for the port laborers.  For me, it is a fast and yummy way to dress up the otherwise ordinary steamed rice.

You will need: Bok choy, chopped; dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and chopped; 2 gloves of garlic, chopped; 3 cups of rice.  Cook rice in the rice cooker (I prefer jasmine rice because of the fragrance, but any long grain rice will do).  Heat up oil in a pan, stir-fry garlic and dried shrimp to bring out the aroma.  Once the garlic starts to brown add bok choy and saute for 5 minutes.  Season with salt.

Bok choy

Dried shrimp

Before the rice is about done (it usually takes 15 minutes to cook 3 cups of rice in the rice cooker)— so about 3 minutes before the switch jumps from “cook” to “keep warm”— add the stir-fried vegetable to the rice and mix  thoroughly.  Continue to cook the rice until it is done.  Open the lid and let the steam air out for 5 minutes.  Then close the lid and switch the cooker back to “cook” again.  This extra step will make the rice absorb the liquid from the vegetable.

Once the switch jumps to “keep warm” again, it’s ready.  This rice can be a nice substitute for the regular steamed rice, eaten with other dishes, or served alone.  

Must Have Soup: Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms

20 Jun

Another simple soup:  All you need are 4 chicken thighs, about 20 dry shiitake mushrooms, a small piece of ginger, and 1/4 cup of Chinese rice wine.

First, heat up a pot of water high enough to cover the chicken thighs.  When it comes to a boil, drop the chicken thighs in and let them cook for 5 minutes.  This will force out all the bloody, marrowy mess.

The foamy mess you don't want in your soup

After most of the mess is out, dump the muddy soup and fill it up with another round of water.

A clear pot of broth. That's what you want

So when the clear pot of water comes to a boil, add the rice wine and ginger, and turn down the heat.  Let simmer for 2 hours.  During the time the soup is stewing, reconstitute shiitake mushrooms by soaking them in hot water.  When the soup is all nice and milky by the end of the second hour, turn the heat up and drop in the mushrooms.  When the soup comes to a boil, you have yourself chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms, my favorite comfort food.

Ghetto Grill 2.0

17 Jun

On a lazy Wednesday night (which goes for most of the weeknights, as the operative word here is “lazy”), M.B. decided to give our ghetto grill a new look.  Although I say “our” grill, I really can’t claim much credit since all I got to contribute was a series of “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” and some minor coloring.

The grill is now ghetto fabulous

On the same night, simultaneously, the show “Work of Art” debuted on Bravo.  In between commercial breaks I would pop my head out to see Godzilla and the SF skyline coming to life, then back on the couch to see a bunch of self- important phonies trivializing art by competing like they were in a sporting event.

China Chow went from the IT girl of early 90s to the host of this pompous, cringe induced "art" show... My deepest condolence.

Thank you but no thank you.  I’ll take Mothra on the mural of a yakitori grill over some over exposed incompletely screen printed death portrait of a live person playing possum ANY DAY.

Ingredient: Sichuan Peppercorn (花椒)

9 Jun
Sichuan peppercorn

So what makes Sichuan cuisine so delicious?  The answer lies with its unique use of a special spice that produces a tingly, numbing effect, combined with spiciness, creates a singular taste no other regional cuisine can match.

Sichuan peppercorn, also known botanically as the outer pod of the tiny fruit from a plant called Zanthoxylum, used to be banned for import by the US government as it may carry a certain bacteria that is harmful to native citrus crops.

The ban has since been lifted, and I am happy to say that I just ordered a bag from an online spice shop. 

 Depending on its potency, I’d recommend all the first-time handlers with this spice to be cautious, as “a little (can go) a long way.”