There are several variations of Lion's Head style recipes. I published a recipe for the traditional pale color Lion's Head pork meatball a few years ago. The boiled or steamed Lion's Head has a gentle delicate flavor.
Red Lion's Head has a much bolder flavor. The red sauce rich tasting. It is flavored with bean paste and soy sauce. The red sauce version can be dark reddish brown or bright red in color. A small amount of Chinese chile powder gives the sauce a mild spicy hot flavor.
Tomato puree or catsup is sometimes added to the Red Lions Head sauce. Keep in mind that catsup originated somewhere in northern China or eastern Russia. Catsup was created as a cooking sauce and it was not originally intended to be a condiment. Before the Colombian Exchange took place, Red Lions Head recipes relied on red bean paste for the color. Chiles and tomatoes came from the new world.
This entrée is called Lion's Head is because the cabbage wraps around the pork meatballs like a lion's mane. In Beijing, a special version of Lion's Head is called Sixi Wanzi. Sixi Wanzi translates to "Four Happy Balls." Sixi Wanzi is usually served as four medium size red sauce meatballs on a bed of cabbage. The four meatballs and cabbage can also be simmered together in the red sauce. Sixi Wanzi are some very good tasting happy meatballs!
*This entire recipe yields 1 appetizer of 4 meatballs that can be shared!
Lion's Head Meatballs for Sixi Wanzi:
Step 1: Place 6 ounces of ground pork in a mixing bowl.
Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely minced water chestnuts.
Add 1 tablespoon of shrimp paste.
Add 1 minced green onion.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger paste.
Add sea salt and white pepper.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of pure sesame oil.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of a whisked egg.
Add 1 tablespoon of rice flour.
Step 2: Mix the ingredients together. (If the pork mixture is too moist, then add a little bit more rice flour. The meatball mixture should be able to hold its own shape.)
Step 3: Heat a sauce pot of water over high heat.
When the water starts to boil, start making the meatballs.
Divide the pork mixture into 4 equal portions.
Roll 4 round meatballs.
Gently drop each meatballs into the boiling water as soon as it is rolled.
Step 4: Let the meatballs boil undisturbed for 10-15 minutes, till they are fully cooked.
*The red glaze can be made while the meatballs cook!
Red Lion's Head Sauce:
Step 1: Heat a sauté pan over low heat.
Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
Add 2 tablespoons of red miso paste.
Add 1 tablespoon of thin soy sauce.
Add 2 tablespoons of organic catsup.
Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
Add 1 minced garlic clove.
Add 1 teaspoon of ginger paste.
Add 1 pinch of white pepper.
Add 1 pinch of Chinese red chile powder.
Add 1 pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder.
Add 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Step 2: Stir the ingredients with a whisk.
Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium sauce consistency that easily coats a spoon.
Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
Step 1: After the pork meatballs are fully cooked, remove them from the boiling water and place them in the red sauce.
*Keep the meatball cooking water hot over medium high heat, so the cabbage can be cooked later in the recipe.
Simmer the meatballs in the red sauce over very low heat.
Roll the meatballs in the glaze so they are completely coated.
Step 2: Place about 5 or 6 medium size napa cabbage leaves in the boiling water that the meatballs were cooked in.
When the cabbage leaves are tender, remove them from the broth.
Arrange the cabbage leaves on a plate as a bed for the Sixi Wanzi.
Step 3: Roll the meatballs in the red glaze one last time and then place them on the bed of cabbage.
Spoon a little of the poaching broth on the cabbage leaves to moisten them.
If you like exotic meatballs, then this recipe is a must to try!