Lion’s head is not only a mountain in Cape Town; is also a classic dish on a Chinese banquet table. It’s not what you think, before you quickly exclaim that we cook and eat everything in Chinese cuisine. Well, we do enjoy a diverse ingredient and flavour profile, but the head of a lion is not a part of it.
Traditionally, lion’s head refers to meat balls made of pork. Its key characteristic is the “fat to lean” ratio of the mince mixture — 50:50. A good amount of fat makes the mouthfeel — not only Chinese chefs believe this. There are two ways of preparing lion’s head: white or red. White is in broth with napa cabbage; red is cooked in red braised sauce (dark soy, light soy, sugar, oyster sauce, ginger and leek).
The brothy version shows off the meatball’s original flavour, whereas red braised lion’s head is more robust, fragrant, and fun to eat. Of course, you can spice up your broth for the white version too. Lastly, why is it called lion’s head? It is rumoured that the bumpy surface reminded the ancient chef, who came up with it, of the heads of stone lion sculptures one often finds at the entrances of buildings.