"About this time of year, my father — for an entire week straight — would stay late after the restaurant had closed to prepare many dishes for the holiday," says Kuk. "And one of my favorite dishes he would make is called Lion's Head."
Don't let the name of these Shanghai-style pork meatballs scare you, though. The dish — which hails from the Huaiyang region of eastern China — gets its name from its looks (and not its flavor or degree of difficulty to make, nor from the presence of any actual lion meat). The large pork meatballs are stewed with Napa cabbage and served with thin bean thread noodles — a slender, gelatinous noodle made from ground mung beans — the combination of which often resemble the head of the lion and its mane.
Being the grandson of a Miami restaurateur and nephew of Christina Wan (founder of the eponymous Christina Wan's Mandarin House) certainly has its benefits. For Kuk, that means growing up eating the best of the best — and making the best too. Kuk's Temple Street Eatery is the most recent addition to the Wan family's restaurant dynasty in South Florida, a restaurant that serves reinterpretations of Asian comfort fare.
It's also where you can find this dish, served as a special around the holiday season.
"These meatballs always have the most incredible flavor," says Kuk, whose father taught him to make the classic Chinese dish. "When done right, the meatballs should hold together in the broth but be as soft as a cotton candy on the inside."
Although these Shanghai-style Lion's Head meatballs have a name that sounds intimidating, they're pretty easy to make. In Kuk's recipe, ground pork is mixed with chopped water chestnuts (for crunch), seared until golden, and simmered in broth with cabbage, noodles, and several flavorful sauces.
Chef Alex Kuk's Lion's Head
1 lb. ground pork
3 tablespoons of peeled ginger (plus three cubed pieces)
3 tablespoons of scallion bottoms (plus four stems)
A pinch of Kosher salt and white pepper
1 ounce of dark soy sauce
1 ounce Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
4 ounce rough chopped water chestnuts
1/2 head of Napa cabbage
2 ounce of bean thread (soaked in cold water)
1 quart of chicken stock
3 ounce hoisin sauce
2 ounce oyster sauce
Corn starch for dusting
1. Process and mix ginger, scallion, soy, and cooking wine in a food processor. Work the mixture into the ground pork, adding egg, salt, white pepper, and chopped chestnuts.
2. Work mixture until the meat becomes elastic, and form meatballs using a large ice cream scoop. Gently dust with cornstarch.
4. Spray a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat.
5. Fry meatballs in small batches and set aside on paper towels to drain.
6. In a large sauté pot cook down cubed ginger and scallion stems for one to two minutes of medium heat, seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste.
7. Add Napa cabbage and continue to sauté for three to five minutes.
8. Add chicken stock, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce. Season to taste (add hoisin for more sweetness, or add oyster for a more savory broth).
9. Add meatballs, making sure there is enough liquid to cover at least half the meatball. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes
Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and continue to simmer until the meatballs are cooked thorough and the cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes more.
10. Drain the noodles, add to the saucepan with added soy sauce to taste, and stir.
11. Remove pan from the heat and serve arranging meatballs on top of cabbage and noodles.
Temple Street Eatery is located at 416 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 754-701-0976, or visit templestreeteatery.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.