Unusual, yes, but a felicitous marriage of flavors between the umami in the meatballs and tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cooking Technique: Browning Meat

The Maillard browning reaction is responsible for creating hundreds of flavors and aromas that we find pleasing.  The brown coloration is an added bonus and a convenient metric to judge how flavor is changing: In short, browning pork meatballs adds complexity which is also the hallmark of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pairing Notes with a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • The shitakes provide meaty "umami" flavor and richness to meet the Cabernet
  • Fattiness in pork works well with the tannins in the wine
  • Texturally, the richness of the meatballs works well with soft, satiny Cabernet Sauvignon finishes
  • Noodles provide earthiness to the dish and ground it with the wine

 

Lion's Head Meatballs

There are many variations on this dish, which is often served in one of its iterations during Chinese New Year gatherings.

Serve over thick Chinese rice noodlesnoodles to provide a soft, round complement to Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a starchy bed for the broth.

Serves 4

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • ¾ ounce dried shitake mushroom pieces
  • 2 pounds ground pork, at least 30% fat
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ cup Shaoxing wine (dry sherry can be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, finely minced (6-8 scallions)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced ginger
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 bunches watercress, trimmed of stems
  1. Heat 2 cups of the chicken stock and place dried shitake pieces in warm stock and allow to partially soften, about 30 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pork, egg white, 2 tablespoons of  Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of sugar, sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly for about 3 minutes with a wooden spoon until mixture binds well. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the minced scallions and stir rest of scallions and ginger into mixture. Form the mixture into 8 large meatballs (about 4 ounces/1/2 cup per meatball)with moistened hands.
  3. In a deep, heavy pot, pour oil and warm over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, gently lower 4 meatballs at a time  into hot oil and brown well, turning several times. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Place a large, heavy casserole or pot that has a tight-fitting cover over low heat and add the dried shitakes and their soaking liquid, the remaining 4 cups of chicken stock, remaining 6 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, white wine, remaining ½ teaspoon of sugar and remaining  teaspoons salt. Increase the heat to medium and bring liquid to a low simmer. Cook, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes until mushrooms have completely softened and the broth is fragrant.
  6. Add the browned meatballs to the broth and return the liquid to a simmer. Cover and place in oven for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are just cooked through.
  7. Remove the casserole from the oven. With a slotted spoon, remove meatballs (some of the shitakes will stick to meatballs, this is fine) and to a large plate or bowl.
  8. Mix together cornstarch and water until smooth. Place casserole or pot with broth over a low heat and while stirring, gradually add cornstarch and water mixture and allow the broth to thicken as it returns to a simmer, about 4-6 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and lay the watercress into the simmering liquid.  Return liquid to a simmer and cook watercress, stirring occasionally, until watercress wilts then softens, about 4 minutes. Remove broth and watercress from the heat.
  9. Arrange cooked  noodles in 4 warm bowls. Using tongs,  arrange ¼ of the watercress over noodles in each bowl, and place 2 meatballs over watercress.  Divide broth and shitake pieces into each bowl. Sprinkle meatballs with reserved scallions and serve immediately.

Wine Pairing

Cabernet SauvignonA Cabernet Sauvignon with light-ish oak and fruit flavors works well with the seared pork and complexity of flavors in this dish.