Dragon and Phoenix. The two most auspicious and conspicuous mythical creatures of Chinese culture. Auspicious because they represent all things good — prosperity, peace, love, harmony… And conspicuous because you see them at every Chinese wedding, in art and on dinnerware, not to mention in various forms of tacky tattoos.
So of course these two symbols have to make their way into our food! The chinese word for lobster translates literally as “dragon shrimp” (cuz something about the lobsters look like dragons…yah, I don’t know either, just go with it), and chicken feet is “phoenix talons” (cuz it’s a bird?). From there, we get “dragon and phoenix” dishes that include anything relating to shrimp/lobster and chicken.
When I was young, my mom made a dish called “Dragon and Phoenix Balls” on special occasions. These balls were minced shrimp and chicken, with a coating of mini bread cubes, that were then deep fried to a golden, crispy goodness. Oh.Em.Gee. They were a hit wherever they went, and I looked forward to special celebrations all the more because of their appearance.
It’s been years and years since I’ve had one though, because as you can imagine, these babies were not exactly health food. And so my mom stopped making them.
They randomly popped back into my consiousness recently, followed by the thought, “why don’t I try my hand at them and healthify them while I’m at it?”
And so I did…
Dragon and Phoenix Balls
(makes 25 – 30 balls)
1 lb lean ground chicken
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 C green onion, thinly sliced (about 2 stalks)
1 TB cilantro, finely chopped (edited to note: I find that increasing this to 1/4 C gives a better flavour)
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1/2 tsp ginger, very finely minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp canola oil
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese cooking wine (rice wine, NOT the vinegar)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp sugar
3/4 C ground shredded wheat cereal (or other crunchy cereal, or panko)*
(*Notes: 1) make sure you use cereal that does not have any (or much) sugar added (ie. NOT Mini-Wheats) and 2) bread crumbs would work too, but the end result will not be as crunchy, as these balls will be baked, not deep-fried.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
First, throw in some shredded wheat cereal into a food processor and give it a whirl until it has a coarsely ground texture. You’ll want 3/4 C of the ground stuff, so I think I used a little over a cup of the cereal itself. Transfer to a dish and set aside.
Next, mince shrimp meat into a paste. Start by roughly chopping all the meat, then continue to mince it to a finer and finer texture, just like you would to garlic.
This takes a few minutes and a bit of effort, but hang in there, it’s so worth it! Eventually you end up with a shrimp paste that has an almost gelatinous texture.
And the hard work is now done!
Next, you just throw all the ingredients, except the ground cereal, into a large bowl, and start mixing it all together with chopsticks or a wooden spoon. When all the ingredients are well combined, slightly wet your hands (to prevent mixture from sticking too much to your hands) and roll into balls. You want them to be just slightly smaller than the size of a golf ball; imagine something that would be either 2-elegant-bites-big or 1-giant-I’m-starving-bite-big.
Then roll them in the cereal to lightly coat. Place onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil.
Pop them into the oven for 17 – 20 mins, depending on how big your balls are. (Heh! 😛 ) The tops will have barely started to brown, and the bottoms golden brown. You could also flip them halfway through the cooking time, which will result in a top and bottom that is lightly browned, but they won’t retain a round shape (they’ll have a slightly flattened top and bottom, like little hockey pucks). Whatever floats your
These were definitely a hit with my family! The crunchy exterior and dense, juicy interior makes for an explosion of scrumptious savory flavour.
They may not quite measure up to my mom’s real Dragon and Phoenix Balls, but they sure come close! And with this healthified version, we can have them far more often, without having to wait for special occasions. But don’t worry, they don’t taste “healthy”; they will surely satisfy any craving you have for deep-fried food!