Saturday, June 27, 2015

Inside one of Panda Express' test kitchens,

a classic regional Chinese dish called "lion's head meatballs."

The recipe plays the rich and delicate texture of ground pork belly against a clear broth and blanched Napa cabbage, curled against the meatballs to look like a lion's mane.

Company executives stabbed at the orbs prepared by Chef Andy Kao with plastic utensils, nodding in approval with each satisfying bite. The dish was ethereal, comforting and reminiscent of the version the chain's founder, Andrew Cherng, ate as a boy growing up in China.

Panda Express customers will never get to try it. That's because Kao and his team were there to reinvent the dish, frying and glazing the meatballs to make it look and taste more like something that belongs in one of the Rosemead company's 1,800 restaurants.