How To Make Lion’s Head Meatballs

How To Make Lion’s Head Meatballs

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Because I feel my strongest connection with Hong Kong and Cantonese cuisine, I try to add a dish from another region of China to our Chinese New Year meal each year. If you are similarly motivated, you may enjoy making Shanghainese lion’s head meatballs, so named because some believe they look like lion heads surrounded by a mane of bok choy.

Lion’s head meatballs are easy to make, which you might not guess from the dish’s somewhat grandiose name. Simply slow braised for about 90 minutes on the stove, lion’s head meatballs come out soft and fragrant, with layers of satisfying flavors from the pork, rice wine and chicken broth. This is total comfort food.

Just like their Italian meatball brethren, lion’s head meatballs can contain many different ingredients which come together under a Chinese flavor profile. Consider this recipe a base foundation, from which you can add tofu, breadcrumbs and water chestnuts to the pork mixture and dark soy sauce and vermicelli noodles to the braising liquid.

If you have a Chinese clay pot to cook in, this dish provides a perfect opportunity to get it out of the pantry. Otherwise, you can use a heavy casserole or a cast iron pan, as I did below, to get a great result.

Lion’s head meatballs are tasty enough and easy enough to make that they deserve a spot in your regular meal rotation, even outside of holiday times. Make a big batch and enjoy the leftovers at the office the next day — you can’t go wrong with a meatball in rice with bok choy!

Here’s how to make lion’s head meatballs, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions is at the bottom of the page.

Your turn! What tips can you share from your family’s recipe? Want to ask a question before you start cooking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!


Lion’s Head Meatballs Recipe

Makes: 4 Servings | Prep Time: 15 Minutes | Cook Time: 2 Hours

Ingredients

1 pound ground pork
1 egg white
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
12 ounces bok choy
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups chicken broth

Directions

1. Combine the ground pork and egg white in a food processor until smooth and fluffy.

2. Add the green onion, rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, along with a dash of salt and white pepper, and pulse a few more times to combine.

3. Form 1 1/2 inch meatballs from the pork mixture, then dust with cornstarch.

4. Heat a pan over high heat, then add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides, then drain and set aside.

5. Pull apart the bok choy leaves and place in a layer at the bottom of a clay pot or casserole.

6. Place the meatballs on top of the bok choy leaves, heat the chicken broth to boiling in the microwave, then pour over the pan’s contents.

7. Cover the pan of meatballs, bok choy and broth and very slowly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently with the lid ajar for 1 1/2 hours.

8. Serve the meatballs immediately in the dish they were cooked in.


Step-By-Step Tutorial

Start by gathering your ingredients. The ingredients are super simple, but can be fancied up, if you like, with these three tips: 1. Use a fatty mix of ground pork; 2. Choose Shanghai-style bok choy (the greener kind); and, 3. Make your own chicken stock. You can also substitute Napa cabbage for the bok choy if you don’t have that available near you.

Combine the ground pork and egg white in a food processor until smooth and fluffy.

Add the green onion, rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, along with a dash of salt and white pepper, and pulse a few more times to combine.

Form 1 1/2 inch meatballs from the pork mixture, then dust with cornstarch.

Heat a pan over high heat, then add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides, then drain and set aside.

Pull apart the bok choy leaves and place in a layer at the bottom of a clay pot or casserole. I used a cast iron skillet here and it worked fine.

Place the meatballs on top of the bok choy leaves, heat the chicken broth to boiling in the microwave, then pour over the pan’s contents.

Cover the pan of meatballs, bok choy and broth and very slowly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently with the lid ajar for 1 1/2 hours.

Serve the meatballs immediately in the dish they were cooked in.

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