Margarita's International Recipes



Lion's Head Meatballs

Lion's Head Meatball

Lion's Head Meatballs is a classic dish from Huaiyang - so classic, indeed, that it merits its own wikipedia entry. Written recipes for the dish date back to the 17th century and today it's considered one of Huaiyang's most important dishes. The meatballs receive their name for their similarity with the heads of Chinese lion sculptures.

There are two variations of lion's head meatballs. In the most common home version, the meatballs are fried and then steamed. In the version most commonly served in restaurants, the meatballs are first blanched and then simmered in a rich broth enriched with dark soy sauce for up to four hours. I may very well have invented a third version - as I confused the black vinegar with the dark soy sauce and used that instead. This resulted, as you could expect, in a tangier broth.

I'm not sure what to say about these meatballs. The texture, so soft that you could break them with chopsticks, was unexpected. My husband didn't really like them, but they really grew on me. I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

I was pretty faithful to the recipe, beyond my vinegar gaffe, except that I didn't bother with the napa cabbage or bok choy. I did follow the techniques carefully, as they are essential for getting the right texture on the meatballs. I recommend watching the video that accompanied the original recipe to see these techniques in action.

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Lion's Head Meatballs


  • 2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 large green onion
  • 1" ginger root
  • 6 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp chicken and/or beef stock concentrate
  • 3 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce (or black vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large pieces rock sugar
  • Napa cabbage leaves (optional)
  • baby bok choy (optional)


Cut the thick pieces of fat off the pork shoulder and place the fat in the freezer. Cut the pork meat into large chunk. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and process until the meat has the consistency of paste. Transfer it to a large bowl.

Transfer the pork fat to a cutting board and finely dice it. Add it to the bowl containing the pork.

Cut and discard the root from the green onion and remove and discard the outer layer. Cut the onion, including leaves, into large chunks. Peel and quarter the ginger. Transfer the green onion, ginger and 1/3 cup of water to a mini chopper or mini blender and puree until combined. Add the cornstarch and blend again. Add the mixture to the bowl with the pork.

Add the light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, white pepper, salt and eggs. Combine using your hands. Then take two chopsticks, hold them in one hand, and use them to stir the meat, always on the same direction, for about five minutes, or until the mixture holds well together. Then take large chunks of the meat with your hand and thrown them back into the bowl, four or five times.

Put a large saucepan filled with water to boil. Mix a little bit of cornstarch with some water in a small bowl, and fill a large bowl with cold or room temperature water.

Once the water is boiling, moisten your hands with the cornstarch water and grab enough of the pork mixture to fill your hand. Using your hand, shape into a large meatball and gently place in the boiling water. Repeat with the rest of the meat (you may need to do this in two stages). Gently boil meatballs for five minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to the bowl with cold water.

Add a gallon of water to a large cooking pot and bring to a boil. Add the stock concentrate, the oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and sugar. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to the pot with the stock. Place napa cabbage leaves between meatballs, if using. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 90 minutes to four hours.

Place meatball in a bowl and pour some broth on it. Serve with a bok choy leaf, if using.

Adapted from a recipe at Reddit r/Cooking

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