Lion's Head Meatballs

I found out that lots of Asian cuisine, I'm particularly talking about Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, are deceitfully time-consuming. The prep work is immense, mostly chopping, mincing, and grinding spices and vegetables. Cooking also rivals the prep in terms of involvement: first deep-fried, then steamed, etc. In short, it is not a fast food but a whole-afternoon food prep that needs a lot of TLC.

Sure, there are many simpler versions out there but the most memorable meals are the ones prepared with love and effort. This is a re-make of Lion's Head Meatball, a dish that I enjoyed with our extended family back in Taiwan.

Lion's Head Meatball (狮子头) is perhaps not a traditional Taiwanese dish per se, rather it originated from eastern China, where my family migrated from before the Chinese Civil War. There are two versions: the "red" one, cooked with dark soy sauce, and the "white" one in simple braised vegetables. Other than braised, you can also make it into a soup. Different parts of the country, I learned, have their own version of this meatball dish. The "lion" supposedly comes from the vegetable that looks the mane of the lion, surrounding the meatball head. My family prefer the braised, white version with Chinese/Napa cabbage.

There are as many versions of Lion's Head as there are families, so I scour the internet for the one that was closest to what I tasted. The meatball was really a hybrid between meatloaf and meatball, huge yet fluffy and tender. The seasoning was both sweet and savory at the same time. It was a flavorful, spongy morsels of meat in its own vegetable braising liquid.

Lion's Head (White version -- adapted from Food52 Shanghainese Lion's Head Meatballs)
Makes 12-15 meatballs

1 lb ground pork (ground dark turkey/chicken will make fine substitutes)
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs Shao Xing wine/cooking wine
2 Tbs dark/mushrooms soy sauce
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 tsp grated ginger
1 green onion chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
2 extra large eggs (or 3 large eggs) beaten
1/4 c corn starch

Cooking oil such as canola

1.5 lbs greens such as bok choy (halved/quartered), or baby bok choy (intact), chinese/napa cabbage, etc.

Mix everything besides bok choy and cooking oil in a big bowl. Alternatively, you can use food processor like I did below. The resulting batter is quite runny and unlike your regular meatball mixture. Keep processing and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

The mixture will be quite runny. Chill in the fridge for 30 mins before frying.

Heat work/deep pan with about 1/4 inch of oil in it. Use two large soup spoons to make large balls and drop it into the hot oil. Brown meatballs in batches about 2-3 minutes per sides until firm but not done through. Set meatballs aside.

Pour off excess oil from the pan. Place bok choy in single layer on the bottom of the pan, set over medium-high heat. I'd also put maybe about 1/4 cup of water to help the steam going. Next, lay meatballs on top of the bok choy bed, cover and steam bok choy and meatballs for 20-30 minutes over medium-low heat until cooked through.

When done properly, the meatballs will be done and tender, the bok choy will melt and all the juice will mingle on the bottom of the pan to make a flavorful sauce. Serve with plenty of rice.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, let me know if you decide to try it! 


  1. Yum Claire. Why tempt me with delicious things I can not have immeeeediately?! I've had this a few times, but I didn't know there was a "white" version like this! I've only had this with the dark sauce and it is so delicious. I think rather from a Taiwanese place, I'm pretty sure I had them at a Shanghainese restaurant. Pretty sure, since i think I also had a big order of xiao long bao that same outing.

    Dang you... so hungry now and it is no where near lunch time and ALSO HUNGRY.

    1. Yes, Shanghai, that's where my family was migrated from. Well, come on over and I think I have some left over in the fridge :-D