Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (2022)

Chinese braised Lion’s Head Meatballs have long been a noticeable gap in our repertoire. But now that Chinese New Year is upon us again, and we’re heading into a new decade, we figured it was finally time to nail down and record this classic recipe!

What Are Lion’s Head Meatballs?

Lion’s Head Meatballs (狮子头 – shīzitóu) are large pork meatballs that are steamed/braised and served with vegetables. Their name derives from their shape, which resembles the head of a Chinese guardian lion, or foo dog. It can be eaten any time of year, but is often served as a celebration dish!

Lion’s Head is also a classic dish in Huaiyang cuisine, one of the four major cuisines in China, representing the culinary traditions of Eastern China and primarily Jiangsu Province. Huaiyang cuisine is known for its use of its local Zhenjiang vinegar (what we call black vinegar here on the blog), its sweetness, and lack of spiciness/use of chili peppers.

There are two varieties of Lion’s Head Meatballs. One version is plain, usually steamed/cooked in broth and served with napa cabbage, and one is “red cooked” (braised in soy sauce). Some versions contain larger proportions of pork fat than others (I’ve seen some that contain almost 50% fat!).

The version I’m making today is more on the meaty side, though it has enough fat to be flavorful and succulent. This is also a “red cooked” version!

Recipe Tips Before You Start

  • As already mentioned, fat is very important to this recipe. Many traditional lion’s head meatballs contain 50% fat! For this home-cooked version, a 70/30 meat to fat ratio is ideal. 80/20 is also acceptable, but don’t go any leaner than that, or the meatballs will be dry.
  • Don’t be tempted to skip the frying step in the recipe. The meatball mixture is quite moist, and frying sets the shape of the meatballs, so they don’t fall apart during braising.
  • Avoid adding more water chestnuts or breadcrumbs than the recipe calls for. This may cause the meatballs to fall apart!
  • If you’re not fond of water chestnuts, you can replace them with chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms. It’s best to cook the mushrooms until softened and slightly caramelized before adding them to the meatball mixture.
  • When dividing the meat into balls, try making 8 or 9, both very auspicious numbers in Chinese culture. The number 8 in Chinese represents wealth and good fortune, while the number 9 represents longevity!

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (1)

Lion’s Head Meatball Recipe Instructions

To make the meatballs:

Make sure to find fatty ground pork. You can choose a fatty piece of pork shoulder and have the butcher grind it, or use our hand-chopping method to grind your own. A 70/30 meat to fat ratio is best, but 80/20 is also acceptable. Transfer the ground pork to a large mixing bowl.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (2)

Add the minced ginger and scallions…

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (3)

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (4)

Along with the egg, breadcrumbs, Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, five spice powder, cornstarch, and water.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (5)

Whip everything in one direction for about 10 minutes, until the meat mixture resembles a paste. This step is very important to making sure the meatballs have the right texture and don’t fall apart during frying. You can also pick up the meat with a spatula and continue to “slap” it back into the bowl to create even more of an elastic texture.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (6)

Smash the water chestnuts with the side of your cleaver or knife and finely mince them.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (8)

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (9)

(Video) "Red Braised Lions Head" Meatball Recipe

Add to the meat mixture and continue to mix everything together for 5 more minutes.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (10)

Use a rubber spatula to scrape everything together.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (11)

Heat enough oil to submerge the meatballs in a small, deep pot (a small pot requires less oil) to 350 degrees F/175 degrees C. Just be sure there’s enough oil to cook the meatballs evenly, but that the oil will not overflow during frying.

With oiled hands, divide the meat mixture into 8 to 9 equal portions and shape each into a ball.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (12)

Carefully lower the meatballs one at a time into the heated oil, and fry in batches (2 minutes per batch) until they’re evenly golden brown. Remove the par-cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (13)

To make the sauce & braise:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over low heat. Add the ginger and white parts of the scallions, and cook for 1 minute. Then add the rock sugar and cook until dissolved.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (14)

Add 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and 1 ½ cup water. Stir and bring the liquid to a boil.

Once boiling, add the fried meatballs. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes over medium/low heat, flipping the meatballs halfway through.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (15)

After simmering, there should be about ¾ cup liquid left. Remove the meatballs from the liquid and arrange on your serving plate.

I served these with blanched baby bok choy (just add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to boiling water for that “shiny” look, and blanch for 30 seconds).

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (16)

Mix your cornstarch slurry, and pour into the sauce to thicken. Once it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and the green parts of the scallions. Once the scallions are wilted, drizzle the sauce over the meatballs.

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (17)

(Video) Lion's Head Meatballs - Food Wishes

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (18)

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (19)

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4.95 from 19 votes

Lion's Head Meatballs

Lion's Head Meatballs is a classic Chinese celebration dish. Our recipe is succulent and flavorful, braised in a rich sauce.

by: Judy

Course:Pork

Cuisine:Chinese

Lion’s Head Meatballs: Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (20)

serves: 8

(Video) Lion's Head Meatballs | Easy Chinese Pork Meatballs | 獅子頭

Prep: 40 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes

Total: 1 hour 20 minutes

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Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound fatty ground pork (450g)
  • 1 slice ginger (8g, minced)
  • 1 scallion (minced)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs (25g)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3.5 ounces water chestnuts (100g, canned)
  • vegetable oil (to fry the meatballs)

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 2 scallions (cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated)
  • 10 g rock sugar (or 2.5 packed teaspoons brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch (mixed into a slurry with 1 tablespoon water)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • baby bok choy (for serving, optional)

Instructions

Make the meatballs:

  • Make sure to find fatty ground pork. You can choose a fatty piece of pork shoulder and have the butcher grind it, or use our hand-chopping method to grind your own. A 70/30 meat to fat ratio is best, but 80/20 is also acceptable. Transfer the ground pork to a large mixing bowl.

  • Add the minced ginger and scallions, egg, breadcrumbs, Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, five spice powder, cornstarch, and water.

  • Whip everything in one direction for about 10 minutes, until the meat mixture resembles a paste. This step is very important to making sure the meatballs have the right texture and don’t fall apart during frying.

  • Smash the water chestnuts with the side of your cleaver or knife and finely mince them. Add to the meat mixture and continue to mix everything together for 5 more minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape everything together.

  • Heat enough oil to submerge the meatballs in a small, deep pot (a small pot requires less oil) to 350 degrees F/175 degrees C. Just be sure there’s enough oil to cook the meatballs evenly, but that the oil will not overflow during frying.

    (Video) Easy Shanghai Style Meatballs Recipe - CHINESE WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

  • With oiled hands, divide the meat mixture into 8 to 9 equal portions and shape each into a ball. Carefully lower the meatballs one at a time into the heated oil, and fry in batches (2 minutes per batch) until they’re evenly golden brown. Remove the par-cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Make the sauce & braise:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over low heat. Add the ginger and white parts of the scallions, and cook for 1 minute. Then add the sugar and cook until dissolved.

  • Add 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and 1 ½ cup water. Stir and bring the liquid to a boil.

  • Once boiling, add the fried meatballs. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes over medium/low heat, flipping the meatballs halfway through.

  • After simmering, there should be about ¾ cup liquid left. Remove the meatballs from the liquid and arrange on your serving plate. (I served these with blanched baby bok choy. Just add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to boiling water for that “shiny” look, and blanch for 30 seconds).

  • Mix your cornstarch slurry, and pour into the sauce to thicken. Once it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and the green parts of the scallions. Once the scallions are wilted, drizzle the sauce over the meatballs.

Tips & Notes:

Note: Nutrition information assumes recipe makes 8 meatballs, and is for 1 large meatball with sauce.

nutrition facts

Calories: 238kcal (12%) Carbohydrates: 6g (2%) Protein: 11g (22%) Fat: 18g (28%) Saturated Fat: 9g (45%) Cholesterol: 61mg (20%) Sodium: 504mg (21%) Potassium: 208mg (6%) Fiber: 1g (4%) Sugar: 2g (2%) Vitamin A: 75IU (2%) Vitamin C: 1mg (1%) Calcium: 17mg (2%) Iron: 1mg (6%)

nutritional info disclaimer

TheWoksofLife.com is written and produced for informational purposes only. While we do our best to provide nutritional information as a general guideline to our readers, we are not certified nutritionists, and the values provided should be considered estimates. Factors such as brands purchased, natural variations in fresh ingredients, etc. will change the nutritional information in any recipe. Various online calculators also provide different results, depending on their sources. To obtain accurate nutritional information for a recipe, use your preferred nutrition calculator to determine nutritional information with the actual ingredients and quantities used.

FAQs

Why is it called Lions head meatball? ›

Lion's Head Meatballs (狮子头 – shīzitóu) are large pork meatballs that are steamed/braised and served with vegetables. Their name derives from their shape, which resembles the head of a Chinese guardian lion, or foo dog. It can be eaten any time of year, but is often served as a celebration dish!

What are Chinese meatballs made of? ›

A family pork meatball recipe that uses breadcrumbs, water chestnuts, and aromatics to make super light, fluffy and juicy meatballs that are bursting with flavor. Chinese pork meatballs are also called lion's head (狮子头, shi zi tou). They feature tender, moist, and light meatballs with a savory taste.

How do you steam meatballs without a steamer? ›

The technique is simple: fill a medium pot with 1/2 inch of water, place three golf ball–sized balls of aluminum foil on the bottom, rest a heat-proof plate on top of the foil balls, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil. Add vegetables to the plate, cover, and steam until crisp-tender.

What does lion head symbolize? ›

The Lion Head symbolises courage, strength and excellence. It is in solid red against a white background - the colours of the National Flag. The mane has five partings that represent the same five ideals embodied in the five stars of the National Flag, namely democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

How do you make a Chinese lion head? ›

DIY Lion Head Tutorial by Nüwa Athletic Club and Pao Arts Center

How do you make meatballs firmer? ›

Add a lightly beaten egg, but not too much. Egg acts as a binder for the ingredients, but you only need a small amount. One small egg will do for one pound of minced meat. Alternatively, if you're following an egg-free diet, you could soak fresh bread in milk, squeezing out any excess milk, to use as a binder.

Can I use a colander as a steamer? ›

If you don't steam food frequently—‚or if you find yourself in need of a steaming basket, stat—don't run out and buy one. All you need is a metal colander or a baking rack, a big pot, and some aluminum foil, and you've got everything you need to make a steamer at home.

How do you make a homemade steamer? ›

How to Steam Food Without a Steamer | Mad Genius Tips - YouTube

How do you cook meatballs from frozen? ›

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
  3. Place the frozen meatballs on the lined tray in a single layer.
  4. Bake the meatballs for about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.
16 Aug 2022

What does the lion mean spiritually? ›

Lion Symbolism & Spiritual Meanings Of Lions

Lions symbolize strength, courage, power, royalty, protection, pride, authority, majesty and wisdom. And because lionesses are a pride's primary hunters, lions are also symbols of female power, ferocity and family.

Who is the lion in the Bible? ›

Jesus is called the Lion of Judah who has triumphed. Jesus has triumphed over temptation and sin, over pain and suffering, over fear, over death and even over the Devil himself.

What number does a lion represent? ›

Number 2 guides through intuition. In Greek mythology 2 was the number of Hera whose sacred animals include the Hawk, Crow, Cuckoo, Lion, Peacock and Cow. Seeing two of these animals represents a message from Her.

How big is a lion dance head? ›

The lion head with Gold (Yellow) fur comes with a matching body that is approximately 13' long with attached tail and separate collar. These sets are made for southern style traditional lion dance. The Chinese Southern Lion dance originated from Guangdong.

How do you make a lion costume? ›

Easy Lion Costume Tutorial | Hobbycraft - YouTube

What's the secret to good meatballs? ›

6 Tips for Making the Best Meatballs
  1. Pick the right meats. While you can make meatballs out of any ground meat, fattier meats like beef, lamb, and pork will yield more tender meatballs. ...
  2. Keep things cold. ...
  3. Add moisture. ...
  4. Taste test the mixture. ...
  5. Be gentle when forming the meatballs! ...
  6. Bake, not fry.
28 Aug 2014

What ingredient holds meatballs together? ›

Egg: A lot of meatball recipes add egg to the mince mixture because it helps to bind the balls together. Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs also help to bind your meatballs. If the mince mixture is quite wet, breadcrumbs will help soak up excess moisture so that the balls don't fall apart.

Should I put eggs in meatballs? ›

The role of the egg in meatball recipes isn't as an agent of moisture. The egg's key role is to act as a binder, helping the meat, bread crumbs, and flavorings stick together.

What can you eat with meatballs instead of pasta? ›

Mashed potatoes are a classic pairing for meatballs, like these Grape Jelly Meatballs.
  • Jen's Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Photo by Jennifer Stevens.
  • Tasty Spicy Rice Pilaf. ...
  • Fried Cabbage and Egg Noodles. ...
  • Peperonata. ...
  • Peanut Butter Noodles. ...
  • Tasty BBQ Corn on the Cob. ...
  • 'Chinese Buffet' Green Beans. ...
  • Roasted Potatoes with Greens.
30 Jul 2019

What pasta goes with meatballs? ›

The most common pasta to serve with meatballs is spaghetti. It's a classic pairing, and it works well because the sauce clings to the pasta, which helps distribute flavor throughout each bite.

How many calories are in a Chinese pork ball? ›

Calories in Chinese, Sweet & Sour Pork in batter
DescriptionServing SizeskCal
Calories in Chinese, Sweet & Sour Pork in batterBall(36g)86
100g240
Average Serving432

What to do if you dont have a steamer? ›

First, take three sheets of aluminum foil and roll them up into baseball-sized balls. Place them on the bottom of the pot, and pour in about an inch of water. Then rest the plate on top of the foil balls, and add whatever food you're trying to steam to the plate. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and steam away.

Is a bamboo steamer better than a metal one? ›

Bamboo steamers have a tightly woven lid that keeps steam from escaping. The process is sometimes slower than using a metal basket, but it's also more effective; bamboo absorbs some of the excess moisture while cooking, rather than allowing the steam to re-condense into water and drip back onto your food.

Can you steam in an air fryer? ›

Unfortunately, you can not steam food in air fryers. Although air fryers have multiple cooking functions, there is no steamer button in their control panel.

How long do tamales steam for? ›

The gold standard of reheating tamales, steaming helps the Mexican delicacies retain their original flavor and texture. Fill your steamer with water, and turn the heat to medium. Keep your tamales in their husks and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, adding an extra 10 minutes if your tamales are frozen.

Can you cook dumplings without bamboo steamer? ›

First of all, if you want to steam the dumplings only, you can use a metal steamer basket. Be warned, though, that the dumplings will want to stick, so spray the steamer basket very thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.

How long should you steam veg for? ›

What vegetables should I steam?
  1. Peas, including frozen peas: 2-3 mins.
  2. Broccoli and cauliflower: 8-10 mins.
  3. Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard: 5-7 mins.
  4. Spinach: 3 mins.
  5. Asparagus: 3-5 mins.
  6. Green beans: 3-5 mins.
  7. Root vegetables like beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes: 10-15 mins.

Do you have to defrost meatballs before cooking? ›

Cooking frozen meatballs is easy, even if you don't thaw them first. Cooking frozen meatballs is easy, even if you don't thaw them first. In most cases, you buy them already fully cooked, so all you have to do is reheat them.

How long do you cook frozen uncooked meatballs? ›

If you're cooking frozen, fully cooked homemade meatballs, allow around 10 to 12 minutes for bite-sized meatballs, 15 to 20 minutes for medium-sized (two-bite) ones and 20 to 25 minutes for larger meatballs (three or more bites).

How do you steam meatballs? ›

How to Make Steamed Pork Meatballs - YouTube

How do you steam vegetables without a steamer in the microwave? ›

To micro-steam, lay vegetables in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Cover them with a triple layer of damp paper towels. Microwave on high heat until the vegetables are tender, two and a half to six minutes, depending on the power of your microwave.

How do you steam frozen buns without a steamer? ›

Place the buns on top of the baking paper layer and cover the boiling pan with it's lid. 7. Cook over a medium high heat to produce enough steam for around 20 minutes.
...
Steam Using a Sieve
  1. – A sieve/colander (preferably metal)
  2. – A boiling pan (just large enough for the sieve to rest in)
  3. – Boiling pan lid top.

How do you steam without a bamboo steamer? ›

How to Steam Without a Bamboo Steamer! - YouTube

Can I steam vegetables in a microwave in a Ziploc bag? ›

Chop any large vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower into bite sized pieces and add them all to a microwave-safe plastic bag. Seal the bag 3/4 of the way across if using a ziplock bag but be sure to leave a small gap so the steam can escape. Put the bag into the microwave and cook on high for about 3 minutes.

Is it safe to steam vegetables in plastic bag? ›

Steam-bag vegetables are safe and specifically designed for use in microwave. They do not contain BPA or phthalates. Do not reuse steam bags for other purposes and always follow directions by the manufacturer.

What are the differences between canned and frozen vegetables? ›

Frozen produce is blanched (cooked in hot water quickly) and that affects the nutritional value slightly. Canning requires a lot more processing. Aside from certain fruits like tomatoes and pumpkins, canned goods are likely to have less nutritional value than frozen.

Does Walmart have bao buns? ›

Golden Tiger Butterfly Bao Bun, 1.85 Pound -- 6 per case. - Walmart.com.

How long do you steam frozen bao buns? ›

Frozen buns can be put in the steamer straight from the freezer. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium-high and place the buns in the steamer. Cover the steamer with a dishcloth before putting the lid on. Steam the buns for 7-8 minutes for frozen buns, or 2-3 minutes for refrigerated buns.

Can you steam in an air fryer? ›

Unfortunately, you can not steam food in air fryers. Although air fryers have multiple cooking functions, there is no steamer button in their control panel.

What are the two methods of steaming? ›

Methods Of Steaming
  • Steamer Baskets. The simplest way to steam food is to place a steamer basket in a saucepan over about 5-10cm of boiling water. ...
  • Microwave steaming. ...
  • En Papillote (Paper Bag/Packet) ...
  • Steam Ovens.
3 Feb 2021

How do you steam dumplings without them sticking? ›

To prevent dumplings from sticking to the basket: You have three options: Place a slice of carrot (or a small piece of cabbage / lettuce) underneath each dumpling; Coat the basket with a thin layer of oil if you are using a metal steamer; Line small pieces of parchment paper under each dumpling.

Videos

1. Woo Can Cook | Braised “Lion's Head” Meatballs (Shizitou)
(Woo Can Cook)
2. The ULTIMATE Meatballs - Lion's Head Meatballs with Salted Duck Egg
(Flo Lum)
3. Chinese Lion’s Head Meatballs (狮子头)
(Wei's Red House Kitchen)
4. Lion's Head Meatballs - How to Make Huaiyang Braised Pork Meatballs (红烧狮子头)
(Chinese Cooking Demystified)
5. Woo Can Cook (live) | Braised "Lion's Head" Meatballs (Shizitou), AMA!
(Woo Can Cook)
6. How to Cook Lamb Lionshead Meatballs and Ginger Scallion Buttered Noodles
(Chef Jon Kung)

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