Lion’s Head Meatballs in Broth

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

These Chinese meatballs are so named because of their large size. When served in the center of cabbage leaves, the dish resembles a lion’s head and mane; or at least that’s what they say. In any case it is an unusual, delicious dish that’s easy to make.

NotesFrom: China

4 servings

Cooking Time3 min

Cooking Time - Text180

Cooking Methodpoaching, stir-frying


Total Timeunder 4 hours

OccasionFormal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Equipmentfood processor


Taste and Texturejuicy, meaty, savory, spiced

Type of Dishhot soup


  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder (butt or picnic), coarsely ground in a food processor or meat grinder
  • 1 scallion, trimmed and minced
  • One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil, grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
  • ½ pound Napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 quart beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, or to taste


  1. Mix the first 8 ingredients together, just until combined, using your hands or a wooden spoon. Set aside.

  2. Heat the oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and stir-fry until softened, about 5 minutes, seasoning with salt. Add the stock and bring to a steady simmer.

  3. With wet hands, form 4 meatballs with the pork mixture; handle gently. Slide the meatballs into the stock, cover, and simmer, undisturbed, until cooked through, about 2 hours.

  4. Place the cabbage in a soup tureen and put the meatballs on top. Spoon the stock over the dish, season with sesame oil, and serve immediately.


  6. Deluxe Lion’s Head. Add ½ cup chopped reconstituted wood ear mushrooms and ¼ cup chopped peeled, fresh water chestnuts (or peeled jicama) to the pork mixture.

  7. Lion’s Head Pie. A kind of delicious meat loaf: Omit the cabbage and stock. Press the pork mixture into a large shallow dish. Steam over hot water until cooked through, about 1 hour.

  8. Pearl Balls. You may have eaten these in a dim sum house: Omit the cabbage, stock, and sesame oil. Soak 1 cup glutinous or sticky rice in water for 1 hour, then drain. Form the meat mixture into 1-inch balls, then roll them in the sticky rice to cover. Place the balls in a steamer and cook until the meat cooks through and the rice puffs and becomes sticky, about 30 minutes. Remove and serve


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