Lion’s Head meatballs 獅子頭

Originally published on 2/20/20.

Lion’s head meatballs is a Southern Chinese dish from Yangzhou that has also become very popular in Shanghai as well. My grandfather was from Yangzhou, but the first time I remember eating these and enjoying them was as a teenager when one of the moms at church made them. Then when I was visiting family in Yangzhou they fed me all of my grandfather’s favorite dishes and this was one of them. The difference is that in China when they say minced pork they aren’t joking. The pork is minced fine by using two cleavers. The idea is to not only to cut the meat finely, but to incorporate air into the meat to make it fluffy.

I, on the other hand, being a spoiled American purchase my pork pre-ground. This is about as close as I can come.

Please Note: There are apparently two style of lion’s head meat balls. One is a red cooked one, usually a served in restaurants. The meat balls are braised in a spiced soy sauce similar to red cooking or lu sauce, and served on a bed of boy choy and topped with a thickened gravy of the lu sauce. The less common version is a plainer version is braised in a much lighter broth. My version is the plain one.

2 lbs ground pork
soft tofu
2 eggs
1/2 a cup of dried shrimp
1-2 cups of dried shitake mushrooms
1/4 to 1/2 a head of nappa cabbage – cut into 2-3″ pieces.
mung bean thread
2″ chunk of ginger
8 scallions
chicken broth
soy sauce
rice wine
flour or corn starch
sesame oil


  1. Soak the shrimp and the shiitake mushrooms in hot water to reconstitute.
  2. Place the ground pork in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Mince half the ginger finely. Add to the meat
  4. Chop the half the scallions not as finely as the scallions. I like the bits of color in the meatball. Add to the meat.
  5. Add 2 eggs.
  6. Add a Chinese tablespoon of soy sauce to the meat.
  7. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil.
  8. Add pepper to taste.
  9. Put the tofu in with the pork.
  10. Using your hands break the tofu apart and mix all the ingredients together. You want to really mash the tofu into the meat.
  11. img_20200207_184336133The shrimp should be soft enough now to mince. Add about half to the meat. Reserve the other half and the soaking liquid.
  12. Check the mushrooms and cut into bit sized pieces. Set aside and soak the 
  13. bean thread in the soaking liquid.
  14. Add about 1/2 a cup of rice wine.
  15. img_20200207_182851441Now using only one hand constantly mix the meat in one direction. You want to scoop and scrape the side bowl, Make sure to squish any larger bits of tofu with your fingers. This is important as it creates the fluffy meatballs.
  16. Place about 1/4 cup of flour or cornstarch on a plate.
  17. Prepare a plate for the meatballs.
  18. Make a tennis ball sized meatball.
  19. Roll the meatball in flour and setup aside on a plate.
  20. Repeat until all the meat is used up.img_20200207_185551302
  21. Heat up oil in pan or wok.
  22. Pan fry the meat balls. (Most other recipes deep fry the meat balls.) Set aside the meat balls.img_20200207_185712878
  23. Stir fry the garlic, scallions, & ginger in the remaining oil until aromatic.
  24. Add the nappa cabbage to the wok and stir fry until (lightly toasted). Place in bottom of crock pot if using or else, set aside.
  25. Put the mushrooms and remaining minced shrimp to the pan and stir fry.  Place in crockpot or put the nappa cabbage back in the wok.
  26. Add the meatballs to wherever you are planning on braising.
  27. Pour the liquid and the mung bean thread from the mushrooms into the pot.  
  28. Add the liquid reserved from soaking the shrimp.
  29. Top off with chicken broth or water. 
  30. Simmer for at least an hour.  
  31. Serve over rice.img_20200208_071717063