Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs

Jan 10, 2023 | Main Course, Recipes

A family-friendly recipe for pork meatballs made with breadcrumbs, water chestnuts, and aromatics to produce meatballs that are light, airy, and juicy with a lot of flavor.

Lion’s head (, shi zi tou) is another name for Chinese pork meatballs. They have savory meatballs that are light, tender, and moist. Because it is so comforting and easy to prepare in large quantities, this dish is a staple for my family. The savory meatballs served with rice are just as addictive as burgers. The best food pairing is starch and juicy, flavorful meat.

In China, you can find a lot of different versions of the Lion’s Head. Braised meatballs are one popular version in northern China. The way to cook those is very similar to the method in this recipe. After browning, however, those meatballs are braised in a liquid containing soy sauce instead of being steamed. Meatballs cooked in chicken broth are another type. They are typically served alone, not with rice.

Steamed lion’s head is the third type that I will discuss today. My grandmother handed down this recipe. Every two weeks, she used to make a large batch of these. She would reserve a small portion to serve to guests who might be staying at her house after she had cooked them. The remaining portions would be frozen and distributed to family members, including my parents. My favorite meatballs, these are even better than those from the restaurant. They are as tender as the pork in a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce and are extremely fluffy and moist.


How to make pork meatballs extra light

The secrets to creating super fluffy meatballs are:

  • Mix water into the meat to make a very tender patty
  • Add plenty of breadcrumbs
  • Add plenty of water chestnuts

Chinese pork meatballs prep steps

The truth is that you will need to add so many chestnuts and breadcrumbs that the patty will double in size. The water chestnuts give the meatballs a really cool and crisp taste, making them extra light.

My mother once told me that adding so many other ingredients to the pork was not intended to make the meatballs tender. Her parents needed to find a way to make these meatballs more filling with fewer ingredients because pork was scarce when she was a child. As a result, the meatballs’ moist and tender texture was just a nice side effect of being poor. My family still enjoys using this recipe when they cook. It has a homey flavor.


Method of Preparation

The meatballs are formed, browned, and steamed after being cooked in a frying pan.

Browning the meatballs after shaping them will give them a delicious crust and keep them juicy. Additionally, it helps the meatballs maintain their shape. A lot of fat is removed from the meatballs when they are steamed. The meatballs will be more flavorful and less greasy when they are done. Although the recipe may appear to require some time, it is actually very simple to prepare. In the kitchen, active cooking only takes 30 minutes.

Chinese pork meatballs cooking step-by-step

Additionally, one of my favorite lunch items are the meatballs. They freeze well and taste as perfect in the wake of warming. Stuff one of these into your lunchbox with steamed rice and a few greens, and you’ll make each of your partners envious when you heat it up in the workplace microwave.

The meatballs can also be served as a main dish for dinner with quick and easy sides like cucumber salad, okra stir-fry, or spinach salad.



  • 1 pound (500 grams) ground pork (lean fat ratio 7:3)
  • 4 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or Japanese sake)
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger , grated
  • 1/2 cup scallion , minced (or green onion)
  • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 12 to 15 water chestnuts , finely chopped (generate about 1 cup)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup (100 grams) panko (Japanese style breadcrumb)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)



Prepare the meatballs

  • Add ground pork into a large bowl. Add 4 tablespoons water. Mix well with a spatula until water is fully incorporated.
  • Add Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, grated ginger, cornstarch, and scallion. Mix well.
  • Add chestnuts and eggs. Mix a few times.
  • Add panko. Mix well. Add sesame oil, mix until it forms a soft paste.
  • Heat peanut oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until warm.
  • Use bare hands to scoop about 1/3 cup of the paste and shape it into a meatball (*see footnote 1). The meatball should be a bit runny, barely able to hold its shape (so the finished meatballs will be tender and juicy). If the meatballs cannot hold their shape, add a bit more panko and mix again. If the meatballs are still a bit tough, blend in more water and mix well, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the paste turns soft.

Cook the meatballs

  • Carefully place 3 to 4 meatballs in the skillet and make sure to leave enough space to flip them. When the bottom side is just set, carefully roll the ball with a spatula to cook the other sides. Continue to do this until all sides are set and browned (*see footnote 2). Transfer to a plate. Continue to brown the rest of the meatballs.
  • Add water to a steamer and place the plate of meatballs on the steaming rack. (*see footnote 3)
  • Heat the steamer over medium high heat, covered, until the water begins to boil. Turn to medium heat. Cook covered until the meatballs are cooked through, in 40 minutes.
  • Cook the second batch by using the same method. After cooking the first batch, check the water level and add more if it runs too low.
  • Serve warm over steamed rice as a main.

Storage and reheat

  • Store the meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. After steaming, the meatballs will render some fat and liquid. Drizzle it on the meatballs before storage, to keep the them tender and moist.
  • The best way to reheat the meatballs is by steaming, the same method used to cook them. The meatballs will be heat up evenly and still be moist inside.
  • Alternatively, you can use the microwave. Make sure the container has some liquid (leftover grease or 1 teaspoon water) inside. Please a loose lid on top and heat it up in the microwave.


  1. This is a bit messy, but I find using bare hands to shape the meatballs is easier than doing so when wearing plastic gloves.
  2. It can be difficult to keep the meatballs in shape, because the meat mixture is quite runny. You need to handle them gently, so the balls won’t break apart. You can cook the top and bottom sides first, like cooking a very thick burger patty. Then you can use two spatulas to let the meatball stand, to cook the edges. The meatballs won’t look very pretty, but will still taste great.
  3. Unless you are using a very big pot, you’ll probably need to cook the meatballs in two batches. It’s fine to stack the meatballs.


Serving: 121g, Calories: 212kcal, Carbohydrates: 21.8g, Protein: 16.7g, Fat: 6.2g, Saturated Fat: 1.4g, Cholesterol: 74mg, Sodium: 1141mg, Potassium: 362mg, Fiber: 0.7g, Sugar: 2.9g, Vitamin A: 100IU, Vitamin C: 11.6mg, Calcium: 40mg, Iron: 1.8mg



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