Lion’s Head Meatballs



I’m back from Paris and all I want is comfort food. This bowl of Chinese amazement will be perfect this week. Denise shared her Asian-style Meatballs and Spaghetti recipe a few weeks back, and thanks to Jill for sharing a special and easy version of her Lion’s Head Meatballs today. Is it lunch time yet? –Maggie

A classic dish from Shanghai, this wonderfully simple, one-pot meal is comfort food at our house. As I kid I used to (and still do) smash it up into my rice, making the meatball last as long as possible. There isn’t a long list ingredients to this, but it’s really, really good. Trust me.

Begin by adding three heaping teaspoons of cornstarch to 4 pounds of lean ground pork. This may sound like a lot of ground pork, but if you’re going to simmer this long, you might as well have leftovers; and these leftovers are the best. Please do not substitute the pork for chicken or beef. It won’t work. It has to be pork and sesame oil, something magical happens when the two collide.

Drizzle or measure out 3 teaspoons of sesame oil.

Followed by 3 teaspoons of dark soy sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and an egg. Mix well and shape in large meatballs, somewhere between a golf ball and tennis ball. You will end up with about 16-18 meatballs.

You can brown them all in a pan (I find this too time intensive and messy) or brown in the oven (my choice).

Once browned, transfer to a large pot and add water (approximately 6 cups) until it just covers the meatballs. Also add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 teaspoons of dark soya sauce for color. Bring to a boil on high heat, then turn down to simmer and braise slowly for a minimum of 2 hours.

The longer, the better.

When the meatballs are ready (it should melt in your mouth), add a few handfuls of baby bok choy, tucking them in around the meatballs (it’s the mane to the lion’s head, get it now?) Cover and continue to simmer until they are wilted and tender.

This dish can be made the day before and reheated just before serving. It’s actually better the next day as leftovers. Just add the bok choy during the reheating stage so it’s nice and fresh. Serve over a bowl of rice or noodles.

Lion's Head Meatballs

Makes: 16 to 18 meatballs, enough for about 8 to 9 servings


  • 4 pounds lean ground pork
  • 3 heaping teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark soya sauce (plus 1 additional tablespoon reserved for broth)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (plus 1 additional teaspoon reserved for broth)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (for broth)
  • A few large handfuls of baby bok choy


  1. In a large bowl, combine meat with all above ingredients (except for those reserved for the broth).
  2. Mix well, and make 16-18 large meatballs.
  3. Brown on stove top in batches, or on a tray in 450F oven.
  4. Once browned, transfer to larger pot, fill with approximately 6 cups of water, barely covering the meatballs. Add reserved soya sauce, salt, and sugar for the broth. Bring to boil, cover, and simmer for a minimum of 2 hours. If it gets too dry, add a bit more water. You want to end up with about half the amount of liquid. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning.
  5. Add baby bok choy, tucking in on top and around meatballs, cover and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until wilted and tender. Serve over rice or noodles.
All photos styled and shot by Jill Chen.

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  • The Roman Nose

    YES!!! Love the slow braise!

  • Oh wow, I have never heard of making meatballs like this before, Jill. It sounds SO good– I will definitely have to try this out ASAP. Also, thanks for the warning about not substituting chicken or turkey (I am very often guilty of doing this!). I will follow your recipe to a T!

  • I’m thinking this is one of those good candidates for the slowcooker! The meatballs are massive, and so good! I think I need to pay the butcher a visit today!

  • Parmie Mom

    I love that there is no bread in the recipe.  This would be a sure hit at my house!  Cannot wait to give them a try.

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  • My daughter is gluten free and this will be a great way for us to have meat balls without flour added.  Thanks!

  • My oven is out of whack (sadly) so I’m making these tonight — on the stove! 🙂