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Chinese Pearl Meatballs recipe

Chinese Pearl Meatballs recipe

  • Recipes
  • Ingredients
  • Meat and poultry
  • Pork
  • Pork mince

This is a simple, yet delicious addition to any dim sum meal. You can also served these for dinner.

2 people made this

IngredientsMakes: 2 - 3 servings

  • 130g glutinous rice, rinsed well, soaked for 4 hours and drained
  • 200g minced pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour, mixed in 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water

MethodPrep:20min ›Cook:35min ›Extra time:4hr soaking › Ready in:4hr55min

  1. Mix together the pork, eggs, cornflour slurry, salt, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, pepper and water. Stir for 10 minutes in the same direction.
  2. Shape into 2cm meatballs and roll in glutinous rice until completely covered.
  3. Steam for 35 minutes over high heat. Serve immediately.


Glutinous rice (also known as sweet rice or sticky rice) can be purchased in Chinese/Oriental speciality shops or online.

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Chinese Pearl Meatballs

Pearl meatballs 珍珠圆子 are a traditional Chinese dish commonly eaten during Chinese New Year. These meatballs are covered with sticky rice, then steamed. The sticky rice resembles small pearls after the meatballs are steamed, that’s why we name them pearl meatballs.

Similar to tang yuan 汤圆,pearl meatballs also implies “reunion and happiness“. They are very easy to make, yet delicious. I’m sure these meatballs will make perfect crowd pleasers!

Ingredients (Makes 10 small meatballs):

  • 160g ground meat
  • 25-30g water chestnuts
  • 8 pieces raw white shrimps
  • 1 tbs cooking wine
  • 1 tbs oyster sauce
  • ground pepper to taste
  • (optional) 1 tsb black sesame seeds
  • 70g sticky rice


Substitute glutinous rice with regular white rice if you can’t find glutinous rice.

Ground pork (with about 20-30 percent fat) works the best for making meatballs. Use chicken breast for healthier meatballs.


  1. Soak the rice with water for about 2 hours.
  2. Combine ground meat, chopped shrimps, chopped water chestnuts and ingredients for seasoning in a bowl.
  3. Stir the filling in the same direction until it becomes cohesive and sticky.
  4. Form the meat filling into a ball, coat the meatball with glutinous rice (drained)
  5. Repeat step 4 until meat filling is used up. The recipe makes about 10 ping pong ball sized meatballs.
  6. Steam for about 20-25 min, adjust duration according to the size of your meatballs.

Serve immediately, sprinkle with chopped scallions if desire.

Flavorful, juicy and tender. Adding chopped water chestnut just adds more layers of flavor to the meatballs.

Chinese Pearl Meatballs Recipe

Chinese pearl meatballs or rice coated meatballs is a wonderful recipe, prepared with pork for the Chinese New Year celebration. This rice coated meatball is known as zhen zhu. These delicious meatballs is easy to make and it's also a kid-friendly dish. Their soft texture makes it easy for kids to eat easily. These lightly seasoned meatballs, coated in rice, can be made with any minced meat of your choice.

Traditionally Chinese people use pork to make this dish. This pearl meatball is party appetizer. Traditionally it is made with sticky rice, and you can also use long-grain rice as I have used in this recipe. So, here is the complete recipe to make Chinese pearl meatballs at home.

Ingredients of Chinese Pearl Meatballs Recipe

  • Minced boned pork shoulder - 600 gm
  • Ginger root - 2 Tablespoons
  • Finely chopped shallots - ½ Teaspoon
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley - ½ Teaspoon
  • Finely chopped fresh chives - ½ Teaspoon
  • Soy sauce - ½ Teaspoon
  • Beaten egg - ½
  • Chili sauce - 1 Tablespoon
  • Salt - 1 Teaspoon
  • Pepper - 1 Teaspoon
  • Long grain rice - 100 gm

How to Make Chinese Pearl Meatballs

Step 1: In a bowl, mix the pork, ginger, shallots, parsley, chives, soy sauce, egg and chilli sauce. Stir well to combine all the ingredients thoroughly.

Step 2: Season with salt and pepper then form into small meatballs.

Step 3: Drain the rice thoroughly in a fine sieve, shaking well to remove all the water. Spread the rice onto a clean work surface.

Step 4: Roll the meatballs in the rice to coat them evenly.

Step 5: Steam the meatballs for about 15 minutes in a Chinese bamboo steamer over a large pan or wok of boiling water. The exact cooking time will depend on the thickness of the meatballs.

Pearl Balls (Steamed meatballs in sticky rice, 珍珠丸子)

When I was a kid, both of my parents worked and neither really had time to cook complicated things for dinner. So my grandma used to make meat dishes for us, to free my mom from spending time in the kitchen after a long, busy day. She would cook various dishes in large batches, transfer them to small bowls to cool, bag and freeze them in meal-sized batches, then pass them to my parents every few weeks. She was very proud of her cooking, and for good reason. Her braised pork ribs, braised pork feet, beef and tendon stew, and lion’s head meatballs were amazing. They tasted much better than what you’d get in a restaurant.

Every morning, my mom would take out a prepared meat dish to thaw, then reheat it by steaming right before dinner. At the same time, she’d cook some rice in the rice cooker and prepare one or two stir fried veggie dishes and a simple soup. The whole dinner usually took 30 to 40 minutes to get ready. Just like this, I grew up with very satisfying and nutritious meals every day.

Among the meat dishes my grandma made, the pearl balls are one of my favorites. We also call them snow meatballs in my family. They’re basically steamed pork meatballs, covered in sticky rice. The sticky rice is cooked until translucent, as if covered in snow. The meatballs are very tender and juicy, with a rich umami from the dried shrimp, toasted sesame oil, and fresh herbs. The glutinous rice is soaked with meat juice. Rich and gooey, we didn’t need any dipping sauce to enjoy them.

When it comes to making pearl balls, I’m obsessed with flavor and stick to the ingredients my grandma used to use. That’s the reason you’ll find this version has a longer ingredient list than any other recipe out there. The recipe also calls for pre-soaking the glutinous rice and dried shrimp a day ahead, instead of just a few hours. I tried soaking the rice for less time, but the finished meatballs just didn’t taste right.

On the other hand, I took a shortcut in order to make the cooking process less tedious – I used a food processor. You can make this dish without one, but a food processor will save tons of chopping time and give you perfectly consistent meatballs.

I have attached numerous cooking notes at the end of the recipe, so I won’t repeat them here in the post. However, I do want to emphasize that you need a relatively fatty grind of meat to make the dish work. I tried using ground turkey, and I won’t say it tasted bad, but it was a bit off for me. Just like with a good sausage, you need 25% to 30% fat content to make it GOOD.

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it once you’ve tried it, and take a picture and tag it #omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with. Cheers, friends!

Soak the glutinous rice in water for at least 6 to 8 hours (preferably overnight).

When you're ready to make the pearl balls, drain the rice well in a colander.e Spread out on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the pork, green onion, water chestnuts, egg white, soy sauce, sherry, salt, and pepper. Prepare a steamer for steaming by adding water to the pan and bringing it to a simmer.

Take about 1 tablespoon of the ground pork mixture and form into a ball. Roll lightly over the glutinous rice and place on a heatproof plate. Continue with the rest of the pork mixture, placing the balls 1/2-inch apart. (You will need at least 2 plates.)

Place the plates in a steamer container or on a bamboo basket in a wok. Alternatively, add to a lightly oiled steamer tray in a metal steamer. Cover and steam the pearl balls over boiling water for between 25 to 35 minutes, until they are cooked through. Steam in two batches if needed.

Chinese Pearl Meatballs – A Perfect Snack

We have always been great fans of the book entitled Chinese Gastronomy by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin with some extra commentary from father/husband Lin Yutang who was an important Chinese scholar and author.

He also collaborated with his wife and daughter on some earlier editions along a similar theme. We are lucky to have a copy of “Secrets of Chinese Cooking” which was authored by the three of them in 1961.

We should note that Hsiang Ju Lin went on to write a very interesting book on the history of Chinese food called Slippery Noodles.

This was a ground breaking book published in 1969 that included real Chinese recipes for fish maw and jellyfish and which also went into depth about how to obtain the flavours and textures of Chinese food. It also went into a lot of details about the food of different regions of China at a time when Chinese food was considered as one cuisine.

When we first obtained our copy, we were intrigued by an incredibly simple recipe for preparing jellyfish, an excellent recipe for congee, a dish of prawns sautéed with Chinese tea and then a winner recipe for meatballs which they called Pearly Meat Balls and we call Chinese Pearl Meatballs.

We were intrigued about the presentation where the meatballs are covered in glutinous rice before being steamed with the end result being the appearance of rice “hedgehogs” at the end of the steaming.

Chinese Gastronomy has been included in our Foodtourist Top Fifty Cookbooks for its contribution to our understanding of Chinese food culture and the survey of the regional foods of China. Since this book appeared we have learned a lot more about regional cooking from the detailed books of Fuschia Dunlop which we have also included in the same list.

Chinese Pearl Meatballs are perfect for a party where they can be served on toothpicks and consumed in a single bite.

Over the years we have adjusted the recipe to ensure that the meatball is light, tender and tasty and the rice finishes cooking at the same time as the meat inside.

We were influenced by another important book by Florence Lin (Florence Lin’s Chinese Regional Cookbook) which was published in 1975. She used water chestnuts and spring onion to help lighten the meatballs and also added some water to the cornflour.

Adding water (we use the soaking liquid from the mushrooms) is yet another way of making the meatballs less dense, but it is always a good idea to use your hands or a pair of chopsticks to swirl the meat mixture around and around the bowl in the same direction as this elongates the proteins and helps absorb the liquid.

Pearl Meatballs

Because of the layer of glutinous rice that surrounds this meatball we give it the great name of “Pearl Meatball”. This is because the rice looks translucent and the colour and shape of this meatballs looks like a pearl.

This dish can often to be seen in banquets and parties in both Taiwan and China because people love the name, the taste and also the pretty shape of it.

I loved this dish when I was younger and I remember my grandfather found out I love this dish and he just keep cooking this pearl meat ball dish pretty much everyday. So one day, I got really tired of this dish and I have to tell my grandfather to cook a new dish in a very sweet and none hurt his feelings way. I know what he did is for love but some time even though a dish is so tasty you still have to take break from it some time or you will just feel tired of it.

There are so many dishes that my grandfather cooked for me when I was young and now I share with you all these recipe and I hope you will enjoy it just like me and cook those dishes for your love one.

Why make meatballs at home?

… if you are lucky enough to get them easily? For the same reasons you make anything from scratch at home: you control the ingredients, so no nasties, and you make it to your taste. And you know what? They are soooo easy to make.

If you start off with the meat already minced, it won’t take you more than 20 minutes, plus about 5 minutes of cooking time. Sometimes, I like to make mine with minced chilli, sometimes I like to add fresh coriander (cilantro) to the mix.

See what I mean about making the recipe to your own taste? I’ve given suggestions for other ingredients you can add to your paste in the recipe card below.

The beauty of having ready made Chinese meatballs in your fridge or freezer is that they can be used in so many ways: soups, stews, fried rice and fried noodles. When using in fried rice and noodles, they can be sliced and used either as a “filling” or as a topping/garnish.

Instructions for Pearl Meatballs

To help the glutinous rice cook more quickly, rinse it and then soak for 30 minutes so the grains soften slightly. Before we start forming the pearl meatballs, we’ll drain the glutinous rice.

Form 1 – 1.25″ round meatballs, and roll them in a thin coating of the drained glutinous rice. The grains of rice will plump up significantly when cooked, so it’s best to be a little stingy with this rolling stage. We want to maintain a tasty ratio of meatball filling to glutinous rice coating!

Video is worth 1000 words, so here’s a quick video to show you how it’s done:

Brush a shallow dish (like a ceramic pie plate) with oil, and then place the rice-coated meatballs on the plate. Make sure there is at least 0.5″ of space between the pearl meatballs so they don’t stick together. Steam for 35 minutes over a rolling boil. The meat should be cooked through, while the glutinous rice is soft and chewy. These are best eaten immediately out of the steamer. So if you’re preparing a banquet, pearl meatballs are a perfect appetizer.

Lion’s Head Meatballs Recipe

(Printable recipe)
By Christine’s Recipes
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 70 mins
Yield: 3 to 4 serves

  • 250 gm pork mince
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 80 gm mashed potato (see method below)
  • 3 Tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and diced
  • ½ Chinese sausages (aka lap chang 臘腸), blanched and diced
  • 1 egg white
  • 150 gm napa cabbage (aka Chinese cabbage)
  • 200 gm salt-reduced chicken stock
  • 3 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp corn flour / corn starch
  • pepper, to taste
  • sesame oil, to taste
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • ½ sp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • sesame oil
  • 1 tsp corn flour / corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp water
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, ginger, mashed potato, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, chinese sausage, egg white and marinade. Stir in one direction until springy. Refrigerate for about 25 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 200C / 395F.
  3. Remove the pork mince from the fridge. Divide into 5 to 6 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball between your palms. (Note: Damping your hands with a bit of water will prevent the pork from sticking to your palms.) Spray or brush some oil on surfaces. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the surface turns brown.
  4. Transfer the meatballs into a wok or a heavy-bottomed pot. Pour chicken stock and sauce. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for another 10 minutes, until the meatballs and cabbage are softened. Add thickening and cook to your preferred consistency. Serve immediately.
  • Mixing in mashed potato helps the meatballs stay soft and smooth.
  • How to make mashed potato: Peel and dice a potato. Cook in boiling water for about 20 minutes. Drain out and mash them with a large spoon or a potato masher. Let it cool down. Measure out the quantity you need and mix with other ingredients. The remaining can be used with other dishes or stored in fridge for later use.
  • The breadcrumbs and egg white can help pork mince combine well.
  • You can use regular oven or pan fry the meatballs instead. If using pan-frying, the meatballs will be flattened a bit along the way of browning all sides. The taste is still good though.

***If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #christinesrecipes — We love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

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