Your Favorite Chinese Lion Head Recipe

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

I was in China a couple of months ago, and being the foodie that I am, I just couldn’t pass out on any of China’s awesome dishes I could lay my hands on but the one that really got my attention was the Chinese meatball.

Although I’ve had meatballs in the past this was definitely not like anything I had ever tasted, I just couldn’t get enough of these soft, tender and light meatballs. And trust me, you will find yourself craving more of these awesomely delicious meatballs.

I am going to let you guys in on the classic Chinese lions head dish, don’t let it scare you, I am not talking about an actual lion head and who knows, that might make for a delicious meal too. Chinese lion head dish is also more commonly referred to as Chinese pork meatballs.

In this post, I am going to let you in on the best Chinese lion head recipe and the best ways to use them without any hassle but firstly let’s take a look at what the lion head dish entails. This recipe is the absolute best and it is quite easy to follow too.

What is The Chinese Lion Head Dish?

The Chinese Lion head is also known as the Chinese pork meatballs, it is a common dish all the way from the Haiyang cuisine and the eastern part of China. It basically consists of huge pork meatballs sauced with vegetables (Napa vegetable).

There are two main varieties of this Chinese pork meatballs and the variety are the white and red varieties. The plain or white type is usually stewed with Napa cabbage while the red variety, on the other hand, is cooked with bamboo shoots and tofu derivates and also with the addition of soy sauce which is responsible for its red color.

The red variety also involves red cooking popularly known as Chinese stewing, red stew and red braising. The red cooking is a slow braising Chinese cooking technique that adds a red color to the already prepared food.

This cooking technique is also of two types: Hongshao which is usually done in less than 20 minutes and does not involve the use of too much water and the Lu which is a much more prolonged cooking method and the items must be dipped in a cooking liquid.

The white type is definitely easier to make and way faster, so if you want to make something quick and tasty that wouldn’t suck up your energy bar, try the white or plain type. But if you want something fancy, tastier (plain is never tastier) and not so quick to make, then try the red variety.

The chopped meat usually used in the making of this Chinese dish is one with a very fine texture and should be very rich in fat. You can tune down on the fat level if you want a healthier meal.

This dish is well known to originate in Yangzhou and Zhenjiang and probably some part of Huai’an. The white or plain variety is more common in Yangzhou while the red variety is more common in Zhenjiang. The dish is also well recognized in the Shanghai cuisine, all thanks to the overwhelming number of migrants in the 19th to 20th century.

Now as to the mystery behind the name: why lion head?

Easy question. The name Lion head is gotten from the shape of the meatball when carefully placed on the Napa cabbage which somewhat looks like the head of the Chinese guardian lion. If you want to see the semblance, then place the meatballs traditionally on the Napa cabbage and there, will be a guardian lion’s head staring at you.

How To Cook Pork Meatballs Like a Boss

In order to get the best taste of the Chinese pork meatball, you need to, first of all, know how to properly cook pork meatballs. Cooking pork meatballs sometimes can be very tricky but not to worry just follow the steps below and you will do just fine.

To cook pork meatballs the following basic ingredients are required:

  • 1-pound of ground pork (depends on the quantity you want)
  • 1 cup of dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 medium sized eggs
  • 2/3 cups of parsley leaves
  • 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Half a cup of finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper (black pepper preferably)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Half a cup of vegetable oil.


  1. First things first, spread the meat out in a bowl and a little salt, then whisked the egg in another bowl until it is well mixed, add in your parsley leaves, parmesan cheese, pepper, salt, onion, garlic and whisk all together. Then, add the mixture to the pork and mix thoroughly with your hands, add the breadcrumbs and roll the mixed pork into as many ground pork meatballs as you like.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and add your meatballs in single layers, spreading them apart. Allow to fry for 3 minutes, make sure that they are all round brown. When they are tender enough, use your spoon to remove from the pan.

Or you can add the meatballs to tomato sauce and allow to cook for a little while over very low heat. When it is cooked, put off the heat and allow to cool for a little while.

Lions Head Meatball Recipe

At this stage, you are no longer a novice to preparing meatballs. So, let’s look at how to prepare the tasty lion’s head meatball. The preparation method is almost similar to that of the preparing your normal pork meatballs

The major ingredients for preparing the Chinese lion head dish are as follows:

  • 1 pound of lean ground pork or beef (depends on whichever kind of meat you want to use)
  • 1 large head of Napa Cabbage
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of minced green onion
  • 3 teaspoons of Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
  • ½ cup of Scallions
  • 3 tablespoon of Soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 50 grams of panko breadcrumbs (Japanese style)
  • ½ teaspoon of white ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces of water chestnut
  • 2 tablespoon of premium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of cornflower
  • 1 cup of Chicken broth


1. First thing first, in a very clean large bowl add the ground pork with a little amount of water and mix thoroughly.

2. Add ginger, ginger pepper, soy sauce, scallions, Shaoxing wine, cornflower and mix properly and thoroughly.

3. Also, add the eggs and cornstarch at this time and mix very well.

4. Add the panko breadcrumbs and mix until it forms a paste-like mixture.

Note: for the breadcrumbs, you can choose to mix them together with the other ingredients or better still use your hand to form the meatballs, that is, by rolling them and press unto the breadcrumbs.

5. After thoroughly and carefully mixing all meatballs ingredients together use your hand to form 1-2 inches (or bigger depending on how big you want them) meatballs and set aside.

6. Next up, you place a large skillet over medium heat and wait until all form of water on it has either disappeared or evaporated then you pour in the vegetable oil.

7. Carefully and gently lower your meatballs (about 3 to 4 to avoid overcrowding) into the pan ensuring that there is enough space to flip them. Allow to fry and flip occasionally until they are all around

8. Transfer to a plate and continue the same process for the others and reduce the heat to medium-low when the oil is becoming too hot.

9. Chop off the head of the Napa cabbage and wash carefully with water and set aside.

10. In a large pot, heat the remaining oil over medium heat and add the Napa cabbage, allow to cook until wilted.

11. Pour over the cabbage in your chicken broth and add some pepper, salt, soy sauce and allow to cook, after which you gently place your meatballs on top of the cabbage. Cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

12. Serve immediately with sticky white and enjoy.

Note: If you do not wish to eat or consume the meatballs immediately and choose to store them, this is how you the meatballs:

Place meatballs in an airtight container and store in the fridge for 4 days or better still store in the freezer for more than two months. To keep the meatballs tender and moist during storage simply drizzle the fat and liquid that will be released during steaming of the meatballs on the meatballs.

And when you are ready to use the meatballs simply reheat the meatballs by steaming them with the same method used in cooking them, this will allow meatballs to evenly heat up and still be moist on the inside.

An alternative is to use the microwave, to use the microwave ensure the container has some amount of water or sauce in it, then simply place the lid on top loosely and heat the meatballs in the microwave.

Other Cool Ways Of Preparing The Chinese Lion Head Dish

There are also other ways of preparing or enjoying these amazing meatballs. These slight variations make it more awesome.

There’s the lion head soup which is prepared by adding your already prepared pork meatballs to a boiling Napa cabbage and then add seasoning like salt, pepper to taste. You can also add vermicelli, this pasta is similar in nature to spaghetti.

The shape and size of vermicelli constantly vary as it is slightly thicker than spaghetti in Italy while it is slightly thinner than spaghetti in the united states. Basically, vermicelli refers to various types of thin noodles in China. Vermicelli is soaked in warm water for about 5 minutes, then drain the water when it is soft before adding it to the Napa cabbage in the pot, then allow to simmer for about ten minutes.

There’s also the lions head stew which is a little bit different from the soup basically because instead of boiling the cabbage you fry it alongside your already prepared meatballs and it goes perfectly well with sticky white rice. You can also try it out with noodles.

The Chinese pork meatball is indeed one of the best meatballs I have had in a while, its ingredients and unique style of preparation is something worth trying out. So, stop salivating, get out there, get your recipe and prepare an amazing Chinese lion head dish.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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