Lion’s Head Meatballs

Hello and welcome! Today we are making a dish from Eastern China called Lion’s Head Meatballs, or Shīzi Tóu. These are giant-sized pork meatballs that are tender, juicy and seasoned beautifully with ginger, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, white pepper and sugar. This recipe takes time, but it’s mostly passive; the meatballs are gently braised in the oven and served with braised cabbage, over rice noodles. All in all, this is a simple recipe that has all the trademarks of comfort food, yet it’s light and satisfying. Let’s get to the recipe!

Lion's Head Meatballs

Lion’s Head Meatballs

Lion's Head Meatballs ingredients

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and adjust the rack to the lower-middle position. This recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated and we are employing the baking soda slurry method for the ground pork, you will remember this from the Not So Sloppy Joes recipe or the Tacos Dorados recipes we have done. A slurry of baking soda and water mixed with the ground meat will help the meat retain its moisture during cooking. So that will be the first step. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the baking soda and water and toss the ground pork in the slurry, coating the meat in the liquid. Set that aside and prep the rest of the seasonings for the pork.

Lion's Head Meatballs seasonings

To the pork we will add: diced scallion whites, grated ginger, white pepper, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, a lightly beaten egg, and sugar. Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until the seasonings are incorporated and the ground pork begins to tighten up, about one minute.

Set up your station with a bowl of water to wet your hands. Use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop and portion the pork. With wet hands, form large, 3-inch meatballs and set them on a rimmed sheet tray. This mixture should yield 8 meatballs.

In a large Dutch oven, bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. I am using chicken bone broth, because it has a deeper flavor that I really like. Regular chicken broth is fine too.

preparing the braise for Lion's Head Meatballs

Oven Braise

Once boiling, turn off the heat and add the eight meatballs to the broth. The meatballs will not be totally submerged, and it’s ok if they are slightly touching. Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven for one hour.

Lion's Head Meatballs in Dutch oven, uncooked

At the one hour mark, pull the Dutch oven out and transfer the meatballs to a plate. Be gentle, as they are moist and tender, so they can easily break. Then add the sliced cabbage to the pot and carefully re-place the meatballs in the pot, on top of the cabbage. Be sure that the paler side of the meatball is facing up. Don’t worry if the meatballs crack a little.

Cover and place the Dutch oven back in the oven for about 30 minutes. While this is braising for the last 30 minutes, bring about 4 quarts of water to boil in a separate pot. Once boiling turn off heat and add dried rice noodles, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain the rice noodles and rinse with cool water.

After the 30 minutes, I took the lid off and let the meatballs get just a little color on them, for about 10 more minutes.

Lion's Head Meatballs in Dutch oven

The meatballs are cooked though and the cabbage is wilted but not mushy. The braising liquid has reduced to a savory broth, flavored by the meatballs, it’s gingery, porky and delicious.

Plate it up!

Add a generous helping of rice noodles to a shallow bowl, add a meatball and ladle cabbage and broth over the meatball.

We have our sliced scallion greens, and I am adding some fresh cilantro leaves and Chili Crunch.

Lion's Head Meatballs with cabbage, noodles and toppings

Lion’s Head Meatballs are incredibly tender and moist thanks to that long braise and the baking soda slurry trick. This whole dish is savory and comforting while being light and fresh thanks to the rice noodles and the fresh herbs. A perfect dish anytime of year, this one is definitely a keeper. Be sure to pin this recipe for the impressively large Lion’s Head Meatballs, and give me a follow on Pinterest for an easy reference guide to all the recipes on Djalali Cooks! Take care and be well everyone, xo Kelly

Lion's Head Meatballs

Lion's Head Meatballs

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 2.63 out of 5)
Dinner, Main Course Chinese
By Cooks Illustrated Serves: 4-8
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes Total Time: 2 Hours

Giant-sized pork meatballs are tender, juicy and seasoned beautifully with ginger, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, white pepper and sugar. The meatballs are gently braised in the oven and served with braised cabbage, over rice noodles. All in all, this is a simple recipe that has all the trademarks of comfort food, yet it's light and satisfying.


  • 3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Kosher Salt or ½ tsp. Table Salt
  • 2 lbs. Ground Pork
  • 1 large Egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 Scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. Shaoxing Wine or dry sherry
  • 4 tsp. Sugar
  • 2 tsp. Grated Fresh Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. White Pepper
  • 4 cups Chicken Bone Broth, or regular chicken broth
  • 1 Small Head Napa Cabbage (1½ pounds), quartered lengthwise, cored, and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 oz. Rice Vermicelli
  • Fresh Cilantro Leaves
  • Chili Crunch Condiment, or chili oil



Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.


Whisk baking soda, salt, and 2 tablespoons water together in bowl of stand mixer.


Add pork to baking soda mixture and toss to combine.


Add egg, scallion whites, soy sauce, wine, sugar, ginger, and white pepper.


Fit stand mixer with paddle and beat on medium speed until mixture is well combined and has stiffened, 60 seconds.


Using your wet hands, form about ½ cup (4½ ounces) pork mixture into 3-inch round meatball; repeat with remaining mixture to form 8 meatballs.


Bring broth to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat.


Off heat, carefully arrange meatballs in pot (7 around perimeter and 1 center; meatballs will not be totally submerged).


Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 hour.


Transfer meatballs to large plate. Add cabbage to pot in even layer and arrange meatballs over cabbage, paler side up.


Cover, return pot to oven, and continue to cook until meatballs are lightly browned and cabbage is softened, about 30 minutes longer.


While meatballs and cabbage cook, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.


Off heat, add vermicelli and let sit, stirring occasionally, until vermicelli is fully tender, 10 minutes.


Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and distribute evenly among 4 to 6 large soup bowls.


Ladle meatballs, cabbage, and broth into bowls of noodles.


Sprinkle with scallion greens, cilantro and Chili Crunch and serve.

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  • Bobbe Nemes
    May 19, 2021 at 9:58 am

    I am constantly amazed with your food knowledge and how much I have learned from looking at the photos of specific techniques. I love the wide array of foods you are presenting and even though I consider myself to be a well traveled, long time foodie, who has lived in many interesting places, my eyes are opened almost every day from your postings. Thank you for generously sharing with us and I look forward to seeing where your career and passion leads to.

    • Kelly Djalali
      May 19, 2021 at 10:11 am

      Hello Bobbe, Thank you so much! I love sharing recipes and ideas that might be new to folks; it’s my favorite part of this blog! I am so happy you find the blog informative and interesting. Thank you so much for your support, it means so much to me. Have a wonderful day! xo Kelly

  • Mary
    May 19, 2021 at 11:53 am

    I agree with Bobbe above. I have to say, these meatballs are not appetizing to look at. However, I plan on making this dish. The flavors sound delicious. I make dinner once a week for son and family and we would love this ugly meatballs notwithstanding. They recently introduced me to chili crunch. Thanks, Kelly!

    • Kelly Djalali
      May 19, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Mary, It’s true, these should be filed under “ugly delicious” and the flavors make up for it! I think you will love them! The texture is so bouncy and moist. A real treat. Thanks so much for stopping by today, xo Kelly