Lion’s Head Meatballs with Sticky Rice

Tender, juicy and incredibly moist, these Lion’s Head Meatballs with Sticky Rice and Shiitake mushrooms stand out from their meatball counterparts by their size and succulence. The inclusion of sticky rice adds a unique texture, while Shiitake mushrooms impart an earthy richness. Every bite of these classic, easy-to-make and must-have meatballs is heavenly and happy!

Steeped in tradition, lion's head meatballs are a classic Chinese dish that often graces the tables of restaurants, formal meals, and casual meals. The distinctive name pays homage to their appearance. The oversized meatball resembles the head of a lion, while the napa cabbage or baby bok choy encircling the meatball mimics a lion’s mane. 

These meatballs are typically cooked by deep frying or pan-searing, followed by a gentle braise in a soy sauce broth until perfectly tender. Lion's head meatballs are a comforting dish, and a wonderful addition to any recipe rolodex. 

Tips for making Lion's Head Meatballs with Sticky Rice

  • Pre-cook the sticky rice until it is about 80% done. The meatballs and sticky rice will steam later in a mushroom broth and cook completely. As a general guide, about 1/3 cup uncooked sticky rice may yield about 3/4 cups cooked rice. A procedure for cooking really springy, sticky rice is here.
  • Cooked sticky rice clumps together, making it difficult to evenly incorporate into the meatball mixture. As a workaround, drop the sticky rice into cold water and break it apart by hand. After draining the rice, scoop up the rice granules and scatter evenly over the meatball mixture. Then thoroughly combine with the meatball mixture.
  • When rehydrating the Shiitake mushrooms, use plenty of boiling water, as we need enough residual mushroom water to use as braising stock for the meatballs.
  • As a tip for removing any particles, grit or dirt from the rehydrated Shiitake mushroom water, strain the leftover liquid through a fine cloth or durable kitchen napkin.
  • The fattier the pork, the richer the flavor, but regular ground pork still yields very succulent meatballs.
  • While fresh water chestnuts offer a better taste, canned water chestnuts are also suitable and probably more convenient. Fresh water chestnuts require extra preparation. Be sure to peel them by cutting the tops and bottoms off, and use them promptly before they spoil.
  • Always taste-test a small sample meatball before cooking the entire batch to ensure proper seasoning.
  • If you plan to enjoy the soup, consider tasting and adjusting the soup seasoning with additional soy sauce or sugar after the meatballs have finished cooking. Napa cabbage releases excess water when cooked, which can potentially dilute the soup's flavor.
  • Pan-fried meatballs — versus deep-fried — lose their round shape after searing and flipping them. To maintain their shape, allow them to cool slightly before reshaping them into balls before simmering.
  • If serving the meatballs standalone, without the accompanying soup broth, you might want to try drizzling some teriyaki sauce or a homemade sauce over the meatballs to enhance their flavor.

Storing meatballs

Meatballs and burgers are convenient make ahead meals. The raw meat mixture can store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, or frozen for up to 1 month in an airtight container. Cooked meatballs can store in the freezer for up to 2 months in an airtight container. [1]

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 25 minutes – Cooking Time: 25 minutes/batch – Total Time: 50 minutes

Helpful equipment

  • Dutch oven or pot
  • Fine mesh strainer with fitted bowl
  • Mixing bowl
  • Large frying pan


For the mushrooms:
  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 cups boiled water to re-hydrate the shiitake mushrooms

For the meatball:
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp salt or to taste
  • ½ tsp white pepper or to taste
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 green onions minced (1/3 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 8 peeled, fresh water chestnuts minced (canned is fine)
  • ¾ cup cooked sticky rice
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp oil for frying

For the soup:
  • 2 small heads napa cabbage, cut into 2” long pieces
  • 2 cups re-hydrated shiitake mushroom water
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • Garnish: Green parts of green onions


Step 1
Rehydrate the Shiitake mushrooms. In a bowl, place dried shiitake mushrooms and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Allow to soak for at least 1 hour until fully re-hydrated.

Step 2
Once rehydrated, destem and mince the shiitake mushrooms.

Step 3
Strain the residual mushroom water through a fine filter or napkin to remove any grit. Reserve for later use.

Step 4
Prepare the meatball mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, Shaoxing wine, ginger powder, minced ginger, oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt, white pepper, sugar, minced green onions, cornstarch, and minced water chestnuts. Mix everything thoroughly.

Step 5
Add 3 tablespoons water and an egg to the mixture, then vigorously whip in a in a circular motion until pasty, about 5 minutes.

Step 6
Using wet hands, break up the sticky rice and add it along with the minced Shiitake mushrooms to the meatball mixture. Stir until well combined.

Step 7
In a pot line the sides with napa cabbage or baby bok choy leaves, leaving space in the center for the meatballs to rest on the bottom.

Step 8
With wet hands, form 8 large meatballs, and place in a large pan preheated over medium-high heat with oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides, and gently transfer to the pot lined with napa cabbage or baby bok choy.

Step 9
In a bowl, mix 2 cups strained mushroom water with soy sauce, sugar, and white pepper. Pour this over the meatballs in the pot.

Step 10
Bring the pot a boil, cover, and simmer for 10-20 minutes until the meatballs register an internal temperature over 160F.

Step 11
Taste the broth to adjust soy sauce and sugar if using.

Step 12
Finish by adding sesame oil and gently stirring in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Serve the meatballs and garnish with chopped green onions. Enjoy!

More informational references

[1] How to Make Meatballs. Pillsbury.

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