This easy Chinese pork meatballs recipe boasts the subtle sweetness of pork, the pleasing chewiness of rice, and the inherent easiness of a supper that’s made for weeknights.
These easy Chinese pork meatballs flaunt just how stunning simple Asian flavors can be. Their wicked addictive appeal actually likes in just how nuanced the taste as well as how easy they are to make. The meatballs are steamed to create a more delicate texture, which happily also means no stovetop spatters to contend with after supper.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Chinese Pork Meatballs
- Bamboo steamer
- 1 to 1 3/4 cups sticky rice or arborio rice
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large scallion (white and green parts) finely chopped
- 2 1/2 ounces water chestnuts finely chopped
- 1 large egg white
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce*
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (or sake or medium-dry sherry)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- Dark soy sauce*, for dipping
- The day before you intend to make the pork meatballs for dinner, dump the rice in a large pot or bowl, add enough cold water to cover, and let soak overnight.
- About an hour before dinner, drain the rice and spread the grains on a rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl using your hands, combine the pork, scallion, water chestnuts, egg white, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, and cornstarch. Roll the mixture into 3/4-inch (2-centimeter) balls. You should have about 40 meatballs. Then roll each meatball in the rice to coat it well. Place the meatballs on a couple heatproof plates that will fit in a bamboo steamer, spacing the meatballs 1/4 to 1/2 inch (1/2 to 1 centimeter) apart. Stack the plates on the steamer.
- Place the steamer over a wok or other large pot with an inch or so of water. Turn the heat to high and cook the pork meatballs until the rice has softened and the pork is cooked through, about 20 minutes from the time the water starts steaming.
- When the pork meatballs are done, drizzle with the sesame oil and serve hot with the soy dipping sauce on the side.
*Light Versus Dark Soy SauceIf you’re getting lost in the Asian food aisle at the grocery store, we’re here for you. The difference between light and dark soy sauce is the length of aging, which also varies depending on whether the soy sauce is Chinese or Japanese. For this recipe, you ideally want Chinese light soy sauce, which is thinner and lighter in color. Don’t confuse it with the low-sodium, “lite” soy sauce. Chinese dark soy sauce is aged longer and has a sweeter flavor and more viscous texture. If you want to sub in your everyday supermarket soy sauce (which is technically a Japanese dark soy sauce) for both and call it a day, simply start with a smaller amount and add more to taste so that your dish doesn’t turn out too salty.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I needn’t have been intimidated about making these pork meatballs as they worked out just fine according to the recipe directions — better than fine. These were quite delightful and delicious little bites. The sesame oil drizzled on at the end elevated them even higher. The meatballs also held together beautifully. I kept the first batch—and then the second—warm under a heat lamp while getting the rest of the meal ready, and the third batch steamed as we ate. A low oven would do as well. I contemplated having two steamers going at once and might try that next time, but cooking them in sequence was not a problem. Since I was a little apprehensive about getting them fully cooked in 20 minutes, I let the first batch go about 22 minutes. Attempting to check the temperature with a thermometer didn’t go too well, so I cut one open and sampled it, and it was fully done and delicious. So I was more comfortable with 20 minutes for the other batches. My meatballs were bigger than called for, as I was focused on the process of getting the meat coated in rice and wasn’t too diligent about getting them at 3/4 inch. Most of mine were between 1 and 1 1/4 inches. My concern was with keeping them the same size for each batch to ensure even cooking. All I could find was something called Thai purple sticky rice, an heirloom blend of white and purple, so these were not exactly pearly. If I’d had more advance planning time, I would have tried an Asian market, but I went with I could find quickly. There was excess rice after making this, which I boiled to use for other dishes.
Once you take your first bite of these pork meatballs, there’s no stopping yourself or pretending that you had no intention of greedily eating ALL the meatballs, just the two of you. Fair warning. I served these for dinner with a side of steamed broccoli, but I think they would make a great appetizer as well. These juicy, pearly meatballs were bursting with ginger flavor and a tender crunch from the water chestnuts. Finishing them with a drizzle of sesame oil gave it even more richness—don’t skip this step. I concocted my own soy dipping sauce from soy, kecap manis, rice wine vinegar, and chile garlic sauce as I wanted something more than just straight soy. I used mirin wine as I didn’t have Shaoxing. I used sushi rice and it worked beautifully. I did not soak my rice overnight due to planning oversight, but 7 hours was plenty of time. You won’t need more than 1 cup, though, as I had lots of rice left over. Another rice tip—drain the rice and place it in a jelly roll pan lined with a tea towel to absorb the excess water and then drop your meatballs directly onto the rice and roll it around when you get about 10 balls on there. The rice stuck really well. I used my big stainless steamer pot with the insert, and then placed a collapsible steamer inside of that to make two layers. This fit most of the meatballs. We ate the first batch while the second batch was cooking. If you are using a metal steamer, I might recommend oiling the pan. I’m not sure if this was necessary but I didn’t want to take a chance on my lovely pearly balls sticking to the steamer insert. You’ll have to figure out what to do with the rest of the can of water chestnuts, only half of an 8-ounce can is used, so you might as well double this recipe right from the get-go and then you’ll be able to use the whole can! This made 40 half-ounce balls.
What caught my attention when I read this pork meatballs recipe was that it’s similar to something I had tried years ago at the home of a Chinese family. I was hoping that the memory I had of sticky rice pork meatballs would come back, and indeed it did. If you are expecting to be wowed by an amazingly strong mix of flavors on your tastebuds, this recipe isn’t for you. This is a very simple recipe in which the pork is seasoned just enough to enhance it, and the steaming process creates beautiful pearlescent balls with flavors that are simple yet clean and powerful. This is a beautiful appetizer to be enjoyed prior to a nice light dinner. Time-wise, it took me 20 minutes to add the rice to a bowl with water and let it rest overnight, mince the ingredients (I placed them all in a food processor), and mix everything together. The steamer I have is very small, so I had to work in really small batches. I ended up doing 4 batches with 8 balls in each. Each batch took exactly 20 minutes. I had the oven on warm and placed the balls that were done in a glass baking dish inside the warm oven. I really don’t think they need to be eaten steaming hot. I served it with plain soy sauce, though I do think that dressing the dipping sauce with some heat or other aromatic ingredients, perhaps even the same ones as mixed in the pork, would bring the flavors to an even higher level. This is a recipe to make again for sure. But remember, this is a very plain recipe that has true Chinese flavors and not Americanized ones that cover up the simplicity of the actual ingredients.
Originally published March 29, 2016