Chinese Pearl Meatballs – A Perfect Snack

Chinese Pearl Meatballs – Introduction

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.

Chinese Pearl Meatballs – A Perfect Snack

Recipe by Sue Dyson and Roger McShaneCourse: SnacksCuisine: ChineseDifficulty: Medium


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 100 grams of good quality glutinous rice

  • 2 dried Chinese mushrooms

  • 20 grams water chestnuts

  • 1 spring onion, minced

  • 400 grams fatty pork from the shoulder – minced

  • 15 mls of Shaoxing wine, or dry Sherry or white wine

  • Salt

  • 15mls light soy sauce

  • 5 grams cornflour

  • 15 mls soaking liquid from the mushrooms

  • For the dipping sauce
  • 50 mls light soy sauce

  • 30 mls Chinese vinegar


  • The first task is to soak the glutinous rice so that it has absorbed enough water to be soft after the brief steaming time. Spread the rice out in a flat tray and then pour enough water in to cover the rice. Set aside for two hours.
  • At the same time you soak the rice, remove the stalks from two dried Chinese mushrooms cut them in quarters and then place them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cutting them helps them to absorb the water.
  • Now prepare the mushrooms. Remove them from the soaking liquid, reserving about 15mls. With a cleaver or a large knife cut the mushrooms into small pieces.
  • Chop the water chestnut in small pieces. These will provide some texture in the meatballs.
  • To a large bowl, add the meat, mushrooms, water chestnuts, wine, cornflour, soy sauce and the mushroom soaking liquid (15mls).
  • Use your hands to squash all the ingredients together until everything is incorporated and emulsified.
  • Now use your hands or a set of chopsticks to swirl the mixture round and round in the bowl. This aligns the proteins and allows them to better absorb the liquid you have added.
  • You are ready to create the meatballs. Pick up a little of the meat mixture and roll it in your hands to create a ball about the size of a walnut. Repeat for all the mixture.
  • You are now ready for the rice. Pour the liquid off the rice (we pour it into a sieve over the sink and capture the rice that way). Put any rice from the sieve back into the tray. Spread the rice out.
  • This is the most important bit to get the desired visual effect. Pick up a meat ball and then roll it in the rice until it is covered. Now put it in the palm of your hand and roll the meatball so that the rice is slightly pushed into it. You can see the outcome in the picture below.
  • When you have finished with the batch place them in a steamer – we cut out small squares of baking paper and place the meatballs on them to prevent sticking.
  • Place the steamer on top of a suitable wok or a saucepan which has boiling water in it, for 25 minutes.
  • Remove each meatball with a toothpick which will be used by your guests to pick it up and serve with a bowl of dipping sauce.
Chinese Pearl Meatballs Uncooked in the Steamer – Notice how the rice has been squashed against the meat