This dish is a classic example of Shanghai cuisine.  The large meatballs are intended to remind the diner of large lion's heads, with the bok choy the lion's mane.  Braising gives the meatballs great texture and flavor and the broth is both sweet and aromatic.


  • 1 (1/2 inch long) piece of fresh ginger, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 2 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 pound ground pork, 80% lean
  • 4 ounces canned water chestnuts, drained and finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca starch
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 4 cups canola oil


  • 3 cups chicken stock, homemade if you have it
  • 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (dry sherry can be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 4 ounces baby bok choy, halved lengthwise


  1. To make the meatballs, combine the ginger, scallions, and 1/2 cup water in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth and the strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl and discard the solids.  Add the pork, water chestnuts, tapioca starch, egg white, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix well.  The mixture will be very moist.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until it is shimmering, about 375 degrees fahrenheit.  Divide the pork into six equal portions.  Wet your hands and, using one portion at a time, form round smooth balls.  Immediately and carefully place the meatballs into the hot oil.  Repeat with all of the portions.  Fry the meatballs until browned, turning as required, about 3 minutes.  Remove the meatballs from the oil and drain on a paper towel.  
  3. In a medium clay pot or Dutch oven with a cover, combine all the sauce ingredients except the tapioca starch.  Arrange the meatballs in the clay pot, bring the liquid to a boil, and braise them, covered, over low heat, until the braising flavor is infused into the meatballs, about 40 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the tapioca starch with 2 tablespoons water to make a slurry.  Stir it into the braising broth and cook until the broth has thickened, about 1 minute.  Arrange the baby bok choy around the meatballs, cover the clay pot, and cook for about 3 minutes, until the bok choy is just tender.

Serve with steamed white rice and additional soy sauce, if desired.

Recipe inspired by Kian Lam Kho, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees

January 30, 2017

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