These heavenly Chinese Lion’s Head Meatballs are extra soft and juicy and each meatball weighs over 5 oz (150g)! Braised with sweet cabbage in a deeply savory clear broth, I’ve simplified the traditional method so you can enjoy these delicious jumbo Chinese meatballs at home easy and fast!

Originally published in 2017, updated version with new photos and clearer instructions.

Photo shows jumbo meatballs and napa cabbage stew in a big white clay pot
Extra juicy and soft jumbo meatballs braised with sweet napa cabbage…SO GOOD!

What are lion’s head meatballs?

Lion’s head meatballs (Shi Zi Tou, 獅子頭) is a traditional Chinese braised meatball dish from Huaiyang cuisine (淮揚菜) with giant pork meatballs, sweet cabbage, and a delicious umami-rich savory broth. Because it’s enormous size, people compare the meatballs to lion’s head and therefore Shi Zi means Lion and Tou means head.

What makes this Chinese meatball stew dish so special?

  • SIZE – Each meatball weighs a little over 5 oz (150g)!
  • ONE POT – Extra jumbo, soft, and juicy meatballs braised with sweet cabbage
  • BROTH – A clear delicious broth fragrant with ginger, scallion, and shiitake
  • SIMPLER- easier to make and with common ingredients you can find in Western stores.
Photo shows ingredients needed to make the meatballs

Ingredients To Make Chinese Lion Head

  • Ground chicken
  • Ground pork
  • Ginger, scallion, shallot
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Coconut aminos
  • Olive Oil and coarse sea salt
  • Shiitake (optional)
  • Napa cabbage or savoy cabbage
  • Chicken stock
  • Baby bok choy (optional)

Notes about the type of ground meat to use

The texture of the meatballs should be soft, smooth, and almost paste-ish texture. After mixing, it should feel a little sticky.

  • Traditionally this recipe is made with fatty ground pork. I use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork to keep the dish lighter. I found that the meatballs also taste less dense because ground chicken contains more water.
  • If you use all ground pork, and if the texture feels a bit dry, add 1 whisked whole egg to the mixture. An egg will add fat and moisture to the meat.
  • I don’t recommend using all ground chicken for this dish. Ground chicken contains too much water and makes it difficult to form the meatballs and without them from falling apart in the pan.

How to make Shi Zi Tou

  1. Combine the ground chicken and pork with the seasonings in a large mixing bowl. Stir-in one direction until well-combined. The texture should feel soft, smooth, a little sticky, and almost paste-ish.
  2. Form 6 large meatballs weigh about 5 oz (150 g) per meatball. Grease your hands with little olive oil. This prevents the meat from sticking to your hands.
  3. Sear the meatballs in a large non-stick or ceramic pan. The meatballs are super soft so use two spatulas to help you flip them. Treat them carefully.
  4. Braise the meatballs in a separate clay pot or Dutch oven with broth, ginger, scallions, napa cabbage, and shiitake until the meatballs are cooked through and the vegetables turn softer.

What to do with the delicious braising broth?

Good question! There are two ways you can use up the delicious clear braising broth.

  • Method 1 – Add Korean sweet potato noodles (also known as Japchae noodles to the broth. Boil the noodles in a separate pot before adding them to the broth. The noodles will continue drinking up the broth so only add the exact amount you want to eat in one serving.
  • Method 2 – Thicken the broth. If you want a thick glossy sauce, transfer the meatballs out of the pot and thicken the soup broth with arrowroot or tapioca starch until your desired consistency.
  • Method 3 – Drink it like soup! I do this all the time for lunch the next day. It’s deeply umami and super satisfying! You can also add more Chinese vegetables to the delicious broth!

How to make ahead

The best way is to make the entire dish and reheat it in a microwave or stovetop. It stays fresh in the fridge in a sealed container for 4-5 days.

Another way is to freeze the raw meatballs. Flash freeze them in a parchment-lined sheet pan until solid then transfer to a freezer-friendly bag. Defrost them in the fridge overnight then pan sear and braise.

Pairing suggestions

If you want to serve side dishes to go with the one-pot stew, my Asian cucumber salad, Tatsoi salad, Chinese mustard greens stir-fry, Sauteed snow pea leaves, Chinese broccoli garlic sauce, or Chinese broccoli vegetarian oyster sauce are all great choices!

More Asian Meatballs!

A side close shot shows a meatball cut in half and served in a bowl with braising liquid
Super flavorful delicious broth!

Final Tips and Summary

  • Use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork to keep the meatballs light and easier to shape
  • Stir the meat in one direction until it turns smooth, a little sticky, and almost paste-ish texture.
  • Add a little olive oil to the meat. This helps you shape the meatballs more easily.
  • Use a large non-stick or ceramic pan to sear the meatballs so they won’t stick to the pan and fall apart.
  • Make sure to pan-sear the meatballs first before you braise them so that the meatball juice is sealed.
  • The meatballs will be soft so use 2 spatulas when you flip them in a pan. Treat them carefully.
Photo shows jumbo meatballs and napa cabbage stew in a big white clay pot
5 from 34 votes

Lion’s Head Meatballs with Cabbage (Braised, Gluten-free, Paleo, Keto)

Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
Servings: 6 5.3 oz meatballs
Author: ChihYu
These heavenly Chinese Lion’s Head Meatballs are extra soft and juicy and each meatball weighs over 5 oz (150g)! Braised with sweet cabbage in a deeply savory clear broth, follow my simplified method to make an excellent Asian style meatball stew!
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Ingredients 

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 0.75 lb ground pork
  • 0.5 oz ginger, grated
  • 3 bulb scallion, chopped
  • 2 oz. shallot, finely chopped, 1 large
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • ½ tsp coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil

For the braising mix:

  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 0.18 oz ginger, sliced, 4 thin slices
  • 2 bulb scallion, dice to 2-inch sections
  • 3.5 oz fresh shiitake, sliced
  • 2 lbs Napa cabbage, or savoy cabbage, diced. Separate stems and leafy parts
  • 1.5 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos, or to taste
  • 6 oz. baby bok choy, quartered, optional

Instructions 

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine ingredients from ground chicken to coconut aminos. Stir in one direction until well combined. The texture should feel soft, smooth, little sticky, and almost paste-ish.
  • Add the olive oil. This will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands. Form 6 equal sized large meatballs at 5.3 oz. (150g) per meatball. Set them aside on a large plate.
  • Preheat a large (12-inch/ 31 cm) non-stick or ceramic saute pan with avocado oil over medium-low heat until the pan feels warm. Carefully add the meatballs one-by-one to the pan and sear the meatballs for 4 minutes the first side and 4 minutes the flip side. The meatballs will be soft so flip them carefully. I use a spatula in one hand and chopsticks the other hand to help me flip them. Transfer out of the pan.
  • In a separate pot, a 6-quart Dutch oven or casserole clay pot, preheat the pot with toasted sesame oil over medium-low heat until it feels warm. Add the ginger and scallions with a pinch of salt, saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Transfer the meatballs to the pot and add the cabbage stems and shiitake on top. Add the stock and coconut aminos, cover and simmer over medium-heat for 15 minutes. Check periodically to make sure that the meatballs are submerged and in contact with the braising liquid.
  • Add the cabbage leaves and bok choy, if using. Cover the pot and simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Taste and season the braise with more coconut aminos or salt to taste. Serve hot or warm.

Video

Notes

About the type of ground meat:
  • I use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork to keep the dish lighter.
  • If you use all ground pork, and if the texture feels a bit dry, add 1 whisked whole egg to the mixture. An egg will add fat and moisture to the meat.
  • I don’t recommend using all ground chicken for this dish. Ground chicken contains too much water and makes it difficult to form the meatballs and without them from falling apart in the pan.
Easier to shape the meatballs:
  • Adding a bit of olive oil to the meat will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands and easier to shape.
What to do with the delicious braising broth?
  • Method 1 – Add Korean sweet potato noodles to the broth. Boil the noodles in a separate pot before adding them to the broth. The noodles will continue drinking up the broth so only add the exact amount you want to eat in one serving.
  • Method 2 – Thicken the broth. If you want a thick glossy sauce, transfer the meatballs out of the pot and thicken the soup broth with arrowroot or tapioca starch until your desired consistency.
  • Method 3 – Drink it like a soup! I do this all the time for lunch the next day. It’s deeply umami and super satisfying!
How to make ahead
  • The best way is to make the entire dish and reheat it in a microwave or stovetop. It stays fresh in the fridge in a sealed container for 4-5 days.
  • Another way is to freeze the raw meatballs. Flash freeze them in a parchment lined sheet pan until solid then transfer to a freezer friendly bag. Defrost them in the fridge overnight then pan sear and braise.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 380kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 26g, Fat: 27g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 14g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 106mg, Sodium: 394mg, Potassium: 1015mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 493IU, Vitamin C: 42mg, Calcium: 136mg, Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Keyword: braised meatballs, Chinese lion head, Chinese lion head meatballs, lion head meatballs, lion’s head meatballs, lion’s head meatballs recipe, meatball head, Paleo Lion’s Head Meatballs, Shi zi tou, Shizitou
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?Tag @iheartumami.ny on Instagram and hashtag it #iheartumami.
A close shot shows two lion's head meatballs with bok choy and cabbage served in a small white bowl
Photo shows chihyu smith

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