Lao Zhou’s Lionhead Meatballs

Ming Tsais grandmother, Lao Zhou, made a delicious classic Chinese dish in which meatballs are braised with Chinese leaves. The result of long patient cooking, it is something that only a loving grandmother seems to have time to make.

But these classic Shanghai meatballs are easy to prepare. The little patience it requires is well rewarded. And the dish reheats nicely.


  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese leaves, stalks separated and cut into 5 cm (2 in) strips
  • 225 g (8 oz) fresh or 175 g (6 oz) canned water chestnuts, peeled if fresh, coarsely chopped
  • 450 g (1 lb) fatty minced pork
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Cornflour, for dusting
  • 3–4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons groundnut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 480 ml (16 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock


Prepare the Chinese leaves and water chestnuts. Put the pork in a food processor and pulse with the egg white and cold water for 1 minute. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Do not use a blender, which would make it too dense. Now add the water chestnuts, soy sauces, rice wine, sugar, salt and pepper and process for another 30 seconds, until just coarsely mixed.

Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts and roll each part into a large meatball. Dust each meatball with cornflour. Heat a wok until it is hot, then swirl in the 3-4 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking, gently lower in the meatballs, turn the heat down and slowly brown the meatballs all over. Remove and set aside.

Clean the wok and reheat it. When the wok is hot, swirl in the 2 teaspoons of groundnut oil, then toss in the garlic cloves and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the Chinese leaves and stir-fry for several minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and continue to cook for 2 minutes, until the leaves are soft. Transfer the mixture to a heavy casserole and lay the meatballs on top. Bring the contents of the casserole to the boil, then turn the heat to very low, cover and simmer for 1½ hours.

Arrange the leaves on a platter, lay the meatballs on top, spoon the sauce over the dish and serve at once.