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Appetizers, Mains

Pearly meatballs (zhen zhu rou wan)

Pearly meatballs (zhen zhu rou wan)
Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy. I'm reading Fuchsia Dunlop and getting very very hungry. I need a bowl of dan dan noodles immediately and make out a grocery list for that and her recipe for wontons. And then I'm off to Monterey ... Read more

Total time: 45 minutes plus 3 hours soaking time | Makes 36 meatballs
  • 1 cup glutinous rice
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp
  • 6 dried shiitake musrooms
  • 1 slice cooked ham, about 1 ounce
  • 12 canned or 10 fresh water chestnuts
  • 14 ounces ground pork, a little fatty if possible
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour mixed to a paste with 2 tablespoons water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 green onions, green parts only, finely sliced
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Step 1Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water, and then soak for 3 hours in hot water, or overnight in cold water; drain and set aside.

Step 2Meanwhile, soak the dried shrimp and the shiitake mushrooms in separate bowls of hot water for about 30 minutes to reconstitute. After soaking, drain, squeeze dry and finely chop them separately. Finely chop the ham; set aside.

Step 3Peel the water chestnuts if you are using fresh ones, then chop them finely by hand.

Step 4In a medium bowl, combine the water chestnuts, ground pork, ginger, wine, egg and potato flour mixture. Season with three-fourths teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon pepper, or to taste. On a plate or in a shallow baking dish, combine the ham and shiitake with the drained rice. Lightly grease a heatproof plate with peanut oil (choose one that will fit comfortably inside a steamer).

Step 5Shape the meat mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll in the rice mixture to coat generously. Lay the meatballs in one layer on the oiled plate; you might need to steam them in two batches, depending on the size of your steamer.

Step 6Steam, tightly covered, over high heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes; break one in half to check that it is cooked. Serve directly on the plate, with a scattering of green onion and sesame oil.

Note: Adapted from "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province" by Fuchsia Dunlop. The rice for this dish should be soaked for a few hours, preferably overnight, before cooking. In Hunan, the cooked meatballs are often piled into a bowl and then resteamed before serving. Glutinous rice, dried shrimp and Shaoxing wine are available at select well-stocked grocery stores as well as at Asian markets.


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