Pearl Meatballs

These delightful little meatballs are coated with rice – they will look like they’re studded with pearls if you use short-grain rice, and if you choose to use longer-grain rice, they will look like little hedgehogs. A big hit with kids, and a good school lunch item if packed in a thermos. Can be made ahead and reheated for a last-minute meal.

Glutinous rice (AKA sticky or sweet rice) is a very short-grain type of white rice that is used for dishes where its stickiness is a plus. It forms the base for Japanese mochi and Chinese rice cake, for example. It is also available in brown, but as with all whole grain rices, that will take much longer to cook and the appearance will not be so pearly.

Please note that the rice needs to be soaked for a long time before preparing this recipe, so do that early or overnight.


  • 1 c glutinous rice (you can also use regular, medium-grain rice)
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, preferably not too lean – look for pastured pork if you can find it!
  • 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms: stems reserved for making stock, caps finely minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 large egg, from pastured hens if possible
  • 2 T cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato flour
  • 1 T water (or oil if you’re using very lean meat or poultry)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse the rice well, then soak: you can boil water, then pour it over the rice and allow it to soak for 3 h, or you can use cold water and soak the rice overnight. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Oil a heatproof plate that will fit into your steamer.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to mix thoroughly.
  4. Shape the mixture into 1.5″ balls, then roll in the soaked rice to coat completely.
  5. Place in a single layer on the plate, then steam 10-15 m – when done, there will be no pink left in the center.
  6. You can serve the meatballs on the same plate or pile them in a bowl.

do ahead:

The meatballs can be assembled, steamed, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Resteam 10 m to reheat.


  • The meatballs can be made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the flavor varying accordingly. Adding a bit of minced ham and/or shrimp makes poultry versions a little more flavorful.
  • In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop jazzes these up by adding minced ham and shiitakes to the rice instead of the filling – this makes for a more interesting presentation and opens the door to even more variations….

One Response

  1. Sounds delicious! Thanks for the recipe!

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