Melanie McMinn is back today with her favorite Chinese New Year recipe, Chinese Pearl Balls. Thanks, Melanie!
Happy Chinese New Year! Welcome to the Year of the Ox. To celebrate, here is a delicious recipe for Chinese pearl balls – sticky rice covered pork meatballs – that my family has used for 20 years or more. We serve it as a side dish to our Peking duck dinner at Christmas and also as a main dish during the year.
Aside from the fact that you need to soak the rice before hand, this is a fast, healthy steamed dish I often make during the week when I’m pressed for time. Because it presents beautifully and unusually, pearl balls are also a fabulous appetizer/dim sum/yum cha dish for dinner guests.
If you want to serve this dish on Chinese New Year, you should do all the chopping the day before to avoid “cutting the threads of good fortune” brought in at the new year. You should also avoid washing anything or cleaning on Chinese New Year. I LIKE this holiday!
Aside from a few notable exceptions, wheat noodles, buns and things wrapped in wheat like eggrolls, Chinese food is friendly to the gluten sensitive. Don’t be put off by the recipe calling for glutinous rice. That is glutinous with an “i” not an “e.” It just means it is sticky.
Chinese Pearl Balls Recipe for Chinese New Year
1/2 cup glutinous (sticky) rice
1 cup cold water
4 dried Chinese or shi’itake mushrooms
1/2 cup warm water
1 lb lean ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon salt (I often skip this and add more soy)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I always skip this)
1 teaspoon finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger root (or MORE! but don’t use ground ginger)
6 canned water chestunets drained and finely chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped including green top
In a small bowl, cover the rice with 1 cup of cold water and soak for 2 hours. Drain rice, spread it out on a cloth towel and let it dry.
In a small bowl cover the mushrooms with 1/2 cup of warm water and let them soak for 30 minutes. Discard the water (or save for your stock pot). Cut away stems and chop the caps finely.
Combine the pork, egg, soy sauce, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix together until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Add ginger, water chestnuts, scallions, and your chopped mushrooms, mixing thoroughly. Shape mixture into balls, about the size of a golf ball and put onto wax paper.
Roll one pork ball at a time in the rice, pressing gently but firmly so the rice grains adhere to the meat. The pork balls should be well coated with rice.
If you have a bamboo steamer, arrange the balls inside so that they do not touch. If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can create your own steaming chamber: get a large pot and place a heatproof bowl upside down in it. Fill with water within an inch of the top of the bowl. Place a heat proof plate 1/2 inch smaller than the diameter of the pot on top of the bowl. The plate must be small enough to allow the steam to rise and circulate. If your pot is tall enough, you can arrange two steaming layers, as in the pictures (shown post steaming). Arrange the pork balls on the plate, bring the water in the steamer to a boil and cover the pan tightly. Keeping the water at a continuous boil and replenishing it if it boils away, steam the pork balls for 30 minutes. Serve at once with plum (hoisin) sauce.
First layer of steamer:
Middle layer of steamer:
Top layer of steamer:
The original recipe, from Recipes: Chinese Cooking from Time Life Books (1968), says that it serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as an appetizer or side dish. If you are serving it as a main dish, serve with stir fried or steamed Chinese vegetables, otherwise two people can easily devour them all.