Friday, May 4, 2012

Steamed Pearl Balls (Zhenzhu Qiu or Zhenzhu Wan)

It's been years since I've had or made pearl balls, but my mom happened to make a batch a few weeks ago, and that inspired me to give this another go. Pearl Balls are basically meat balls made from ground pork, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, ginger, with a bit of chopped scallions and water chestnuts, then coated with glutinous rice and steamed for about 30 minutes. Not all recipes call for this, but I also like to add some chopped shiitake mushrooms to the meatball mixture. The pearly white sheen from the glutinous rice coating is what gives this dish its name. Great for either a dim sum plate or main course. Btw, pearl balls also freeze well: after steaming, let them cool to room temp., place in a single layer in Ziploc-type bag(s), and put in the freezer. To reheat, you can either steam or microwave them.

1 1/2 cups glutinous (aka, sweet or sticky) rice
2 pounds ground pork
2 large green onions, chopped finely
8 canned water chestnuts, minced
6 small-medium dried shiitakes, soaked in very hot water about 30 minutes
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp. rice wine
1/2 tsp. white pepper
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 small carrot, peeled and very finely shredded
Sweet chili sauce and/or light soy for dipping

1. Place the glutinous rice in a medium bowl, cover with water and soak at least 5-6 hours, preferably overnight. 

2. In a large bowl, add the ground pork, green onions, water chestnuts, shiitakes mushrooms, eggs, ginger, soy sauce sauce, rice wine, white pepper, sugar, sesame oil, salt and cornstarch. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together well until very thoroughly combined.

3. Drain the rice well in a colander and spread onto a baking sheet or casserole dish. 

4. For the meatballs: scoop out about 1 heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture and form into a ball. Roll the meatball in the glutinous rice to coat, then place on to a foil or plastic wrap-lined baking sheet. Continue the same process until all the meat mixture has been used up. Garnish the top of each pearl ball with a bit of shredded carrot. Recipe should make about 30 balls.

5. Prepare your steamer (I use these large stackable stainless steel steamers purchased from the Chinese market which I place over a large wok of boiling hot water). Place the pearl balls in the steamer, about 1/2 inch apart, cover, and steam over medium high heat for 25-30 minutes. 

6. Serve with Chinese sweet chili sauce and/or a light soy sauce. 

Soak the glutinous rice in water at least 5-6 hours, preferably overnight.

Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in very hot water for about 30 minutes.

Canned water chestnuts.
Shredded carrots, chopped shiitakes, ginger, scallions, and water chestnuts.

Sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch & white pepper.

Mix all ingredients (except carrots & sweet chili dipping sauce) together well with the ground pork.

Pour the rice in a colander and drain well.

Put the drained rice in a casserole dish and place next to the meatball mixture and a foil or plastic-lined baking sheet.

Scoop out 1 heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture and form into a meatball.

Roll the meatball in the rice to coat.

Put the pearl balls on a baking sheet and top with a small amount of the shredded carrot. Steam for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with Chinese sweet chili sauce and/or light soy sauce.


  1. Nom, nom, nom, Ar. So, need to go visit...

    1. Anytime, Angele - I'm always primed for a food fest!

  2. A dim sum place here in Sacramento serves a shrimp version of this I really like, but I can't find it ready-made in any of the numerous Asian grocery stores in town. Do you have a recipe for the shrimp version?

    1. That sounds delish, FelixAndAva. But, I've never had a shrimp version since it's traditionally made from ground pork. I'll ask my mom to see if she's aware of a different iteration of this dish. A very popular dim sum offering is Siu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings). In case I can't find anything about shrimp pearl balls, here's a link to my recipe for Siu Mai:

      Happy cooking!

  3. Making this for mom's birthday tomorrow!