Sticky Rice With Chinese Pearl Meatballs

As the Chinese New Year approaches, it’s time to prepare the finest and most magnificent Chinese cuisine for a feast fit for a king. We’re having zhēn zhū wán zi (珍珠丸子), or pearl meatballs with sticky rice, for New Year’s Eve.

These Pearl Meatballs are a specialty from the Hunan/Hubei region of China and are typically served on special occasions. They are common attendees at Chinese New Year and birthday banquets.

The meatballs are given the moniker “Pearl Meatballs” because, when viewed through a microscope, they resemble enormous pearls. The short grain sticky rice used to encase the meatball gives it a glossy appearance. Some variations of the recipe calls for using mild soy sauce in the rice, but then the meatballs lose their pearly sheen when they come out of the steamer.

HOLIDAY COOKING TIPS: These Pearl Meatballs look fancy but are surprisingly simple to make. Smooth meatballs are the result.

Lining the steamer with parchment paper, bamboo leaves, or napa cabbage leaves will help keep the meatballs from sticking. Broken pearls can be found in the rice that falls off the meatballs. Not looking good for the coming year. I took advantage of the aromatic bamboo leaves I had on hand.

The Pearl Meatballs are a beautiful and delicious addition to any Chinese New Year dinner.


  • 1 pound of hand-chopped ground pork (with 20% fat)
  • 6 dried bamboo leaves
  • ¾ cup of glutinous rice
  • ⅓ cup of minced water chestnuts
  • 3 tablespoons of minced scallions (only the white parts)
  • 3 tablespoons of cold water
  • 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
  • ½ tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons of minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground white pepper


  1. The bamboo leaves should be soaked initially by soaking them in water and then pressing down on them with a heavy plate. This can be done the night before.
  2. In a bowl, cover the glutinous rice with at least an inch of water and let it soak for at least two hours. You may have the meat filling ready while the rice is soaking.
  3. Bring in roughly 13 ounces of pork lean and 3 ounces of pig fat. To use pre-packaged ground pork, just ensure it’s at least 80% lean. Ground pork, water chestnuts, ginger, scallions, water, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch, white pepper, sesame oil, sea salt, and sugar are combined in a big dish.
  4. Mix thoroughly, beating in *one* direction for at least 5 minutes, until the filling is light and sticky. Marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge, covered.
  5. Get the steamer ready while the meat is marinating. Prepare the bamboo leaves for use in the steamer by cleaning and trimming them.
  6. After 2 hours, drain the sticky rice and give it a good shake to get rid of the excess water.
  7. After the allotted 30 minutes, take the meat filling out of the refrigerator. It’s time to start crafting those pearls! Form a ball out of the meat filling (about a tablespoon’s worth), then roll it around in the sticky rice until it’s completely covered. Gently rolling it between your palms will help the sticky rice cling to the meatball.
  8. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer on the bamboo leaf, leaving about half an inch between each.
  9. Begin by filling the steamer with cold water and covering it. Twenty minutes of steaming time at high heat. After steaming, remove the pot from the heat and allow the meatballs to rest for three more minutes with the lid on before serving.
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