Pearl meatballs in glutinous rice (珍珠丸子) is a signature dish from Hui Cuisine (徽菜), one of the eight prominent regional cuisines in China. Originated in the Yellow Mountain region, Hui Cuisine employs relatively simple methods of preparation, such as stewing and steaming, reflecting it peasant origins. It emphasizes on creating light and subtle dishes that highlight the natural flavors of the ingredients. This meatball dish, together with “Stewed quail with Chinese yam” which I posted previously, exemplifies the essence of Hui Cuisine.
Making this dish is quite straightforward: shape the meatballs, roll them in glutinous rice, and steam. During steaming, the rice absorbs the flavorful juice released from the meatballs and turns into a pearl-white rice coating. To get the best results, follow these tips:
- Presoak the glutinous rice for at least 8 hours. The rice grains should be soft enough that they can be easily broken when pressed with fingers.
- Incorporate sufficient water into your meatball mixture, to ensure both the meatballs and rice are moist when cooked.
- Brush the finishing sauce over the rice to create a luminous sheen.
Steamed pearl meatballs in glutinous rice
Makes 2 servings
5 oz (140 g) glutinous rice, soaked in cold water for at least 8 hours
9 oz (255 g) ground pork
Small bunch of scallions
1-inch ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground white pepper
For the sauce:
¼ cup chicken stock
¼ teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch mixed with ½ teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Thinly slice the green portion of a scallion and reserve for garnish. Cut the rest of the scallions into 1-inch pieces and place them with the ginger and 100 ml water in a bowl. Squeeze the scallions and ginger by hand to release their juices. Soak for 15 minutes and strain the water.
- In a large bowl, add 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon sugar, a few grinds of white pepper, and a quarter of the scallion-ginger soaking water to the ground pork. Gently stir the mixture clockwise with hand. Continue for 4-5 minutes while gradually adding the remaining water. Gather the meat paste and throw against the bottom of the bowl several times to check whether it has reached elastic consistency. The paste should feel like a wet dough. If too thick, add a bit more water. Check the seasoning by cooking a teaspoon of the mixture in a microwave oven, and adjust as needed. Chill the meat, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Drain the soaked rice well and transfer to a plate.
- To make the meatballs: form 1 tablespoon of meat mixture into a ball of about 1 1/4-inch (4 cm) diameter. Gently roll the ball in rice to fully coat and press rice onto meat. Repeat with the remaining meat and rice. You will have about 18-20 balls.
- Place the balls on a plate that fits into a steamer, or two plates into a two-layer steamer. Make sure they are evenly spaced without touching each other. Steam for 30 to 45 minutes, until the meatballs are fully cooked and the rice is soft and moist.
- To make the sauce: heat the chicken stock in a small pan over medium-low heat. Bring it to a gentle boil, and season with salt and pepper. Add the potato starch slurry, and stir for a few seconds until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Turn off the heat, and mix in the oil.
- Transfer the meatballs to a serving dish, brush the sauce over the rice, and garnish with sliced scallions. Serve immediately.
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