Yangzhou Lion’s Head Meatballs

Chinese Lion's Head Meatballs

Yangzhou Lion’s Head Meatballs

This dish comes from  Yangzhou, in the Yangtze River delta. The dish’s name comes from the fact that the meatballs resemble the head of a lion, and the accompanying green vegetables resemble the king of the jungle’s mane.

I love this dish – it’s one of the first dishes I look for on a restaurant’s menu.

Yangzhou Lion's Head Meatballs



  • 850g minced pork
  • 3 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 hot bird’s eye chilli, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sake – see Notes
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • coconut flour
  • coconut oil


  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 2 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 hot bird’s eye chilli, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp sake – see Notes
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce – see Notes
  • 1 heaped tsp 5 spice powder
  • 3 heaped tsp Tianjin preserved vegetable
  • 3 L water


  • Romaine / Cos lettuce leaves – see Notes
  • Tapioca flour


Make the stock.

  • Place all of the ingredients for the stock into a large stock pot. Bring up to a boil, and then drop down to a low simmer. Simmer covered for around 30 minutes or so.

Make the meatballs.

  • Place the spring onions, garlic, chilli, and ginger, into a food processor, and pulse until very finely chopped. Place the minced pork into a large mixing bowl with the chopped vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add the sake, and mix well. Allow to stand for about 15 minutes, in order to give the flavours time to develop.
  • Add the beaten egg, and mix well again by hand. Cover the bottom of a small dish with coconut flour, breaking up any small lumps with a fork. With wet hands, take enough of the meat mixture to form a ball that should just nestle in the palm of your hand, slightly bigger than a golf ball, but not as large as a tennis ball. Roll this ball in coconut flour, shaking off any excess. Repeat for the rest of the meat mixture. For 850g of minced pork, you should get 12 meatballs.
  • We’re now going to quickly shallow fry the meatballs in a little coconut oil in a large non-stick frying pan, simply in order to fix their shape – they’ll finish cooking in the stock. Heat up about 2 tbsp of coconut oil over medium heat, and fry the meatball until they just get a little colour, turning them once or twice. This should take no more than 5 minutes or so. In order to avoid crowding the pan, fry the meatballs in batches.

Finishing off.

  • Place the meatballs in the stock. Poach them on a very low simmer for about 45 minutes.
  • Take a couple of large ladlefuls of stock, and place in a small saucepan. Place about half a cup of water in a small bowl. Stir in a teaspoon of tapioca flour. To make the sauce add the water and tapioca to the stock and heat gently, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens to your liking. Set aside.
  • Line your serving dish with romaine / cos salad leaves. Place the meatballs on the leaves, and dress with the sauce prepared from the thickened stock. Serve, together with a simple medley of stir fried vegetables, egg fried cauliflower rice, or courgette / zucchini noodles.


Traditionally, this recipe requires you to cook Chinese cabbage leaves in the stock along with the meatballs themselves. Our local supermarket, unsurprisingly, had run out of Chinese cabbage, and so I used raw romaine / cos salad leaves as a next-best alternative.

Depending on your own personal Paleo preferences, you may not want to use the sake. If you don’t, simply leave it out of the stock, and substitute 2 tbsp water for it in the meatball mixture.

To make the dish truly Paleo, get hold of fish sauce that contains fish, water, and salt. You’re probably best looking in an Asian store for genuine Thai fish sauce, although if you’re in Britain Tesco’s own fish sauce fits the bill. I currently use Thanh Ha Phu Quoc.

Yangzhou Lion's Head Meatballs

Yangzhou Lion’s Head Meatballs


One thought on “Yangzhou Lion’s Head Meatballs

  1. Pingback: Paleo Kung Pao Chicken | PALEOVIRTUS

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