Pearl Balls are a Chinese party tradition. Traditionally served during the Lunar New Year, these jeweled little meatballs are almost as fun to make as they are to eat! This is a great recipe to involve little hands in; they love rolling the meatballs in the rice. There are all kinds of variations, from vegan to seafood, but this one with a flavorful pork stuffing is my favorite.
Pearl Balls are quick to make, but the rice needs to soak overnight so plan ahead. Sticky rice, also called sweet or glutinous rice is traditional for these, and their pearly shine is how this dish got its name. Sticky rice also makes a nice chewy contrast to the meaty and crunchy stuffing inside.
Then it’s time to make the filling. As rice is something of a blank canvas, it’s important to have a highly seasoned and flavorful filling. I choose full fat pork for extra richness, and water chestnuts for a pleasant crunch. (I use the canned ones for convenience.) Scallions, Shaoxing wine, and oyster sauce fill this with extra umami goodness.
This next part is a perfect way to involve kids in the kitchen!
Now it’s time to steam the pearl balls. You can use a double boiler, or a steam insert or basket. Just be sure to line it with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel so no bits fall through.
Steam the pearl balls for about 18-20 minutes. The rice should like translucent and shiny. Then it’s time to serve these little balls of delight! Pile them on a platter and dig in.
Pearl Balls are a fun and festive party treat and they should be served with equally festive recipes:
Try these for at your next holiday gathering and let me know what you think by commenting below, rating the recipe, and tagging us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
- Prep Time: 15 minutes (plus soaking time)
- Cook Time: 20 Minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: makes 24 rice balls 1x
- Category: small plates
- Cuisine: Chinese
- 1 cup sweet glutinous rice
- 1 pound ground pork (use one with a higher fat content)
- 2 scallions minced
- 1 large egg
- 6 water chestnuts (I used canned)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Soak the sweet rice overnight in a bowl of water. (Make sure you have triple the amount of water as the rice will expand as it soaks in the water). Drain and set aside.
- Peel the water chestnuts with a knife (if using fresh) and then chop them fine. Put the chestnuts in a bowl and add the ground pork, scallions, egg, garlic, shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, salt, and ground pepper.
- Aggressively mix to combine, slapping the meat around in the bowl until the texture changes and becomes kind of pasty and sticky.
- Use a 1 ½ Tablespoon scoop and portion out the filling. You will yield approximately 24 pieces.
- Then roll the meat balls gently on the rice, trying to get every part covered with the rice.
- Set up a double boiler or a steamer insert for your pearl balls. Lay a piece of cheesecloth, paper towel, or a dumpling cloth over the steamer insert so no bits can fall through the holes.
- Set the pearl balls on a piece of cheesecloth or dumpling cloth (as many as can comfortably fit without touching).
- Bring the pot of water to a boil on high heat. When the water starts boiling, place the steamer insert on top of the boiling water and cover with a lid. Steam for 18-20 minutes until the pork is cooked through and the rice is translucent and shiny.
- Continue steaming pearl balls in the same way until they are all cooked. Serve immediately.
*Because the pearl balls take a while to cook, it is a good idea to cook a batch and get another batch going before serving. This way you have some hot and ready to eat while more are cooking.
*Leftovers can be stored for several days in the fridge. Gently microwave for a couple of minutes with a damp paper towel on top.
Keywords: pearl balls, rice balls, holiday, pork,