In China, one of the key new year celebration is the family feast at New Year’s eve. In fact, those new year feast could go all the way from day 1 to the next full moon, which is 15th day after the new year’s day. Been a child, one of the reason we are looking forward to the new year is you can eat all these yummy food that mum normally wouldn’t cook. Those dishes usually have special meanings, good wishes for the upcoming year, and of course they all taste really good!
I have been away from China for many years. New year celebration seems become a bit like going through the motions because you are thousand miles away from home. Therefore, I always try to cook some special new year dishes that can bring back some of the memory from the good old days.
So I’ve decided to make a Chinese New year series to introduce some special dishes. Let’s start with an easy one - Pearl meatball. They’re basically steamed pork meatballs, covered in sticky rice. The hot steam cooks the glutinous rice with moist while helping the rice to absolve all the rich flavoured meat juice. You can smell the beautiful rice and spiced meat flavour coming out of the steamer while being cooked. it’s just mouthwatering. Once completed, the glutinous rice is soaked with full of meat juice and translucent… rich and gooey. Those cooked meatballs looks like big shinning pearls on the new year’s dinner table, it means all family members will stick together with a healthy and happy new year ahead.
Other than a bit of chopping, the rest of the cooking process for this dish is pretty simple. You can also use a food processor to simplify it. The key for this dish is mixing the pork mince. This is where all the flavour comes from. I’ve inherited my mum’s version which contains lots of my childhood memory about mummy’s cooking. There is a secret ingredient my mum loves to use to make any meat dishes. It gives the meat a very special spice flavour which you wouldn’t have it in any other versions. It also helps to remove any smells from the meat so it works well with beef, lamb or fish dishes as well.
Here is the secret ingredient, it’s called Sichuan pepper(花椒). This tiny little pepper has incredible power to influence the flavour in cooking. It’s a very common and popular spice used in Sichuan style dish, if you love hot spicy food, you probably already know this pepper well. it has nothing to do with black pepper so don’t try to substitute it with black pepper, they don’t taste similar at all. Sichuan Pepper can be found in every Asian grocery store, you only need a little bit every time. Here is the wiki page if anyone interested to learn more.
- Prep Time: 5 mins + 15 mins
- Waiting Time: 8 hours
- Cooking Time: 15 mins
- Make: 20 - 25 meatballs
- 1 cup Glutinous Rice (soak in cold water for minimum 8 hours)
- 400g pork mince
- 1 teaspoon finely grind fresh ginger
- 1 spring onion – finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine
- 1 teaspoon 5 spices powder
- 1 egg
1 tablespoon Sichuan Pepper soak in 200ml boiling hot water
(you will only need around 3-4 tablespoons pepper flavoured water for cooking)
1 tablespoon Corn flour
100g Lotus root (can be substitute with water chestnut if you can’t get lotus root)
- 1 tablespoon dry goji fruit soak in warm water
Prepare the glutinous rice (Part A) ahead of time, it needs to be soaked in cold water for minimum 8 hours or up to 1 day. This is to make sure the rice can be easily cooked at the same time as the meatball.
Drain the soaked rice and set aside.
Pour all ingredients from part C into the pork mince (Part B) in a large bowl. Then start mix it, make sure you keep stirring in one direction until all well combined.
Add 2 tablespoons of Sichuan pepper flavoured water at a time into the mixture and continue to stir in the same direction until all water absolved. Then add another 2 tablespoons, lotus root and corn flour continue to stir for at least another 2 minutes. The longer you mix it the more tender the meat ball will be.
Pour a layer of well drained glutinous rice in a flat plate. Use a spoon to make a meat ball in your hand then roll it in the glutinous rice in circle to make sure it is nicely coated. Repeat the process for the remaining mixture until finish.
Lay the meatballs carefully into the steamer 2cm apart. You can use any kind of steamers, bamboo steamer or electronic steam. Steam for 12-15mins until the rice cooked and looks clear and shinning.
Put a soaked goji fruit on top of each meatball and covered the steamer to rest for another 5 minutes. Then it’s ready to serve.
- These meatballs already have very rich flavour so you don’t need any dipping sauce.
- You can use food processor to cut spring onions and ginger, but I do not recommend using food processors to mix the pork mince.
- Lotus root helps to add a bit crunchiness texture into the meatball, if you can’t find it in Asian grocery shops, it can be substituted with the canned water chestnut. However, please make sure you wash and drain it well to remove any excessive water.
- You could use chopped spring onion or coriander instead of goji fruit for decoration as well.
- You can store the leftover cooked meatball in airtight container in fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat in steamer for 10 mins to serve.