Grandma’s ‘lionhead’ meatballs

Grandma’s ‘lionhead’ meatballs

Chinese Unchopped
45 mins
Cooking time
60 mins
Martin Poole

There are some things we miss dearly from the days when Grandma Pang was alive, most of them (as tends to be the case with our family) food-related. These See Ji Tau, or ‘lionhead’ meatballs, with their unique texture and comforting flavours, are one of her stand-out dishes. Grandma only ever made them in massive quantities – it was as though, when cooking them, she couldn’t quite figure out when to stop, worried someone might be a bit hungrier than she had planned. Whatever the reason, this warming, winter one-pot-wonder is something I recommend cooking enough for everyone to have at least seconds, if not thirds.


Quantity Ingredient
a thumb-size piece ginger
2 spring onions
100g water chestnuts
100g prawns, peeled and deveined, (see note)
250g white crabmeat
200g pork mince
vegetable oil, for frying

The marinade

Quantity Ingredient
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons cornflour

The sauce

Quantity Ingredient
a thumb-size piece ginger, finely sliced
1 chinese leaf cabbage, cut into 3cm squares
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
300ml chicken stock
a large handful coriander, roughly chopped


  1. Finely dice the ginger, spring onions, water chestnuts and prawns and put them in a large bowl. Add the crab meat, pork mince and all the marinade ingredients and mix together to form a smooth paste.
  2. Fill a bowl with cold water. Dip the palms of your hands into the water, then pick up and roll a portion of the meatball mix into ping pong sized balls. Repeat until all the mix has been used, placing the meatballs on a large cold plate once rolled.
  3. Half-fill a large pot, wok or deep-fryer with vegetable oil and heat to 180°C, or until the tip of a wooden chopstick or skewer starts to fizz after a second or so in the oil. Deep-fry the meatballs in batches for 4 minutes until golden brown, then remove from the oil and leave to drain on kitchen towel.
  4. While the meatballs are draining, make the sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a separate saucepan over a medium heat. Add the ginger and the Chinese leaf and fry for 2–3 minutes, then add the oyster sauce and stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer, carefully lower the meatballs into the sauce and leave to cook, covered, for 30–40 minutes until the sauce has thickened by half. Spoon the meatballs and sauce into bowls and serve with steamed rice.


  • To devein a prawn, use a small, sharp knife to make a slit along the middle of the back to expose the dark vein, then pull it out. Alternatively insert a toothpick roughly three-quarters of the way up the back of the prawn and pull the vein up and out of the prawn.


  • The traditional way to beat the meatball mix is to use a cupped hand to scoop the mix from the bowl (holding the bowl tight to the work top with the other, clean hand) and then throw it back into the bowl. This not only tenderises the meat, but will also push any air out of the mix, giving the meatballs a smooth texture.
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