Chicken Lionhead Meatball Soup

I’m so tired, you guys. I really am.

I must confess: blog testing has gone a bit to the wayside recently. After experiencing a string of failures for recipes that I was sure were going to work, I got a little discouraged. Then the weather got colder, and it just became so much easier to wrap myself up in a blanket burrito and knit while watching the newest season of the Great British Bake Off than do anything new in the kitchen.

That being said, sometimes when you don’t succeed in looking for something new, you’re bound to realize how good some old things you already have are. This recipe is something I make every year when the rainy season arrives in Portland, and if I could describe this soup in one word, it would be cozy. It’s one of our favorites, and to be honest, I can’t believe I forgot about recording it until now.

This soup is a variation on a classic Shanghainese soup by the same name: lionhead. The name comes from the size of the meatballs, which are too large to be eaten in one bite, and when picked up with noodles out of the soup, it’s said to look like a lion’s mane. The meatballs are traditionally made with pork, beef, or some combination of the two, but we tend to prefer chicken, so I adapted the recipe. With the protein change, I tweaked the aromatics to respond more to the flavor of chicken—So. Much. Ginger.—and the soup also turns out a bit leaner as a result. If you make this, I hope that it turns out just as warm and comforting for you as it does for us.


Chicken Lionhead Meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground chicken

  • 1 egg

  • 2 Tbs light soy sauce

  • ½ Tbs sesame oil

  • 2 inch nub of fresh ginger, minced

  • 3–4 cloves of garlic, minced

  • ½ tsp salt

  • 1 Tbs cornstarch

  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs

  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced

Lionhead Broth:

  • 6 cups chicken broth, homemade preferred

  • ⅓ cup xiaoxing wine

  • 3 Tbs light soy sauce

  • 1 Tbs sugar

  • Salt to taste

  • 8 baby bok choy, halved

  • 8 oz dried noodles of choice

Note: We tend to like cellophane noodles (glass noodles) or rice noodles for this soup, but if you have a different preference, there’s nothing stopping you from using those. Our only recommendation is that the noodles be thin or vermicelli and that you allot about 2 oz per serving.


  • Finely sliced green onion

  • Chili oil

  • Sesame Oil

  • Soy sauce

Make the meatball mixture by combining the egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, salt, cornstarch, panko bread crumbs, and green onion in a bowl and mix until everything is thoroughly integrated. Add the ground chicken to the mixture and mix until everything is completely homogenous. Set aside and let the mixture rest for about half an hour so that the binders can activate a bit and the flavors meld.

Making this meatball mixture can also be done way ahead of time, in fact I’d recommend that you do so that the flavors in the meatballs intensify; that, and it’s nice to eliminate a step for later when you’re ready to cook.

Once the mixture has rested and thickened up, form it into 12 meatballs (3 per serving). Keep in mind that this meatball mixture is going to be very loose. Keeping your hands wet will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands while you form the ball. They will fall flat a bit while they rest, but don’t worry; you can fix that a bit later. I like to weigh them for uniformity, and for this recipe each meatball tends to be around 50–52 grams each. Set aside the shaped meatballs.

Rehydrate your dried noodles in boiling water. Be sure to check on them and fish them out of the water when they are al dente, and keep them ready to serve in cold water so that they don’t cook anymore or stick together.

Make the soup base by adding the chicken broth, xiaoxing wine, soy sauce, and sugar to a medium sized soup pot that has a lid, then bring it to a boil. Once the broth reaches a boil, bring the heat down to medium and very gently plop—yes, plop—each raw meatball into the bubbling broth.

You might need to re-form the meatballs a little bit before moving them to the broth to make sure that they come out nice and round, so keep your hands wet during this process.

Once all your meatballs are in, cover the pot with a lid and let them simmer for 10 minutes. At the 8 minute mark, remove the lid and add all of the halved bok choy to the pot, then put the lid back on and allow everything to cook for two more minutes, or until the bok choy are bright green and cooked through.

Strain out the meatballs and the bok choy, then divide them evenly in four bowls (3 meatballs, 4 halves of bok choy) along with your noodles. Taste the broth and add salt to taste, then portion it into the four bowls and serve. Garnish the soup with a little more green onion, as well as some chili oil and sesame oil if you have it.

Serves 4.


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