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What Is a Pork Ball?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2016
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The Chinese pork ball is popular individually as a bite-size dim sum item or as the star of several Asian soups or noodle dishes. The balls are often pale white in color, which is the result of colorless additions to the white-meat pork like egg whites, ginger, corn starch, salt, white pepper and occasionally a minced seafood like shrimp. After being made into balls, the meat is either steamed or boiled in a largely colorless stock of water, rice wine and perhaps green onions and coriander.

The pork ball has risen to such fame in China that one Taiwanese city, Hsinchu, holds an annual festival to celebrate the dish in and around its Chenghuang Temple at the end of September. The recipe, called gongwan tang, serves up the balls in the broth they were boiled in. These balls are simple concoctions of ground pork, cornstarch, eggs, sliced ginger, salt and pepper. They are formed into into golf-ball-size portions and dropped into a boiling broth of water, rice wine, salt and pepper. Once floating, the balls and broth are served with a garnishing of sesame oil and chopped cilantro, which are the leaves of the coriander plant.

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In addition to the pig, some chefs add an element of seafood to a pork ball to achieve what is known in Asian culinary circles as umami, a storied fifth flavor element besides sweet, sour, bitter and salty. This is accomplished by adding minced shrimp, prawns or even cuttlefish to the ground pork as well as additional seasonings like soy, fish or oyster sauce, in addition to the egg, cornstarch and ginger.

Before forming each pork ball, cooks will fully blend the meatball ingredients and let them sit in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This makes the mixture fully malleable and able to withstand a hot boiling without breaking apart. Once formed, the balls can be placed in steamer baskets and cooked over boiling water or merely dropped in a simple stock of water, wine and perhaps sliced ginger. The process will imbue the stock with a meaty flavor and allow the chef to serve the pork balls doused in its own broth.

A regular accompaniment for the pork ball is Asian noodles. Rice or egg noodles add carbohydrates to the dish, while absorbing the flavor of the pork-tinged stock. Yet another variation involves adding seafood to the broth alongside the pork balls, not inside them.

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