Stuffed Chinese Fried Gluten Balls

Today, we have a particularly special recipe: Stuffed Fried Gluten Balls. Ok, so it may not be the best sounding recipe in English, but rest-assured, this one is absolutely delicious. The whole family thought so! 

The balls’ round shape also represents family unity and completeness, which makes this a great new dish for your Chinese New Year feast.

What Are Chinese Fried Gluten Balls?

Chinese fried gluten balls (油面筋, yóu miànjīn) are delicate, golden balls of wheat gluten (the same thing seitan is made out of). They’re about 4-5 cm in diameter, fried and crispy. They’re smooth on the outside, but brittle, crispy and airy on the inside. When cooked, they have an almost meaty flavor and chewy texture, similar to tofu skin. They can be stir-fried or braised. 

Gluten balls are available at Chinese grocery stores, and you may be surprised just how light they are when you pick them up. 

If using them for a stir-fry, they must be soaked beforehand. But if, as in this dish, they’re braised/stewed, there’s no pre-soaking required! 

Inside of a fried gluten ball, thewoksoflife.comInside of a fried gluten ball,

More About The Dish

The name of this dish in Chinese is 油面筋塞肉 (yóu miànjīn sāi ròu), which translates to: “fried gluten balls stuffed with meat.” Indeed, the recipe involves mixing together a flavorful meat & mushroom filling, carefully stuffing it into the fried gluten balls, and then braising them in a tasty sauce. 

Growing up, these were always a special treat on holidays. It’s also not a familiar dish to most people, as it is usually only seen in home kitchens and rarely available in restaurants. The stuffing process requires love and patience, which makes it a very special home-cooked dish. 

Picking up a braised stuffed gluten ball with chopsticks, thewoksoflife.comPicking up a braised stuffed gluten ball with chopsticks,

Of course, it’s also incredibly tasty. The flavor of the crispy fried gluten mingles with the richness of the pork filling and umami flavor of shiitake mushrooms. We loved testing and eating this recipe, including Sarah’s beau Justin, for whom this is a new favorite. 

Recipe Tips

Before moving onto the recipe, a few quick tips: 

  • You will have to stuff the balls twice, because after the first go-round, the moisture from the filling inside will break down the dry inside of the ball and create more room. So while it may seem like you have too much filling, you can actually make it! 
  • Just be sure not to over-stuff, as the texture of the filling will become more dense, rather than juicy/fluffy. 
  • Chopsticks are the best tool for stuffing these! A spoon is too big to stuff the filling through the small opening in each ball. 

Stuffed Chinese Fried Gluten Balls: Recipe Instructions

Finely chop the mushrooms.

Chopped shiitake mushrooms, thewoksoflife.comChopped shiitake mushrooms,

Also mince the ginger and finely chop the scallions, separating the green and white parts.

Finely chopped scallions, thewoksoflife.comFinely chopped scallions,

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over medium heat. Cook the shiitake mushrooms until caramelized, about 4-5 minutes (don’t stir too often; give the mushrooms a chance to caramelize). Don’t overcook the mushrooms, or they’ll turn dry. Set aside and cool completely.

Cooking chopped mushrooms in wok, thewoksoflife.comCooking chopped mushrooms in wok,

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground pork, chopped scallion whites, minced ginger, Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper. Mix it all together, and whip everything in one direction for 5 minutes. While you’re whipping the filling, add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the filling becomes a thick paste, with no standing liquid.

Mixing Chinese meat filling, thewoksoflife.comMixing Chinese meat filling,

Add the cooled shiitake mushrooms, and keep stirring in one direction for another 3 minutes.

Meat filling with added cooked shiitake mushrooms, thewoksoflife.comMeat filling with added cooked shiitake mushrooms,

Take each gluten ball, and use a chopstick to poke a hole at a thin/soft spot without penetrating through to the other side. With care, use two chopsticks in a turning motion to make the opening bigger, about 3/8” in diameter and no more than ½”. Use the chopsticks to gently deconstruct the inner “structure” of the gluten ball to make room for the filling, while keeping it intact.  

Stuff the gluten ball with the filling a little at a time until there is no more room, all the while keeping the gluten ball whole. Repeat until you’ve stuffed them all. This step definitely takes patience and care! 

Stuffing fried gluten ball with filling, thewoksoflife.comStuffing fried gluten ball with filling,

At this point, you’ll have filling left over. However, by now, the filling already inside the gluten balls will have moistened and further broken down the inner structure, creating space for more filling.

So repeat the above step and stuff more filling into each ball. You should be able to divide and use up all the filling.

If not, pan-fry any remaining filling in a meat patty for a little snack. An under-stuffed gluten ball will not be as round after cooking, but there’s no harm done! 

Stuffed fried gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comStuffed fried gluten balls,

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over low heat. Add the rock sugar, ginger and scallions, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar has melted and the aromatics are fragrant.  

Rock sugar, ginger, and scallions in wok, thewoksoflife.comRock sugar, ginger, and scallions in wok,

Add the Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, 1 star anise, and 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium. 

Making sauce to braise gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comMaking sauce to braise gluten balls,

Add the stuffed gluten balls, with the openings facing down.

Adding stuffed gluten balls to braising liquid, thewoksoflife.comAdding stuffed gluten balls to braising liquid,

Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to medium low.

Stuffed fried gluten balls added to braising liquid, thewoksoflife.comStuffed fried gluten balls added to braising liquid,

Simmer for 10 minutes, carefully flipping the gluten balls halfway through the simmering process to ensure they’re cooked evenly.

After 10 minutes, flip the gluten balls so the openings face down once again.

Braising gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comBraising gluten balls,

Turn up the heat to reduce the sauce. Once the sauce has become a thin gravy (you should have about 3/4 cup of sauce left in the wok), turn off the heat.

Reducing sauce for braised gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comReducing sauce for braised gluten balls,

Serve, and garnish with the green parts of the scallions you reserved. 

Chinese stuffed fried gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comChinese stuffed fried gluten balls,

Chinese stuffed fried gluten balls, thewoksoflife.comChinese stuffed fried gluten balls,


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