How to make classic Chinese cockle meatballs

Shanghai cockle meatballs recipe
Shanghai cockle meatballs recipe. Liv Wan
  • Total: 25 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Soak Cockles for: 3 hrs
  • Yield: 14 meatballs (14 servings)

Cockle Meatballs” is one of my favourite dishes from the time I lived in Shanghai. One of the restaurants my family and I visited very often in Shanghai served this dish. I liked this dish but I often feel the proper Shanghainese version of this dish is a bit too sweet for most people’s taste buds. So in my recipe I turned down the amount of sugar used but of course you can adjust this to suit your personal taste.

In the traditional recipe for the meatballs clams are used and not cockles. However I struggled to find clams this time so I used fresh cockles instead. You can use either cockles or clams but just be aware cockles are a little bit salty so I would use less salt or soy sauce in the meatball mixture if you decide to use cockles instead of clams. One thing I wouldn’t replace the cockles or clams with is mussels as the shape and taste of mussels just simply won’t be a good match with the meatballs.

I tend to soak clams, mussels, cockles and shellfish in general in clean cold water for at least 3-4 hours as the shells of these shellfish are usually full of sand. I would really eat the seafood as soon as possible but if you have to store it remember to refrigerate in a bowl under a wet cloth or tea towel and use within 24 hours.

You can blanch some green vegetables such as bok choy, kale, Kai lan and snow pea shoots as garnish and you put the blanched green vegetables on the serving plate and place meatballs on top. This will make the dish look really pretty but it will also be full of nutrition and also make the dish taste a bit less rich and heavy.

This recipe can make around 14 cockle meatballs. I didn’t make the meatballs really big like Italian meatballs or Lion Head meatballs so with 250g of pork mince I can make around 14 meatballs. Another cooking tip is to shop for 30% fat pork or beef mince if you are considering making any kind of Chinese meatballs or even dumpling fillings or similar dishes. Higher fat meat always tastes better and vastly improves the texture of these dishes. In the past I have used 5%, 10% and 20% fat pork mince to make both this dish and dumplings and they turned out really hard, chewy and lacked a lot of flavour.


  • Ingredients:
  • 14 cockles (remove but keep the shell as we need to stuff the meatballs in them)
  • 250 g pork mince (you can also use beef mince)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (chopped finely)
  • 1 tablespoon spring onion (chopped finely)
  • 1 egg white
  • Seasonings:
  • 1 teaspoon potato starch (or corn flour)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (demerara or caster)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (ground)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Ingredients for the Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 150 ml stock (vegetable stock or chicken stock)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce (or thick soy sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 2 tablespoons of water (mixed with the potato starch, this is potato starch water, we usually use this to thicken the sauce or soup in Chinese or Taiwanese cuisine.)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Leave the cockles to soak in clean cold water for 3-4 hours to get rid of any dirt.

  3. Pick the cockle meat out. Keep both meat and shells.

  4. Mix the mince, ginger, spring onions, egg white and all the seasonings in a big bowl. Use your hand to mix evenly in the same direction for 3-5 minutes.

  5. Chop the cockles up and mix with step 3.

  6. Roll the mixture into small balls and put back into the cockle shells

  7. Steam the meatballs for 7-9 minutes until the meat is cooked all the way through.

  8. Pour the oyster sauce or thick soy sauce, sugar and stock into a small saucepan and boil at first then reduce down the liquid to about half the original amount. Gently stir the potato starch water into the sauce and keep the stove at a low heat. Keep stirring while cooking and turn off the fire after the sauce has started to boil.

  9. Place the cockle meatballs on a plate and pour the sauce on it. The dish is ready to serve.