Xiao Long Bao (Juicy Pork Dumplings)

If you have never had Chinese dumplings you really need to!!  You can get them filled with meat, vegetables or a combo of both so there’s something for everyone.  Thankfully, I live in an area where there are several places that I can get them, they even sell them frozen at the store.  Then there’s Din Tai Fung.  I cannot recommend enough, no really, it’s that good.

Unfortunately, it’s not always convenient or possible to head to the local dumpling joint to get my fill so I decided to try my hand at making them.  I’ve seen them made, and let me tell you, the skill these dumpling makers have is crazy ridiculous.  Their fingers work at lightning speed making all those pleats like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  It. Is. Not.  Even if you don’t have fast pleat making skill you can still produce a pretty good dumpling, it just won’t look like those pretty little purses of love from the restaurant.  Practice, practice, practice.

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When I looked up recipes I found them to all be fairly similar to each other.  I shied away from the ones that said to use premade dumpling wrappers because, though I’m a fan of those, I wanted these to be completely from scratch.  I won’t lie, these are a bit of work, but it’s broken down into steps.

I hope you have a bamboo steamer since these little lovelies need to be steamed.  If not, you could probably rig something up using a vegetable steamer or some other kind of pan that has holes to allow steam.  Get creative or get yourself a bamboo steamer…I recommend the latter.

For the Recipe:

BROTH

The broth is a combination of chicken and pork, this will be the “juicy” part of the dumpling.  You want to make sure it’s flavorful so be mindful when choosing your meats.  You want bones, fat, and meat that will cook over a couple hours so the result is a flavorful product.  I made a large batch so I would have extra broth for soup.  If you are going through all this work you might as well make the most of it, right?  Also note, you can substitute other pieces of pork or chicken other than what I used, just keep in mind you need to have bones, meat and fat.  I didn’t want to head to the Asian store to get pork neck bones so I substituted the pork blade steak, it’s fatty, has bones and meat so it worked great.  Also, one of the ingredients listed on ALL the recipes was Chinese cured ham, which is pretty much impossible to get here in the US, however, a Chinese company took over Smithfield and uses similar techniques when smoking these hams.  Some butchers sell chicken and pork bones (as well as other types) fairly inexpensively, so give that a try to cut down on the cost.  Next time I will plan ahead a little better and use a lot more bones, but I did this spur of the moment.   If you have no desire for extra stock you can definitely cut this recipe down, but if you are doing all this work why not

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  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 lb. pork fat/skin
  • 2 lbs. chicken wings
  • 1 lb. fatty ground pork
  • 1 lb. pound pork shoulder blade steak
  • 1/4 lb. Smithfield ham (if you cannot find, don’t fret but don’t substitute another ham)
  • 2 inch piece of ginger sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, just give them a little whack before tossing them in
  • 8 green onions, cut into thirds
  • 1/2 c. xiao xing wine
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 packet gelatin

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In a large stock pot add all ingredients EXCEPT the gelatin.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer for 2.5 hours.  When it’s done you will strain out all the solids, use a fine sieve to catch everything, you want a nice clear broth.  Take out 3 cups of the broth and put in a pot to cook down.  You want this to reduce about 1/3.  Taste the ending broth and adjust seasoning, you might need a little more soy sauce or xiao xing wine, but don’t make it too much, remember it’s going to go along with the pork that you will also be seasoning.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the reduced broth, mix well then refrigerate.  The leftover broth you can save and make an incredibly delicious soup.

FILLING

The filling is fairly straight forward and easy.  You of course could substitute ground chicken for the pork as well as leave out the shrimp if you are allergic.  I used salad shrimp, minced finely and it worked great.  I really wouldn’t buy the expensive shrimp for this, you are just mincing them up so 14/16’s would be a total waste… I’m a huge lover of ginger so I always add quite a bit of it, if you are not as big a fan you could definitely cut back the amount.

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  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 lb. shrimp, finely minced
  • 2 c. of the gelatin broth, stir, cut or however you want the gelatin into little 1/4″ pieces
  • 1/4 c. green onions, minced
  • 1 tbsp. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. xiao xing wine
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil (sesame oil can be strong, so if you are not sure of the flavor use only 1/2 tsp.)
  • 2 tsp. corn starch

In a bowl add all ingredients and mix well.  Let sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using.

DOUGH

The dough is three ingredients, yup, just three, however, you still need to follow a couple rules with this simple dough or it won’t be just right.  First, the water, it must be boiling when you use.  I researched why this was so important and it had to do with how the hot water acted with the gluten in the flour.  It was kind of like kicking it’s *ss and making it do what you want rather than what it wants… You are really going to beat this dough up, so maybe a good activity when you are annoyed or having a bad day.  Second, the sesame oil, don’t leave it out.  Water and flour are pretty bland ingredients and the addition of the sesame oil really gives the dough that little extra it needs.  If you have a small plastic rolling (like the kind you roll out fondant) that would be ideal, it will give you better control over the thickness of the dough.  I unfortunately only had a large rolling pin so it took a little extra effort to get the thickness right.  Very important, you want the center of the dough circles to be thicker than the outer part.  This extra thickness is needed to keep the dough from breaking which will then leak out all the glorious juice.  The thinner dough on the outer edges will also be a little easier to crimp and make pleats.  Unless you are doing this in an assembly line with a few people I would highly suggest not cutting all forty little balls at once.  I would do it in stages as you work through the dough.

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  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

In a bowl add the flour and make a well in the center.  Add the boiling water and sesame oil to the well then incorporate the ingredients using either chop sticks (my preferred method) or a spoon.  PLEASE REMEMBE YOU ADDED BOILING WATER AND IT WILL BE HOT!!!  Take caution when mixing, don’t use your hand for this initial part.  Don’t say you weren’t warned… Once everything has been mixed fairly well pour out onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed the dough for 4-5 minutes.  Add more flour as you kneed if needed.  When finished, the dough should be nice and smooth, now let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

To make the dumpling wrappers, using your hands roll the ball of dough into a two inch thick log (it will be about 10 inches long).  Cut this log into ten pieces.  Then take each of the ten pieces and roll them with your hands into little logs, cutting each one into 4 pieces.  This should result in 40 pieces.  Try to keep the pieces the same size.  Cover the little dough pieces with a lightly dampened cloth to prevent them from drying as you roll. Remember that little tip I gave you about not making all 40 little dough balls at once, again I would highly suggest it if you are not working with a few people.

Before you start rolling the dough into the wrappers prepare your work station so you don’t have to keep stopping.  Place a good handful of flour within reach so you can add as you need it.  Flour your work surface before you start rolling.  Roll each piece into about a 3-4 inch circle, making sure to keep the center a little thicker.  What I did was roll out the circle to the thickness I wanted the center, then finished it off by only rolling out the outside of the circle to reach the desired size.  This is where a smaller plastic rolling pin would have come in handy.  It’s much more difficult to do with a large one, lesson learned for next time.  As you make them do not stack them, they will stick together.  Instead, place them on a floured surface, if you need to overlap a little that is fine as long as you flour where they touch.  Keep covered with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.

ASSEMBLY

If you can get people to help you with this and do an assembly line I highly suggest it.  But if not, it can still be done.  Get out the filling and a small spoon to use, should be close to about one tablespoon.  Take one of the wrappers, make a “C” out of the hand you want to hold the dumpling, lay the wrapper over your “C” with the center in the middle of the “C”.  Place a spoonful of the filling in the center, you should still have a nice overlap of dough to make the pleats, but not so much that you didn’t use enough filling.  You will quickly be able to tell the correct amount for your size dumplings after you make a couple and see how the pleats work.  With the overlap you want to make the pleats.  The dumpling master can do this with one hand in about 5 seconds per dumpling, I however cannot.  Take your thumb and forefinger and pinch the top into little pleats, closing up the dumpling.  I found it helpful to rotate the dumpling as I crimped.  You could also place the dumping on your work surface and try that way.  You will need to do a few to see what works best for you.  Don’t get too frustrated if they don’t look like the perfect little treasures you’ve seen in the restaurants, remember, those people have been doing it for years!

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Just make sure you seal the top completely, sometimes that meant I just gave it an extra pinch at the top, but it worked.  As you complete place on a lightly floured surface (or container) and cover with a damp cloth.  Do not lay on top of each other, keep a single layer.

TO STEAM

I have a bamboo steamer, so that will be the directions I give.  Using a wok, fill it with enough water to get a good steam going but not actually touch the steamer.  Either use nappa cabbage leaves or parchment paper rounds with holes to allow the steam to get through to line the bamboo steamer bottom.

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Place the dumplings on top of the paper/cabbage, not allowing them to touch, cover and steam for 6-8 minutes.

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When they are cooked they will be incredibly hot!!  Don’t just stuff one in your mouth unless you want to burn the heck out of it, rather, give them a few minutes to cool, then enjoy.

DIPPING SAUCE

  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely julienned
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Mix together and let sit for a few minutes so the ginger can flavor the sauce.

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