Thursday, July 13, 2017

X is for: Xiao Long Bao {easy Shanghai Soup Dumpings}

Whenever I explain to people the concept of my alphabet-themed food blog, one question that inevitably comes up:

"What do you do when you get to 'X'?"

I'll admit, I didn't exactly think it through when I launched the blog, obviously not accounting for difficult letters like "X," or having to go through the alphabet multiple times and deal with it on each pass.

(Confession: sometimes I skip it altogether.)

But it's also produced some of my prouder moments, like: Xacuti (a spicy Indian curry) and eggplant with XO sauce. Sticking with the Asian theme, I decided to tackle something I wouldn't have even considered six years ago (or maybe even last year): Xiao Long Bao, AKA Shanghai Soup Dumplings.

One of the reasons I never really considered it is because from most recipes I found online, it seemed very labor intensive. Making the soup stock from scratch, then making the dumpling dough from scratch, then making the filling and folding and steaming the dumplings.

But as I was brainstorming the other day I thought... what if I could provide an easier way for people to enjoy these delicious dumplings at home?

Enter my favorite Asian supermarket: A Dong. (yes, that's the name.) If you remember, this provided most of the ingredients for my XO Eggplant as well. I'm pretty sure they sell every Asian product you could ever imagine, so I had no issues gathering all the necessary items for the dumplings, including the bamboo steamer baskets I used to cook them. If you don't have something like A Dong (sorry, I'm a child and laughed as I typed that), I would check Chinatown if you live in a big city, or try online (Amazon has pretty much everything these days.)

(Also... please ignore my incredibly dirty hair that day.)

Aside from the steamer baskets, the two main ingredients I purchased here were the dumpling wrappers and the Shao Xing cooking wine. It's super important you locate dumpling wrappers vs. wonton wrappers, as the ones used for wontons are too thin. I debated whether I needed to buy the Chinese rice wine because I really only needed a couple teaspoons, and it came in this gigantic bottle. But then I read that this is almost as important as soy sauce in Chinese cooking, so I decided for two bucks, it was worth it, even if I never use it again.

As I mentioned, generally the key to soup dumplings is the homemade stock. I didn't have the patience to make it from scratch (during a heat wave no less), so instead I doctored up some good quality chicken stock I had at home from my favorite butcher, Avon Prime Meats. (If you like to freeze chicken stock or if your butcher carries it, this is a great use for it). To my stock, I added a little soy sauce, a little of that Chinese cooking wine, and some bacon grease I had leftover from breakfast (that part is optional, but I figured it would help mimic the pork flavor I saw in the homemade stock recipes).

In order to be able to stuff the dumplings with the soup, it needs to be in solid form. In cooking terms, this is called an aspic. In easy-to-understand terms, I call this: broth jello. To make it, all you need is some unflavored gelatin. (Or, if it is homemade, sometimes the broth will do this on its own from boiling down the bones and chicken parts.)

For the rest of the filling... you'll need: some scallions and ginger.

Some shraaaaamps......

Some of that super specialized Chinese rice wine you'll never use again...

And of course the broth jello and ground pork.

And then... it's dumpling folding time. (In my head, I'm currently singing "peanut butter jelly time," except with the words "dumpling folding time" which doesn't quite work, but whatever.)

Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing, so I looked at a couple photos and gave it a go. Not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of myself.

Basically, this was my process:
1.) put a little filling in the center (less is more)
2.) wet the edges of the wrapper and also your fingers
3.) start pleating them until you have folds all the way around
4.) gather at the top and pinch together with wet fingers
5.) give it a little twist, and...

Voila! Soup dumpling success!

Now for those steamer baskets... to prevent the dumplings from sticking, line them with either a large napa cabbage leaf (cut to size) or some parchment paper. (If you don't have these bamboo baskets, you can try using a regular steamer basket that likely came with your stockpot.)

I purchased the smallest ones available, so mine fit 4 in each layer, for a total of 8 per batch.

Fill your wok with water, making sure the water line hits just below the first layer of dumplings. Bring to a simmer. Place steamer basket inside and steam for 7-10 minutes, until pork is cooked through.

For a traditional dipping sauce, you can cut ginger into matchsticks and mix with black vinegar for serving. (Confession: I forgot to buy black vinegar at A Dong, so I actually used Balsamic for the photo... which is NOT traditional.) Also, shout out to my local sushi place for letting us borrow these spoons for a couple hours for the photo shoot.

The best way to eat them is in a large Asian soup spoon. After dipping, poke a little hole in the dumpling to allow that now liquid soup to escape into the spoon. Eat the whole thing in one bite, slurping the soup up with the dumpling. Mmmmmm.

*Also worth noting: If you don't plan to eat all of the dumplings in one sitting (this recipe makes about 24 of them), you can freeze the uncooked dumplings. Simply dust a sheet pan with flour, space out the dumplings on the pan, freeze for a couple hours, and then transfer to a freezer-proof container or plastic Ziplock bag. When ready to eat, steam them as you would if they were fresh (you may need to cook a couple extra minutes is all.)

As always, thanks to Justin for taking the awesome photos and for pushing me to attempt something I've previously been too intimidated to try making. Here's to conquering another round of the letter X!

Xiao Long Bao (easy Shanghai Soup Dumpings)

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Keywords: steam appetizer pork broth Asian Chinese

Ingredients (24 dumplings)
    For the aspic/broth jello
    • 1 cup cup good quality chicken stock
    • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine (Chinese rice wine)
    • 1 teaspoon bacon grease (optional)
    • 1 packet unflavored gelatin (2 teaspoons)
    • salt & pepper, to taste (depends how seasoned stock was)
    For the dumplings
    • napa cabbage, cut to fit steamer baskets (or parchment paper)
    • about a cup of aspic (see above)
    • 1/2 pound pork
    • 5 large shrimp, (peeled/deveined/tails removed), finely minced
    • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
    • 2 stalks green onions, minced (white & pale green parts only)
    • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated ginger
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine (Chinese rice wine)
    • Shanghai style dumpling wrappers
    For the dipping sauce
    • ginger, peeled and cut into match sticks
    • black vinegar
    For the aspic/broth jello:
    1. Combine stock, soy sauce, rice wine & bacon grease (if using) into a small sauce pan. Sprinkle gelatin on top and allow it to soak in a minute or two.
    2. Bring to a low boil and cook/stir until gelatin has dissolved and most of the alcohol has cooked out (about 2 minutes). Taste for flavor and add more salt & pepper if necessary.
    3. Refrigerate until solid, about 2 hours.

    For the dumplings:
    1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line bamboo steamers with napa cabbage leaves or parchment paper.
    2. Mix together all ingredients except wrappers until just incorporated.
    3. On a clean work surface, lay out a dumpling wrapper and place about a tablespoon (or slightly less) of filling in the middle (less is more). Wet the edges of the wrapper and begin folding the edges until you have about 15-20 folds all the way around. Pinch together in the middle with your fingers and gently twist until dumpling wrapper is secure. Transfer to baking sheet and cover with a towel while you continue filling the rest of the dumplings. Repeat process until filling is gone. You should have approximately 24 dumplings.
    4. Place dumplings in steamer basket, about an inch apart (making sure not to crowd them). Fill wok with water, making sure the water line hits just below the first layer of dumplings. Bring to a simmer. Place steamer basket inside and steam for 7-10 minutes, until pork is cooked through.
    5. Serve immediately with dipping sauce! (below)

    For the dipping sauce:
    1. Mix together matchstick ginger and black vinegar.
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    1. This transition to the food world is going to suit you just fine, Jaymee. The dumplings look spot on. Continued success to you.

    2. New to the blog. Been looking for a dumpling place in the Bay Area. I'm thinking of trying this recipe!!

    3. Awesome... let me know how they come out!!


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