Molecular gastronomy is all the rage these days, but there are those traditional foods that also capture our imagination in a big way.
Before there were edible menus, faux caviar, and foam garnishes, there were soup dumplings. This humble Chinese snack originates from Shanghai and has a cult-like following. They look like your average dumpling from the outside, but when you bite into one you get a spoonful of rich, warm soup along with the meat filling. This is achieved by adding a jellied broth in with the meat filling that, when steamed, transforms into a liquid.
Soup dumplings are called xiao long bao in Shanghai (play the audio clip below for how to pronounce xiao long bao). My friend Melissa studied Mandarin in college and graciously let me record her pronunciation.
This traditional snack is cherished so much that the Shanghai government considers it a "traditional treasure" and has included it in its list of 83 protected folk arts.
Making these dumplings is a skill that takes practice to perfect, but mastering the technique is well worth the work. Their delicate wrappers contain a special mix of beautifully seasoned pork and shrimp, and a magical spoonful of soup.
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
Makes about 20 dumplings
There are four steps in preparing Xiao Long Bao:
1. Make soup -- 2. Make meat filling -- 3. Make dumpling skins -- 4. Fill and steam
32 ounces of chicken stock
3 ounces pork jowl or bacon
½ onion - coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
1 inch piece of ginger - cut into a few smaller pieces
2 teaspoons sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon (2 envelopes) unflavored gelatin
Add all ingredients listed above to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste the soup to make sure the flavors are to your liking. If the broth is not salty enough, add some soy sauce, a teaspoon at a time, until it has the right amount of seasoning. I like the soup a little on the salty side so it adds flavor to the dumpling wrapper and meat filling.
Add ¼ cup of cold water to a small bowl. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the cold water and stir. Once the gelatin has dissolved, add the gelatin mixture to the hot soup and stir until completely incorporated.
Pour the soup into a separate container and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2 pounds boneless pork chops
¼ pound shrimp - peeled
5-6 green onions (greens only) - finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
½ teaspoons fresh ginger - grated
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sherry
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
freshly ground pepper (as much or little as you like…I like lots)
Coarsely cut pork chops into 1-inch cubes and put into a food processor. Pulse until the pork is completely ground. Remove pork from the food processor and put in a large bowl. Add the shrimp to the processor and pulse until ground. Add the shrimp to the bowl with the pork.
Add the remaining ingredients to the ground meats and mix thoroughly. Remove the jellied soup from the refrigerator. Measure out 1 ½ cups of the soup and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times until chopped into small even pieces. Add the chopped, jellied soup to the meat mixture. Mix until incorporated.
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (400 grams)
¾ cups boiling water
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Put flour in a large bowl. Slowly stir in boiled water. Next add the cold water and oil to the flour mixture. Stir until of ball of dough is formed.
Dust your work surface with flour. Knead the dough for 8 - 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and pliable (add more flour to dough and work surface whenever the dough starts to get sticky). Form into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long log, about 1-1/4″ in diameter. Cut dough into 1 ounce pieces (slightly smaller than a ping pong ball). Using a rolling pin, roll pieces into flat circles that are about 1/8 inch thick.
Fill and Steam
1 head Napa cabbage (used to line the bottom of the basket)
Bamboo steam basket (any steam basket will work)
Fill the rolled out dough with a heaping tablespoon of filling, leaving a ¼ inch border of dough around the filling. Close the dumpling by pinching the edges of dough together in a pleated fashion, stretching the dough slightly around the filling. All the edges should come together at the top of the dumpling. Repeat until all the dumplings are formed.
Choose a sauce pan or wok that your steam basket can fit over. Add a couple cups of water to the pan and bring to a boil. You don’t want so much water in your pan that your steam basket is touching the water, but you don’t want so little that your water completely evaporates before the dumplings are done cooking.
Line the bottom of your basket with a cabbage leaf. Place your dumplings on the cabbage leaf leaving about a 1/2 inch of space between the dumplings (they expand while cooking). Cover the steam basket and place on top of the pan with boiling water. Steam for 12 minutes.
Serve with black vinegar or soy sauce and enjoy!
These dumplings freeze well, so you can make lots in advance and have homemade Xioa Long Boa at a drop of a hat. Just take the frozen dumplings straight out of the freezer and steam for 15 minutes.