My superlative and GLORIOUS Citizens! As we hit the penultimate post in this series of rare Asian dumpling recipes, a disturbing thought has manifested within Me, disturbing my gustatory nirvana! While it is true the last 5 posts have indeed fit the bill of fare, I grimly discovered a lacuna within My normally thorough approach to recipe posting. While the Chinese dim sum staple known as siu mai (pronounced ‘shoo my’, also spelled in English as shu mai or shaomai) is the ancestor of all these recipes, I curiously failed to POST My recipe for this supreme delight!
This absence must NOT stand unaddressed by the Khan of Completeness! As such, I am exercising the divine Power that I ALONE may wield with impunity, grace and ecclesiological fervor and will increase the number of dumpling posts from six to seven. This to redress such an inopportune discovery with the trademark alacrity and fierce resolve that are mine alone to dispense to the Citizens of TFD Nation, as dictated by My supreme fiat!
To whit, we now interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast – do not attempt to adjust your television – *I* am in control! For those of an antiquarian TV bent, this is a paraphrase of the Control Voice from “The Outer Limits”!
Siu mai (simplified Chinese: 烧卖; traditional Chinese: 燒賣) is a type of traditional Chinese dumpling. In Cantonese cuisine, it is usually served as a dim sum snack. In addition to accompanying the Chinese diaspora, a variation of siu mai also appears in Japan as (焼売, shūmai) and various southeast Asian countries. While it is true that in the Mandarin dialect, it is pronounced “shaomai”, I learned it in the Cantonese dialect and as such will use that spelling/pronunciation in this post, despite Mandarin’s linguistic prevalance.
The wrapping for siu mai is a very thin, round sheet of unleavened dough, with a pleated border. The filling is put in the center of the wrapping and the border of the wrapping is loosely gathered above, forming a “neck” and a flower shaped top. It is then cooked by steaming or pan-frying – Cantonese siu mai are always steamed. In fact, Cantonese siu mai are the most well-known variety outside of Asia and are from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi.
As prepared in Cantonese cuisine, siu mai is also referred to as “pork and mushroom dumpling”. Its standard filling consists primarily of ground pork, small whole or chopped shrimp, Chinese black mushroom, scallion, and ginger with seasonings of Chinese rice wine (e.g. Shaoxing rice wine), soy sauce, sesame oil and chicken stock. Bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and pepper can also be added – TFD enjoys both water chestnuts and white pepper in His version.
The outer covering is made of a thin sheet of lye water dough, which is either yellow or white (typically in siu mai, it’s always yellow). The center is usually garnished with an orange dot, made of crab roe or diced carrot, although a green dot made with a pea may be used. The decorative presentations vary, but TFD is a big fan of the orange style and always uses roe of some form (more on this later).
A fish paste variety of siu mai is sold as a popular street food in Hong Kong, usually alongside curry fishballs. It is most often eaten with a sweet soy sauce and/or chili oil. The Hong Kong Siumaipedia was in fact written solely to document/exemplify the Cantonese variety.
Within the dim sum tradition of southern China, siu mai is one of the most standard dishes. It is generally served alongside har gow, another variety of steamed dumpling containing shrimp, cooked pork fat, bamboo shoots and scallions; collectively these are known as har gow-siu mai (蝦餃燒賣).
In Guangzhou, siu mai (燒賣) and har gow (蝦餃), along with char siu bao (叉燒包), and egg tarts (蛋撻), are considered the classic dishes of Cantonese dim sum cuisine. They are collectively referred to as the “Four Heavenly Kings” of the cuisine. (Chinese: 四大天王; pinyin: sì dà tiān wáng; Cantonese Yale: sei daaih tīn wòhng).
In food stalls in Indonesia, siomai (or “siomay” in local dialect) are eaten together with steamed vegetables and tofu, and served with spicy peanut sauce. In Philippine food stalls and fast food restaurants, siomai is eaten with dip, toothpicks to facilitate handling, or with rice (using a spoon and fork).
Other varieties of siu mai (both within China and foreign adaptations) include:
Hunan juhua siu mai:
Called the chrysanthemum siu mai, this variety is made in Changsha, Hunan province. This siu mai is named for its opening resembling the chrysanthemum flower petal shape. It is spicy with pepper and the wrapper is translucent. The filling largely consists of glutinous rice, pork hash, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms bamboo shoots and onion.
Jiangnan siu mai:
Siu mai prepared in the Jiangnan region (stretching from Shanghai to Nanjing) has a filling similar to zongzi from the region, containing marinated pork pieces in glutinous rice, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine, steamed with pork fat. It is larger in size than the Cantonese version. The Shanghai variation also contains shiitake mushrooms and onion. The mince, mushrooms and onion are stir-fried before being prepared as the filling.
Uyghur siu mai:
In northwest China, the Uyghur people of Xinjiang adapted siu mai into two regional varieties. The southern Xinjiang recipes differ slightly from the northern version in terms of ingredients and method. The filling of the northern version consists of mutton or beef, along with green onion and radish, whereas the southern filling primarily uses glutinous rice with smaller amounts of mutton or beef. Minced meat from sheep ribs containing some fat is ideal.
Jiangxi Yifeng siu mai:
Called the Yifeng siu mai in the southeastern Jiangxi province, this version’s distinct flavor comes from a blend of pork mince, bread flour, sesame seed powder, ground pepper and sugar. It is particularly popular in the area of Yifeng Tanshan Tianbao where it is one of the foods eaten during the Chinese New Year celebration.
Shūmai in Japan usually use pork and minced onion as the main ingredients and are usually topped with a green pea. Compared to Chinese siu mai in which the meat filling is usually minced, the meat in Japanese siu mai is ground to a paste.
Siomay or siomai (sometimes called somay) in Indonesia is pronounced the same way as its sisters and is usually a wonton wrapper, stuffed with filling and steamed. It is served also with steamed potatoes, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, steamed bitter gourd and cabbages, all sliced and topped with peanut sauce and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce). Since the population of Indonesia is largely Muslim, pork siomay are very rare and are usually made from various fish, most commonly wahoo or mackerel tuna. This variant is less common in Western countries.
Siomai (Filipino: siyomay) in the Philippines is often ground pork, beef, shrimp, and the like. It is combined with extenders like garlic, green peas, carrots and among others which is then wrapped in wonton wrappers. It is commonly steamed, with a popular variant being fried and resulting in a crisp exterior. It is normally dipped in soy sauce with the juice of calamansi, a Philippine lime, and a chili-garlic oil is sometimes added to the sauce.
A recent variant on siomai is wrapped in sheets of laver after the wonton wrappers, which are marketed as “Japanese”.
Vietnamese xíu mại:
Xíu mại in Vietnam has minced pork, onion, scallion and shredded bread as the main ingredients and is cooked in tomato sauce. It is usually served in a roll of bánh mì for breakfast. Because the recipe omits dough wrappings, it is more akin to a meatball rather than siu mai.
As described by historical materials, siu mai were served in tea houses as a secondary product. The name “捎賣; 捎卖”, means the product was “sold as a sideline”, with tea. It is considered to have been brought to Beijing and Tianjin by merchants from Shanxi, causing its later wide spread throughout China.
The name was later transformed into modern forms like “燒麥; 烧麦”, “稍美” and “燒賣; 烧卖”, changing the characters while keeping the original pronunciation. The product was initially in the form of meat and vegetables wrapped in thin sheets, and was sold weighing only the wrapper, a tradition which is still kept in Huhhot.
My ULTIMATE version of Cantonese siu mai evokes zero compromises and results in a succulent mouthful indeed – loaded with umami, keeping the shrimp properly crisp and with a true mince of pork meat as opposed to a food processed paste with all the textural contrast of pap or baby food.
No, a TRUE siu mai worthy of MY name on it must be toothsome, with textured, “springy” filling that is so beloved by the Chinese they even have a name for it! One of the distinctive features of siu mai is the springy texture of its filling, often described as “Q Tán/Q弹” or “Tán Yá/弹牙” in Chinese which literally means “bounce off the teeth”. To achieve this, well-emulsified meat is the key! Using some baking soda on the shrimp also gives it a similar texture and is a secret Chinese restaurant trick I am sharing with you today!
Another reason your home-cooked siu mai typically lack the flavorful punch of the dim sum parlor? MSG….more specifically, the lack of it. Don’t turn up your nose, the secret to most Chinese food is in fact MSG, the key is to not overdo it and to use it in a form where it adds additional salt and umami without causing the dreaded MSG headache. The secret used by good Chinese restaurants throughout Hong Kong? Chicken bouillon granules! Yes, I said it – now USE it, it’s easy to buy it from here.
For the pork meat, I prefer to use a combination of pork belly for its much-needed fat (a juicy meat filling is quite important here!) and pork neck meat for the majority due to its superb texture and meaty savor. Dried Chinese shiitake mushrooms are also an integral part of the recipe, and I always go for the top grade! Top grade equals a thick cap with lots of cracking – the best are known as “flower” shiitakes and these are a good choice.
I strongly prefer this brand of oyster sauce and this brand of sesame oil – please do not substitute, as the aforementioned brands are the best of their kind and contribute to this recipe being labeled as the ULTIMATE of its kind! Potato starch is a needed component to help achieve the “sticky” and “bouncy” nature of the filling – cornstarch can be substituted, but potato starch is a better choice here.
I previously mentioned that I am firmly in the camp of “Team Orange” when it comes to dim sum garnishes – but only dim sum parlors with live shrimp or crabs have access to fresh roe of this kind. I have instead come up with a different garnish of roe – specifically, flying fish roe, aka tobiko in Japanese! Thanks to its intense popularity in sushi restaurants and the fact that it is from a sustainable fish population, this is inexpensive and the mildly-saline crispness of tobiko complements the siu mai filling very well indeed – buy it here.
Of course, you NEED a steamer to make these bad boys and TFD kicks it old-school here – no aluminum steamers for ME! The reasoning is simple: aluminum steamers drip water back onto the siu mai, whereas bamboo absorbs most of the excess moisture and delivers a superior end result every single time! Sometimes, the old ways remain the best – buy a good inexpensive bamboo steamer set from here. Lastly, proper siu mai wrappers are a necessity – these are an excellent premade alternative to making them yourself, trust Me!
Traditionally, most Cantonese would NEVER eat siu mai with a dipping sauce – but I confess that I prefer to eat at least a few with My own version of the classic Cantonese dumpling dipping sauce! For it, you will need dark soy sauce (which is not the same as light soy sauce, aka the soy you and I typically use). It has a hint of molasses in its flavor profile and combines very well with the other ingredients in the condiment – you can buy My preferred brand from here.
Citizens, it may be an “unforced error” on My part by neglecting to post this recipe far sooner – but My pain is your gain! This is – by far – the best example of a traditional siu mai recipe that you will find anywhere on the Web and it represents a source of great personal pride to Me that I can at last share it with all members of TFD Nation! The final recipe in this series of rare dumplings will indeed be worth the delay of game, I assure you! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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