Citizens – behold one of my most authentic, complex and delicious recipes ever to grace your table! 😀
Xiaolongbao are a type of steamed dumpling filled with both meat *and* soup from the Jiangnan region of China, especially associated with Shanghai and Wuxi. It is traditionally prepared in xiaolong, small bamboo steaming baskets, which give them their name.
The Xiaolongbao recipe is very distinct and people often wonder how the soup gets into the dumpling. An intensely flavorful stock is first prepared from meat, chicken or pork (preferably all of them). The flavored stock is then heavily reduced and gelled overnight with gelatin or agar. The gelled soup stock or aspic is then cut up into tiny pieces the next day and mixed with the filling.
A traditional Xiaolongbao recipe calls for pure pork fillings, but higher-end versions also mix in crab or shrimp as well. The gelled aspic and meat filling is then added into the wrapper, pleated close with (ideally) 18 pleats and then steamed.
The steaming heat makes the aspic melt causing a small hot stream of soup to come gushing out when the dumpling is bitten into.
Serving and Eating Xiao Long Bao
Xiaolongbao are served in the same steamer they were cooked in. A mat of pine needles or vegetables leaves is placed at the bottom of the steamer. The Xiaolongbao is served with Chinkiang black vinegar with ginger slivers. The Xiaolongbao has to be picked up with chopsticks along the middle to prevent the skin from breaking and dipped into the vinegar/ginger mixture, after which it is placed on a spoon.
A small cut is bitten into the wrapper and the soup should be sucked out. The Xiaolongbao can be safely eaten whole after that. Eating the entire Xiaolongbao without doing this will cause hot soup to burst forth, burning the tongue and mouth. Beware, Citizens – that soup is indeed boiling hot and I still have the scar on my upper lip to prove it (I didn’t know what a Xiaolongbao was and foolishly put the entire dumpling into my mouth. Live and learn!).
Xiaolongbao were most likely first created in Nanxiang, outside Shanghai, around 1875. Although they can still be found there, it was in Taiwan that they began their global domination, thanks to a cooking-oil-store-turned-restaurant called Din Tai Fung.
The owner of the restaurant happened to hire a chef who knew how to make xiaolongbao, which he churned out without recipes or measurements, until his gambling problems got in the way. Thankfully, before his epic meltdown, he taught his apprentices how to make them. Today, Din Tai Fung has restaurants all over the world and their xiaolongbao are considered definitive.
That said, I think mine are better. 😉
Citizens, I recognize this is an involved and difficult recipe. For my sake and yours, try it just once to gain a true appreciation for how these delectable morsels SHOULD be prepared!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 quarts of water
2 pounds chicken bones (wings/back/neck)
2 ounces of Virginia Smithfield ham (or cured Chinese ham if you can get it), cut into 4 pieces
½ pound of pork skin & fat (you can ask your butcher for this, he’ll most likely just give it to you. you could also use pork belly, or just a fatty cut of pork)
1 whole dried shiitake mushroom
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced into 4-5 ginger “coins”
2 green onions, cut into 3″ pieces
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup dried goji berries (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed with side of your knife
2 teaspoons of Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
The Broth Gelatin
1 tablespoon powdered Agar Agar or 1 tablespoon of unflavored gelatin
1 lb ground pork
¼ lb shrimp, shelled, deveined and minced finely
⅓ cup finely minced green onions (white parts only)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger (use rasp grater)
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
Hot Water Dough
(makes about 40 dumplings)
¾ cup high gluten flour
⅓ cup less 1 tablespoon water
⅓ cup plain flour
¼ cup boiling water
flour for dusting
2 teaspoons oil
The Dipping Sauce (Combine and refrigerate)
1 tablespoon of sambal (hot chili & garlic sauce)
¼ cup black vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon of shaved ginger
Combine 10 cups water and all remaining soup ingredients except gelatin in large pot. Bring to boil, spooning off any foam that rises to surface.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until chicken pieces are very soft and beginning to fall apart, adding more water by cupfuls if necessary to keep chicken submerged, about 2 hours 30 minutes.
Strain and chill
Strain soup; discard solids. Return broth to same pot. Boil until reduced to 2 cups, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour 3 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens. Add to hot broth; stir until gelatin is dissolved.
Transfer to 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Cover; refrigerate aspic overnight.
Mix all ingredients. When the broth gelatin is fully set, run a fork through it, with criss-cross motion, to break it up into very small ¼” pieces. Take about 1 ½ cups of the broth gelatin and add that to the filling mixture. Stir to incorporate evenly throughout. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Hot Water Dough:
(makes about 40 dumplings)
In a large mixing bowl, mix the ¾ cups of high gluten flour and ⅓ cup less one tablespoon water until it resembles bread crumbs. Knead into a dough.
Place the plain flour in a mixing bowl. In a small saucepan bring ¼ cup of water to the boil. Add the ⅓ cup plain flour and move the saucepan away from the flame, stirring the flour vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Leave it to cool a little before kneading together with the high gluten flour dough prepared earlier. Cover with clean damp cloth and leave to rest for 4 hours.
Dust counter with some flour. Place dough on floured surface, use your hands to knead the dough for 8 -10 minutes, until it becomes soft, smooth and bounces back slowly when you poke with your finger. Cover with clean damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest for 4 hours.
Forming the dumplings:
Place 2 teaspoons of oil on the worktop, put the dough on top and knead for a little while. Cut the dough into 4 quarters. Form one quarter into a 20mm cylinder. Divide the cylinder into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each piece with the palm of your hand into a disk.
Use a rolling pin to roll the disk out forming a 60mm disk with the edges thinner than the center. Make a well with you thumb and first finger and drape the disk over. Let it sag in the middle to form a recess for the filling. Use a teaspoon to place 2 teaspoons of filling. Top the filling with a portion of the aspic.
Carefully gather the edge of wrapper making folds and holding on to them till fully gathered. Traditionally, 18 folds are made. Do not let your finger touch the filling while doing this or you will make a mess. Do the same for the rest.
Make sure that you cover any dough that you aren’t currently using and cover the dumplings with a towel to prevent drying.
The Dipping Sauce (Combine all ingredients and refrigerate)
How to shave ginger: Take a big knob – about 2 inches long.Remove skin. Use your sharp paring knife to get a flat surface on one of the long sides. With a vegetable peeler, cut thin strips along the long side of the ginger. Use knife to further cut the strips into super-thin slices.
This way, you get the full flavor of ginger in your sauce + the crunch of the little strips of ginger as you eat without tough, fibrous pieces of ginger.
Cut out 10 cabbage leave disks or use thin slices of carrot and stick one piece to the bottom of each dumpling. Place the dumplings in a 200mm bamboo steamer.
In a large saucepan or wok, bring water to a rolling boil. Sit the Steamer on a rack over the boiling water, close the lid and steam for seven minutes. The dumpling is done when the filling feels firm to the touch. Serve with dipping sauce.