Tender, porky filling. Rich, ginger-laced broth. Paper-thin dough pleated into pretty little purses. If there’s a better one-bite dish than Shanghai-style soup dumplings, we’d like to try that, please.
Xiao long bao are a signature dish of Shanghai, where locals judge them by a few key factors. First, the filling must be plentiful and delicious, so use meat fatty enough to melt in your mouth; lean pork is a no-no. Second, there should be lots of soup that really sings with flavor. Finally, the dough should be thin enough that it almost seems to dissolve as you bite, yet it must be strong enough to hold the hot soup right up to the moment of truth.
Ready to make xiao long bao yourself, with the guidance of author and culinary instructor Andrea Nguyen? Follow the advice of our friends at ChefSteps and just plan to make a lot if you’re inviting friends over to share your pork-stuffed treats. These little guys disappear quickly. Check out the instructional video below before giving it a go!
Servings: 24 dumplings
1 tablespoon ham or bacon
Fresh, thick fingers ginger, about 2.3 inches total, as needed
2 green onions, divided
1 1/3 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought low-sodium
1½ teaspoon gelatin, or ½ teaspoon agar-agar powder
½ cup bread flour, unbleached, plus more for dusting
¼ cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
7 tablespoons water, just boiled
1½ teaspoons canola oil, plus more for greasing
1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine, or dry sherry
1½ teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper, ground
1 cup ground pork, fattier kind preferred, roughly chopped to loosen
¼ cup chinkiang vinegar, or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
For the soup:
- Chop the ham or bacon and measure out one packed tablespoon. Slice off three quarter-sized pieces of ginger, each roughly one inch wide and two millimeters thick. Smash each piece with the broad side of your knife. Chop the green onion into two-inch lengths and crush each piece with the side of your knife.
- Put the stock, ham, green onion and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for about eight minutes, or until the stock has reduced by half. You should end up with around 2/3 cup.
- Strain the soup, discard the solids and set aside to cool and concentrate for 15 minutes. Return the stock to the saucepan and sprinkle in the gelatin. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring the soup until the gelatin dissolves. Bring the stock to a boil and turn off the heat.
- Pour it into an 8″ x 8″ baking pan to make a thin layer that will cool quickly and be easy to cut up. Refrigerate the mixture for 20 to 40 minutes until it is completely cool and set. When it’s ready, quarter it and then peel it from the pan. Finely chop the mixture into small cubes and set it aside.
For the dough:
- While you’re refrigerating the gelatin mixture, start boiling water for the dough. Combine the two flours in the food processor. Combine the just-boiled water and the oil in a separate dish.
- With the food processor running, add the water-and-oil mixture to the flour through the feed tube. If you don’t have a food processor, you can stir this mixture by hand in a big bowl. The result will be a soft, warm dough. If the dough is too dry, add water by the half-teaspoon to soften.
- Gather the dough into a ball and transfer it to a very lightly floured work surface. If you made your dough with a food processor, knead it for about two minutes. If you mixed it by hand, knead for about five minutes.
- Place the dough in a ziplock-style bag and seal it well, pushing out all of the excess air as you close the bag. Let it rest at room temperature for an hour before using. You can refrigerate overnight as long as you bring it back to room temperature before moving forward.
For the filling:
- Peel the ginger. Cut off about ½ inch and grate with a microplane or box grater. Finely julienne the remaining ginger and set it aside in a separate bowl.
- Mince the green onion and add to a bowl along with the grated ginger, shaoxing rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt and white pepper. Swirl all of the ingredients together until they form a creamy mixture with some green flecks. Then add the pork and mix well with a fork. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside for 15 minutes to let the flavors develop. Add the small cubes of gelled stock from above, and mix until well blended and firm.
- Unlike other fillings, this one can break down if it sits overnight. If you prepare the gelled stock a day in advance, combine it with the meat the day of cooking.
For the sauce:
- Add the vinegar to the reserved julienned ginger. Taste it — if the vinegar is too tart, you can add water by the teaspoon. Once it is to your liking, set the sauce aside.
For shaping the dough/dumplings:
- Line steamer trays with parchment paper. You can lightly oil them to prevent sticking. Remove the sticky dough from the bag — you may need to turn the bag inside out. On a very lightly floured surface, gently shape all of the dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Put half of it back in the plastic bag and seal well, pushing out all excess air. Roll the other half into a 10- to 12-inch log. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, and roll them into balls. Dust the balls with flour to prevent any sticking.
- Shape each ball into a 3¼-inch-wide wrapper. Keep a one-inch-wide belly in the center of your dumpling wrapper to prevent the soup from leaking out, so it will keep your dumplings consistently thick throughout.
- Thin out the outer rim of each wrapper, keeping the belly intact. To test whether a wrapper is thin enough, hold it up to the light. If you can see the shadow of your fingers through the edges, the wrapper is ready.
For assembling/steaming the dumplings:
- For each dumpling, take a wrapper and hold it in your slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about a tablespoon of filling, position it in the center and press down gently. Use both sets of index fingers and thumbs to pleat and pinch the rim of the dough together to form a closed satchel. Make sure to pinch and twist the dough at the end to completely close your dumpling — you want that soup to stay in.
- Place each finished dumpling in a steamer tray, sealed-side up, spacing them about one inch apart. When you use a metal steamer tray, keep the dumplings at least an inch away from the edge. This is where the condensation will collect.
- Once you have the first round of dumplings ready to steam, shape the dough, shape the dumplings and assemble the dumplings with the remaining dough. Keep the finished dumplings covered with plastic wrap as you make the rest.
- In parchment-lined bamboo steamers, steam each batch of dumplings over boiling water for 6-8 minutes. When the dumplings are done, they will puff up slightly and become translucent.
- Serve immediately with the sauce!
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