Friday, 18 November 2011

Chinese Soup Dumplings (小笼包)

 Chinese soup dumplings are little buns steamed inside a little bamboo basket, hence the Chinese name "little basket buns". They are traditionally filled with pork, shrimp and aspic. Aspic is a gelatin made with meat stock, where the bones are boiled for 2-3 hours so that the gelatin transfers from the bone to the soup. The aspic in the filling melts as the buns are steamed, and you are left with a soup filled dumpling. This is probably one of the most time consuming things I've ever made, but totally worth it. I say it's time consuming because It takes a few hours to make the gelatin stock and a full day to set in the fridge. Then the dough and the filling and the assembling process took me about 5 hours. It's Chris's favorite Dimsum dish and he's been bugging me about it every other day since the summer, so about time I got to it. It freezes well so I made a few extra for midnight snacks.

I got a new toy today, a food processor! I know its nothing special and everyone probably already has one. I've been contemplating whether or not it was necessary to own all these kitchen gadgets as a university student, but I guess some hobbies can get quite expensive. After seeing that the dumpling filling needs to be finely minced in the food processor, it was my excuse to get one. Plus, the Black and Decker was on sale at Canadian Tire for 50% off, and obviously we know that whenever something is on sale we should always buy it. I'm still getting used to all the buttons and locks on this thing and I managed to cut myself already. Need to fiddle around with it a bit before I get too comfortable.

On with the Gelatin. I used chicken back bones and pork hock to make the stock. The chicken gives an amazing flavor while the pork hock helps the gel form. Some spring onions and ginger really cut the richness of the soup so don't skip them! Use a big pot, and I say that because this is actually my second attempt. The first attempt was successful for the first 2 hours, until I decided to leave for 20 minutes and came back to find that all the water had evaporated and I was left with some burnt gelatin at the bottom.

1 chicken back bone, wings, and rib cages
1 pork hock
5 spring onions
1 yellow onion
1 big nob of ginger
salt and pepper

Everything goes in a stock pot, cover it with cold water and bring it to a boil. Skim off any fat and turn the heat down to medium and let it go for 2 1/2 hours. Check up on it once in a while to make sure that the water is at a sufficient level. After it's had its time, Strain it into a tupperware and put it in the fridge for 8 hours. If there is a thick layer of fat sitting on top after it's set, just scrape it off.

Since these buns are quite small, the filling needs to be a very fine paste to make it easier to form. In the food processor goes a pound of pork, some shrimp, soy sauce, wine, ginger and onions. I used to hate ginger and also hated the possibility of biting into it in my food. I don't know when I started liking it but now I find every opportunity to sneak it in. It gets rid of any imperfect flavors in meat and it's really good for you!

1 lb of pork
1/4 lb or 6 tiger shrimps
3 spring onions
1 small nob of ginger cut into small pieces
soy sauce
1 tbsp wine
a fat slice of bread
salt and pepper

Pulse it in the food processor until its well mixed. scoop out a little bit and microwave it to check for seasonings. The bread wasn't in the original recipe but I found the mixture to be very gummy. I made some white bread last weekend and there's a piece left. Since I'm leaving for Montreal tomorrow, I might as well use it up.

When you're happy with how the mixture tastes, add in the aspic. You may need to work a little hard here because it's not easy incorporating the two. I found it useful by mashing the aspic against the side of the bowl with a spoon, then stirring everything together with chopsticks. Keep your mixture in the fridge until you need it.

I made the dough with the food processor and the dough blade. It was quite messy and I didn't like the way it turned out. The dough was quite stiff and hard to work with. Next time I might just stick with the traditional way of making dumpling dough, with a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Use boiling water for dumpling dough. It prevents the dough from rising or puffing up during the steaming process. The perfect dough should be soft and thin. Make the dough before the filling so it has at least 30 minutes to rest. Cut them into quarters and work with 1 section at a time so the rest don't dry out. Roll it out into a log and cut them into equal pieces.

Most people find it hardest to roll out the dumpling skins, but practice makes perfect! You could buy those packaged dumpling wrappers from the supermarkets but it will never taste the same. It's easier with a small rolling pin, but since I didn't have one, I used a PVC pipe from Chris's solar design project.

I can't give perfect instructions on how to form the dumpling, but here is my best attempt. Scoop some filling onto the dumpling wrapper, leaving a good boarder on all sides. Start by gathering and pinching the skin together in a pleaded fashion, then twist at the top of the dumpling. Use your left thumb to guide the process by pushing the filling in, and use your right fingers to stretch the dough and cover the filling.

Place some Chinese cabbage at the bottom of a bamboo basket, and place 6 dumplings on top. Steam the buns for 10-12 minutes until the skin looks wilted and almost translucent.

Obviously I should be telling you to try this yourself, but this time I understand the time commitment associated with this recipe. If you don't have a good 5-6 hours to spare, you will be standing in front of a bowl of filling and a piece of dough, totally frustrated. In my case, the dumplings are totally worth the time because it's impossible to find Dimsum in Kingston, and it also kept Chris quite happy.

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