If you notice around the big wide Web and read a couple of food blogs, you might come across the obsessive chatter of soup dumplings or xiao long bao (小笼包), especially if you live in New York City. These baos – or literally translated – buns, originated from Shanghai, China. The Taiwanese popularized these soup dumplings, namely with Din Tai Fung (who actually does make one of the best as well).
Since I know how to make dumplings or jiaozi (饺子/餃子), I was thinking making soup dumplings should not be too different except for the shape and making the “soup” portion (which you need to make ahead of time).
The “soup” is essentially a gel of concentrated soup made of pork bones and pig skin. It naturally “gels” from the gelatin of both items. The skin is a mixture of all-purpose and a lower gluten flours (think pastry or cake flour) to get a pliable, tender kind of skin. (The recipe is found on toward the end of the post.)
If you don’t know how to eat a soup dumpling, you carefully pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks (careful not to pierce or tear the skin or the soup spills out) and place it in your large soup spoon. Take a small bite from the top of the dumpling and add some of the black vinegar into the opening. While it’s still relatively hot, eat the dumpling in one or two bites. Just be careful not to burn your mouth.
Xiao Long Bao (小笼包)
Makes about 48 dumplings
Equipment needed: A wok, bamboo steamers lined with clean (but wiped dry) leaves of Napa cabbage or rounds of parchment paper
1 pound of pork bones
1/4 pound pig skin
1 quart water
Take a stockpot that fits all of the pork bones and skin. Fill it with all of the ingredients and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, turn the flame down to a simmer for approximately 3 hours so all of the natural gelatin is in the stock. Strain into a large container and cool completely. (You may make this at least 1 day ahead or at most 3 days in the refrigerator. This also may be frozen up to 6 months.)
2.5 pounds fresh lean ground pork (preferably 85%)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons xiao xing wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside until the soup dumpling skins are ready.
1 pound (16 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 pound (16 ounces) low gluten flour (such as pastry cake or cake flour)
Approximately 3 cups warm water (about 90°F to 110°F)
On a clean counter, place all of your flour and form a well with your clean hands. Pour in about 2 cups of warm water into the well and mix with your hands. If it feels too dry, add more water until the dough forms a ball and the dough will stretch as it is lightly pulled. Set it aside and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
After the rest, portion the dough into about 1.25 ounce pieces and cover them with a slightly damp towel to make sure the dough does not dry. Roll the dough piece into a thin, flat circle (if you need an idea, ideally, it would be about two sheets of paper thick).
Fill each circle of dough, in terms of ratios, 70% meat and 30% soup. In all, you are using about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of filling in its totality. Adjust accordingly so that your filling will not break your skin. In terms of how to fold, I found this YouTube video decent enough to show how to pleat these dumplings. Once you finish, place the dumpling onto the lined bamboo steamer.
Once you have completed wrapping your dumplings, have the wok set in boiling water and place these baskets to steam for 8 – 10 minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy.