Xiao Long Bao: Asian + Pacific Heritage Month

EAST ERG Brown-Forman

What are Xiao Long Bao?

Xiao Long Bao, or “little basket buns”, are a type of dumpling filled with pork, and shrimp or crab. They are steamed in bamboo baskets and served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, chinkiang vinegar, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. Legend has it that Xiao Long Bao originated in Shanghai, and they are often nicknamed, “Shanghai Soup Dumplings”. What sets these apart from other dumplings is the addition of soup, which is added to the dumpling filling in the form of aspic. Though the aspic holds its shape when cold, it becomes liquid again when steamed, suspending the pork and shellfish in a savory, rich broth.

This Recipe Seems Complicated…

And it is. There’s no way around it. To make Xiao Long Bao correctly, it will take some time. Consider making these over the weekend, or performing a step or two a day for three or four days. There are five main steps:

  1. Simmer the Stock
  2. Mix the meat filling
  3. Make the dough
  4. Fill and pleat the dumplings
  5. Steam and eat

Though time consuming, none of the steps are particularly difficult. Have patience, and you will reap the rewards.

For the Stock

  • 4 quarts water
  • 2.5 lb chicken wings
  • 1/2 lb Chinese or country ham
  • 1 lb pork belly 
  • hand-sized piece of ginger sliced into rounds
  • 6 stalks green onions 
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, cut into 4″ pieces and smashed
  • 12 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 C soy sauce
  • 1/2 C Shaoxing wine
  • 2 packets unflavored gelatin or powdered Agar Agar

Filling

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/3 pound shrimp shelled, cleaned, and minced
  • 6 stalks green onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 TBS grated fresh ginger 
  • 4 TBS Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 TBS teaspoon sesame oil

Dough

  • 400 grams ap flour
  • 3/4 cups boiling hot water (plus more if needed)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sambal hot chili & garlic sauce
  • 1/4 cup chinkiang vinegar (black vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1 TBS sesame oil
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces and smashed
  • Sugar to taste

For the stock:

  1. Place all ingredients except gelatin/agar agar in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Impurities will float to the top (they look like gray foam). Skim the impurities and turn down the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 4 hours, adding water as necessary to maintain around 4qts of liquid.
  2. Turn off the heat and strain. Bring strained soup to a boil.
  3. Add gelatin/agar agar and whisk until well incorporated.
  4. Turn off the heat and allow soup to come to room temperature.
  5. Ladle soup into a glass baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight until “Jello”-like consistency is reached.
  6. Slice the aspic into small cubes. Set aside.

For the filling:

  1. Place all filling ingredients into the basin of a food processor and pulse until a paste is formed. Turn mixture out into a bowl, and set aside.

For the dough:

  1. Measure out 400g of ap flour into a mixing bowl.
  2. Slowly pour hot water and oil over the flour and whisk with chopsticks or a fork until a dough begins to form.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface dusted with flour, and knead dough until soft and smooth.
  4. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest for one hour.

For the dipping sauce:

Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight to maximize flavor.

Just before filling:

With a pair of chopsticks, add half of the gelatin cubes to the meat mixture and incorporate well. There should be hunks of gelatin evenly mixed with the mince. Reserve the remaining gelatin cubes to ensure all dumplings have enough “soup”.

To form the dumplings:

  1. Unwrap the dough and cut into 4 equal pieces. leave one piece out and wrap the other three in clingfilm to keep them from drying out.
  2. Roll the piece of dough on a clean, floured surface to form a rope about the diameter of a garden hose.
  3. Cut the roll into 1 inch pieces and set aside.
  4. Working with one piece at a time, roll each 1 inch piece into a thin round. They should be about 4 inches in diameter.
  5. Holding the dumpling wrapper in the palm of your non-dominant hand, measure out a tablespoon of filling and place in the center of the dumpling wrapper.
  6. Working counterclockwise if right-handed, clockwise if left-handed, pinch the edges of the dough together to form pleats. There is really no good way of explaining this process. You just have to watch it, then watch it again, then make about twelve mistakes before you get something that resembles a dumpling. Have patience, it will become natural.
  7. Repeat the above process until all dumplings are formed.

To steam:

Place dumplings in a steamer basket lined with napa cabbage and set over a pot or wok of boiling water. Steam for 8 minutes.

To serve:

Eat directly out of the steamer basket.

How to eat:

Carefully pick up a dumpling with your chopsticks. Be gentle. If you pinch too hard, you will burst the dumpling and lose all that delicious soup! Gently place the dumpling on a soup spoon, and take a tiny bite out of the side. Then, suck the soup out of the dumpling, pressing the top of the dumpling with your chopstick. Then, dip your now open dumpling into the dipping sauce and pop the whole thing in your mouth. Repeat.

Note:

You will burn the roof of your mouth. There is no avoiding it. The pain is worth the pleasure. Enjoy! 🙂

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