Inspired by Bon Appetit’s May issue featuring Xiao Long Bao and deliciously elegant Kuidaore, I decided to try making XLB for the first time. If you’ve never had XLB before, its one of those foods that you absolutely must try in your lifetime. Inside the dumpling are little pockets of gelatinized broth made from chicken, pork and cured ham. When you steam the dumpling, the broth gelatin melts. If you would like to be seduced, read on. If you aren’t in a spot where you can comfortably moan out loud (like at work, or at school, or if your kids are running around), I suggest that you close this site, come back another time with a glass of wine – you really can’t skip the foreplay.
Beginning of Foreplay
Aromatic chicken, pork bone and cured ham broth set & cut into shimmering ribbons of translucent gelatin:
Cut into cubes they look like jewels:
Are you hungry yet? The little dumplings are begging to be nestled between your lips.
See the steam? The sun was just starting to come down as we began our feast. Do you see the spicy Sriracha “Rooster Cock Sauce” seducing you from behind?
This is the end of Foreplay
Don’t be shy, I’ll hold your hand and walk you through it.
Pick up one of those wooden soup spoon and a pair of chopsticks. Gently lay down one of those tender, juicy dumpings so that it drapes seductively in your spoon. Glide the warm wooden spoon towards your mouth, let your lips lightly brush against the nipple of the dumpling. Slowly move down and take a little nibble on on of the folds of the skin. Let the wisps of steam escape out and caress your upper lip and the tip of your nose. Surrender to the aromatic symphony of the filling tickling your senses. Ok, now go ahead, slowly bite into it. An explosion of rich, steaming, hot juice oozes into the groove of your tongue, dribbling down the side of your chin, and you try to catch any escaping broth with your spoon. No, don’t just stop at one…go ahead, take another one.
Don’t you feel deliciously alive?!
This is the end of Orgasm
===CUE IN HUMOROUS ANECDOTE TO EASE THE UNCOMFORTABLE MOMENT OF ‘WHO TALKS FIRST’===
While I typically specialize in easy, fast Asian recipes – this is not fast and easy. So I’ll give you fair warning that this does take time to make. It took about half a day to prepare the soup, chill & set with agar-agar, prep the filling, make & knead the dough, cut out dough circles, wrap, and steam. Whew. I know you’re saying, “those damn dumplings better taste mighty fine.” And oh, yes they did (you have my permission to skip to the beginning of this post to have another go at it or to see the picture of our Sunset Soup Sdumpling Supper. but please do come back because it took 2 hours and 3 glasses of wine to figure out how to use the slide show thingy below. maybe the wine had something to do with it taking 2 hours, but who knows)
Notes on Hot Water Dough:
Since I had never made XLB before, another call to Mom…and no, she didn’t advise me to get a can of Pews-bewry dough. The combination of using hot water and cold water was perfect and is one of the secrets -the boiling hot water partially cooks the dough & forms gluten better, resulting in a soft, stretchy, pliable and very easy to work with and do multiple pleats. The dough rolled beautifully, but it was still very strong and held the filling without breaking. When you add the hot water, take a pair of chopsticks and use that to stir vigorously to get the gluten going. How vigorous? Well, the best way to describe is to show the dough who’s boss and slap the dough around!
After a couple of minutes of all that slapping, add the cold water, stir more. Dump it out on your floured surface and knead. Magically, the dough changes and becomes so soft and springy. Simply put, the dough is giving in to you. Tired of being slapped. Yes, you’re the boss.
My mom initially told me 300g of all purpose flour, however, I found that not to be enough and kept adding more flour as I went along. In the recipe, I’m going to estimate that it is 400g. However, I’ll talk a little about how I know when to add more flour below.
Notes on Kneading:
When I am making anything that involves flour and kneading, I always use 90% measurement of flour than what the recipe calls for initially. The reason is that I can always add more flour if needed – its very simple to do that and very simple to knead the additional flour in by hand. However, if you have too much flour, it is very difficult to add more water to the dough. I also measure out the flour by weight, not by cups, as everyone measures a little different and ingredients may settle in the measuring cup a little different. So I initially use 90% of the flour and reserve the remaining 10% on my counter to incorporate bit by bit as I knead. This ensures that I never use too much flour. Your counter should be floured, so that the dough doesn’t stick to the counter. While you are kneading, if the dough is very sticky, add 1T of flour at a time. Sprinkle some on top of the dough, some on the counter – and knead to incorporate the new flour thoroughly. It feels right when its slightly tacky, but not sticky. The dough should come together beautifully in a nice, smooth, round ball. Let it rest (you’d be tired too if you were slapped around). When you poke it with your finger, the dough should slowly ease back into position.
Master XLB pleaters pleat lightening fast. And, they pleat the dumplings with one hand. I just don’t have that kind of talent and I didn’t count how many pleats there were. Each dumpling was a little different based on how well I managed to get my fat fingers out of the way on the last fold. For me to explain how I did this in words, I’d probably need a couple of cocktails in hand. Here’s a series of images to show you instead!
A confession about the oh-so-perfect cubes that were pictured in the Foreplay section. I started out with perfect cubes – trying to imitate the method Kuidore used. I should have known that for me, someone who compulsively has to touch and mess up the columns of flawlessly folded t-shirts at The Gap, it was just too perfect for me. So, instead, I took a fork and ran it quickly through the gelatin cubes to break it up into smaller pieces and mixed that directly into my pork/shrimp filling.
Another note about the recipe in Bon Appetit: Anita Lo’s filling recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of sugar, which I think is too much. Maybe she meant 3 tsp? I don’t want to doubt the recipe from Anita, whom I really respect. Well, anyways, it tasted great with 2 tsp. The filling shouldn’t be too sweet. Its a savory dish. Anita’s version of using pre-made won-ton wrappers is great if you’re in hurry, but since I’m going to take the time and energy to make the broth and the filling, why not just take a little more time and love to make your own wrapper too? Using won-ton skins really would be such a waste on this dish! I guess its like making a delicate, home-made chocolate souffle and then squirting Hershey’s chocolate syrup on top of it. Yeah, you could….but why? Also, most won-ton skins are too thin to make XLB – I can’t imagine how well it would work. Regarding the round 3″ cookie cutter used to cut out the dough rounds: I didn’t have one. So I took a small can of bamboo shoots, opened both sides of it and used the can as my cookie cutter. Since I have one of those nifty Oxo no-sharp edges can openers, it was pretty easy and no cut fingers.
Don’t worry, the bamboo shoots didn’t go to waste, they went into a batch of My Mom’s Famous Egg Rolls .
Xiao Long Bao Recipe
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
1/2 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 inch piece of ginger, sliced into 4-5 ginger "coins"
2 green onions, cut into 3" pieces
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
Place 4 cups of the broth back in the pot, turn on the heat. When just about to boil again, turn heat off and add the agar-agar or gelatin. Whisk for 2 minutes until all powder is dissolved. Pour broth into an 8x8 baking dish (size really doesn't matter. if you have a few plastic containers, use those instead. remember how you used to make jello?) Refrigerate until set, about 3-4 hours. (I stuck mine in the freezer after the first hour because I got impatient...it only took 2 hours for mine to set)
1 lb ground pork
1/4 lb shrimp, shelled, deveined and minced finely
3 stalks green onion, finely minced
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (use rasp grater)
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix all ingredients. Remember the broth gelatin above? When the broth gelatin is set, run a fork through it, with criss-cross motion, to break up into very small 1/4" pieces. Take about 1 1/2 cups of the broth gelatin and add that to the filling mixture. Stir to incorporate evenly throughout. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Mom's Hot Water Dough
(makes about 40 dumplings)
400 grams of all-purpose flour (but please re-read the part above re: dough)
3/4 cups boiling hot water
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Put 90% of the flour in a large bowl. Pour about a third of the hot water in the flour. Use a pair of chopsticks to stir vigorously. Add more hot water. Stir more. Add the last bit of the water and stir vigorously until the dough begins to form. Add the cold water and oil. Keep stirring vigorously with chopsticks. Stop when you can't stir anymore.
Dust counter with the remainder 40 grams of 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 plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take one piece (cover the remaining 3 pieces with plastic wrap) and roll it into a long log, about 1-1/4" diameter. Using pastry scraper or knife, cut dough into pieces about the size of a golf ball. Roll one of the balls between your palms to get a nice, round, smooth ball. Using a rolling pin, roll it out flat. Use 3" cookie cutter or improvise with my ghetto version of a cutter to cut out the dough circle. **Note, you may need more flour as your are rolling out your dough. I always keep the counter dusted and a small pile of flour nearby so I can quickly nudge some over if I need it.
Fill with 1 tablespoon of filling, pinch pleat by following the slideshow above. Repeat with 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 and refrigerate)
2 tablespoons of sambal (hot chili & garlic sauce)
1/2 cup black vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon of shaved ginger
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.
1 head of Napa cabbage, leaves separated
Fill steamer with 1 layer of Napa cabbage leaves. Steam over medium heat for 2 minutes to warm up the steamer and to soften cabbage. Place dumplings on the cabbage leaves, leaving 1 1/2" space between each dumpling. Steam for 12 minutes. Serve in bamboo steamer. Eat orgasmically.