November 28, 2008

In my eyes, it it a culinary achievement to create, on a small scale, a nutritious meal that fits in the palm of your hand; a closed system whose hull, body, and marrow is all edible. I am in awe of dumplings in all forms and cultural beginnings: ravioli, potstickers, gyoza, pierogis, empanadas, to name only a few.

Tasting all moving parts on a plate at once is a conundrum. I just had Thanksgiving dinner. I can barely fit turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and potatoes on my plate, let alone in my mouth.

So dumplings, these all-in-one phenomena, are impressive little bodies of food. The Xiaolongbao (XLB) are at the height of innovation, because not only do they contain filling, but liquid filling: SOUP.

To be honest, the impetus for creating my blog was the arduous journey of researching and making these little monsters, no small feat. I scoured the internet for information. I found few sites, limited information about the process, and a newfound yearning for Chinese tutelage. So this post is long. I want to explain what I've learned and what I know.

Nowadays, XLB are everywhere in China, although they originated from around Shanghai, possibly the jiang su province. They stand apart from other dumplings in their refined composition, their preparation, and of course their soup contents.

Unlike dim sum, which is from the canton province and Hong Kong, XLB originated in the north. Their predecessors are shui jiao, boiled dumplings, traditionally eaten by farmers to celebrate the wholeness of their family on occasions such as new years. Poorer families stretched their meat supply by putting small morsels between thicker folds. This style changed as dumplings moved to more prosperous cities like Shanghai. Boiling begat steaming and panfrying. Meat size grew larger, peels thinner. Soup filling was introduced by stuffing the dough with gelee.

XLB are delicate and labor intensive giving a nod to both Shanghai's refined style and tradition. They are single-bite bursts of flavour. Although once for the middle to upper class, now they are eaten as street food. They are snacks, or components of a large meal, but continue to be jewels, however colloquial they have become.

RECIPE (makes about 200 XLB)

Don't freak out

Making these puppies is labor intensive and requires time, 2 days at the very least. Purveying is time, as is making the gelee. This is Day 1. The rest is Day 2. You will likely be dressed in white flour and perfumed with ginger and white pepper by the end of it all.

There are 4 separate micro-procedures you must go through before assembling: Stewing and setting the broth gelee, blending scallion juice, kneading and resting the dough, and flavouring the meat.

INGREDIENTS: This recipe can easily be halved
WARE: Stock pot, Blender, strainer, large bowls, steamer (bamboo + wok)

BROTH ASPIC/GELEE (3 cups) - Must be made a day before
- 2 pig's feet
- 8 c water
- 5 stalks green onions, cut in half
- 2x 3 inch fingers of ginger, peeled and cut into coins
- 1/2 c Shaoxing Chinese wine
- Salt, be judicious... less is more right now
- 1/2 t white pepper
- 2 t agar powder

**A note on ingredients and purveying: Most of these ingredients can be found at the grocery store. For the agar, wine, and pig's feet, I suggest going to the asian market. Even the most hoity toity of "neighborhood butchers" may not have pig's feet on hand. If you have no large asian store (may wah for SFers) call butchers one day ahead of time to order. You will see either just pig's feet or pig's feet plus some calf in the meat window. Get some with calf. There is flavor there. If pig's feet is just not a piece of the animal you can reconcile, use chicken skin, it will do the same trick. I would say that a small chicken (3-4 lbs) can work in place.

White pepper does not equal black pepper. Ginger should look young and not shriveled. You can store it in the freezer if you have too much.

1. Clean the pigs feet by putting them in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. then drain rinse and scrub anything suspect.

2. Put all the ingredients expect for the agar into the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer IMMEDIATELY. Keep the broth under boiling at all times. This will aid in reducing any unwanted foam and keep the broth as clear as possible. Otherwise, you will have murky broth. There is really no difference-- but we are perfectionists, really. Simmer for 2-3 hours.
3. Cool broth and taste. Make sure that the broth is not too peppery and savory. If you feel that there is too much pepper. It is not too late. Turn the flame off and strain the contents into a clean glass bowl. Let gravity sink the white pepper to the bottom of the pot. Skim the fat off. Pour the broth you need into another clean vessel, leaving the silt on the bottom.
4. Pour the reserved broth into a saucepan. Heat, but not until boiling. Pour the powdered agar into a ladle and scoop a bit of the broth into the ladle. Swirl until dissolved and then mix with the rest of the broth in the saucepan. Mix to combine. Cool and put in a glass container.
5. Cover and refrigerate the broth overnight. It will cool and become Jello.
6. Cube into pieces the size of crushed .

DOUGH enough for 200x 3 1/2 inch rounds. Make a day ahead to even out work load.
- 6 C bread flour
- 2 t salt
- 2 c boiling water

I tested all-purpose v. high protein flour used for breads and pizza. The latter was superior. Not only did it taste better, withstood rolling and folding, maintained shape. Use it and it will make your life easier.

1. Put flour and salt in a large bowl while boiling water
2. Add boiling water to dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time stirring furiously.

3. Once the dough comes together dump out onto a clean, lightly floured, counter top. Knead 10-12 minutes.

JUICE (2 cups)
- 7 stalks green onions
- 2x 4 inch fingers of ginger, peel and cut into coins
- 2 c water

Blend the scallions, ginger, and water together. Strain and press the solids to extract as much juice as possible. You should have two cups. Cover and Chill.

- 2 lbs ground pork - NOT LEAN, fat content can vary; more fat more flavour
- 1 t salt
- 2 t soy sauce
- 3 t sesame oil
- 2.5 T sugar
- 1 T rice vinegar
- 2 c juice (above)
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- 3 c cubed gelee

1. Mix together first six ingredients.
2. Add juice a half cup at a time. The meat should take all the juice, but add incrementally for ease of mixing. The meat should look like paste. Stop early if it seems saturated.

3. Add egg and egg yolk.
4. Add in the aspic at a 2:1 meat:aspic ratio per unit volume. Now you have filling!


1. Working with a chunk of dough at a time, bring it to room temperature.
2. Take a small ball the 3/4 inches in diameter and roll out on a floured surface until 3 1/2 - 4 inches in diameter. You want to position yourself well over the counter with a good amountof height. You can use you weight to help roll out the circle. This is tough work-- elbow grease. The peel should be as thin as possible. We are not potstickers here!
3. Mound 1 heaping tsp of filling into the middle of the disk. While peaking into the back of a kitchen restaurant in hong kong, I noticed that the staff pressed the mound down so it was no longer a sphere but a rounded anthill. There should be at least a 1 cm rim of peel containing no filling.
4. Most people pleat holding the dumpling in their left hand, but because I am a novice I prefer to put the dumpling on the surface of a table and use both my fingers to pleat. It is important to keep your finger dry. Keep a rag on hand. If your fingers tough the filling, dry them off.
5. Hold an arc of the peel with both hands in between your index fingers and your thumb. Begin to pleat by folding your the flap of peel you hold with your right hand under that of your left. Move your left hand even more left and pleat again with the right hand. Continue pleating around the circle. Your hole will close as you move around.

6. Once you get around the perimeter of the peel. Take the rim of the pleat circle squeeze and twist counterclockwise. The first few times, put minimal filling into the center to practice this method. As you get more skilled, add more filling.

Place finished product on a flour cookie sheet. Repeat over and over and over and over. Watch a movie if you get bored. Go for a run, come back. If you have too many. Freeze on the cookie sheet and then put in a freezer lock bag when frozen.

You're almost there! Believe it or not, you can screw it all up in the nine inning. So be careful and not mindless with steaming. Be sure to line the bottom of your steaming pan with napa cabbage peels or a moistening paper towel to prevent sticking. If the dumpling sticks, you will tear the skin when you try and pick them up. the broth will escape and you will enter depression. Deep depression. And then you will drink and get side tracked, and never finish.
Steam for 10 minutes on napa cabbage. Draw restraint (matthew barney) and let the little gems cool! Remember, broth is inside, and it is CALIENTE. To fully enjoy the dumpling, you don't want to choke and sputter on hot broth.

Dip the XLB in a bit of vinegar, use a big spoon (preferably ceramic), and either pop the dumpling in its entirety in yoru mouth, or nibble and catch the juices in your spoon. ENJOY! You F(*^King deserve it. I think it would be good with a lighter beer (not to be confused with a low calorie beer). Something Asian would be authentic like Tsingtao beer. A little less authentic but premium in quality would be a Sapporo or Kirin.


1. My mom and dad: Maggie and Chuky Kwan
2. http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2006/04/the_xiao_long_b.html

3. http://www.galaxylink.com.hk/~john/food/cooking/shanghai/xiaolongbao.htm


Arcenia said...

Where can i get some xialongbao?

Anonymous said...

FUCKING AMAZING. mesmerized.

Unknown said...

yum! you're a one man kitchen guerrilla. That's your style. sweet pictures. tasty food (I can vouch).
Get a rice cooker! DO IT!

P.S. More shortribs ina pot, please..

KirkK said...

Hi Katie - Wow, you did such a beautiful job with the XLB!

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