One of the perks of living in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia is being able to enjoy dim sum whenever I want. All I have to do is walk five minutes out of my house and there are two dim sum restaurants to my left and another one on my right. With the exception of a few odd weekends when I've been out of town, I can confidently say I have gone dim sum-ing at least once a month during the 26 years I've lived in Philly.
For my parents and many of their friends, dim sum, also known as yum cha, is the only time in the week when they have the chance to relax and catch up with one another. It's an informal get-together over multiple courses of flavor-packed appetizers. Who wouldn't love that?
It's a fool's errand to try to completely replace, or even fully duplicate, the whole dim sum experience. Nothing can compare to having carts filled with steaming hot plates of food wheeled and showcased before your eyes (not to mention the large banquet halls and kitschy decor). But when hitting up the closest dim sum restaurant feels about as easy as traveling to China, creating a downscale experience at home is the answer, and the Dim Sum Classics we've been writing about all week are a great place to start.
The key to a successful DIY dim sum brunch is to do just a little bit of planning and, importantly, to refine your menu. Instead of having ten different plates of food with various ingredients and flavors, scale it down to three to four sides and one main dish, like congee or pan-fried noodles.
I've selected four dishes that bring together a variety of techniques, textures, and ingredients. Each of the small plates can be prepared at least a day in advance and re-steamed before serving (the chicken feet—yup, chicken feet—taste even better the second day).
- Ground Pork and Corn Congee
- Bean Curd Roll
- Crystal Skin Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)
- Braised Chicken Feet (Phoenix Claws)
The only dish that needs to be cooked the day-of is the congee. When there's 30 minutes left until the congee is done, set up your steamer. Depending on how big your steamer is, you may need to steam and re-heat each dish separately.
When heating, start with the braised chicken feet. Transfer them to a heat-proof plate that fits in your steamer, then steam away. They should take about fifteen minutes.
In the meantime, you can get the sauce for the bean curd rolls ready and pour it over the rolls. As soon as the chicken feet are done, wrap them in foil to keep warm, then swap them out for the bean curd. By the time they're hot and ready (use that foil again!), your congee should be just about finished.
The very last item to go in the steamer is the shrimp dumplings. Dumplings like har gow and siu mai should always be cooked last—they're best served directly out of the steamer, before they have a chance to cool even a little bit. Before placing the dumplings in the steamer, make sure to check your steamer's water level. Add more if you need to. Steam the dumplings for about 9 minutes, since they're coming straight from the freezer.
Now all you need are a few friends to help you eat, and plenty of good tea to wash it all down. With a little planning ahead, a weekend dim sum feast at home is a delicious, fun change from the standard pancakes and omelet brunch.