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Along with har gow (crystal shrimp dumplings), Chinese pork and shrimp siu mai are a dim sum classic. It is the first item I look for whenever I'm at a dim sum restaurant—yum cha (morning tea, of which dim sum is a part) would just not be complete with out a few bamboo steamers of siu mai on the table.
Wrapped in a thin sheet of dough and shaped like a squat cylinder, siu mai are typically filled with both pork and shrimp, though some are made only with shrimp or scallop, and there's also a Shanghai variety that's stuffed with glutinous rice. Sometimes bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, or dehydrated shiitake mushrooms are diced and added to the mixture. My favorite siu mai has always been the simplest ones, filled with just ground pork, chopped shrimp, and pork fat—the key ingredient for juicy and flavorful dumplings.
For the pork fat, my first choice is fatback. If it comes with the skin attached, make sure to slice that off first before finely dicing the fat (If you are purchasing it from a butcher, they can usually skin it for you). If you can't find fatback, ground pork belly is also a good way to add fat to the filling.
I finely grind both the pork and the fatback, but the shrimp I like to keep in slightly larger bits. A food processor works well for all three: The pork and fatback can go in together, while the shrimp should be pulsed separately, then they all can be mixed together to form the filling. Before processing the shrimp, though, I first marinate it briefly in cold water with baking soda, which helps to make the shrimp extra plump.
Once the pork, pork fat, and shrimp are together, I season with mixture with sesame oil, salt, white pepper, Shaoxing wine, and some ginger, plus a bit of cornstarch for additional binding power.
Without the wrapper, a naked siu mai would just be a meatball. Like with wontons, the wrappers used for siu mai are very thin, and indeed, store-bought wonton wrappers work well.
I try to get extra-thin ones, but if you can't find them, regular wrappers will also work. In the photos here, I used both extra-thin wonton wrappers and vegetable wonton wrappers (which are basically just green regular wonton wrappers).
Once you have the filling and the wrappers ready, it's time to wrap.
One of the hardest parts of dumpling making is wrapping the darned thing. Thankfully with siu mai, the process is pretty straightforward:
First, place a wonton wrapper in the palm of your hand.
Place a ball of stuffing in the middle.
Then bring two opposite corners towards the middle, gently squeezing them into place.
Now bring the remaining two corners together and squeeze once more to form a little wrinkled cup around the filling.
That's it, you've just made one!
Keep going and you'll have a whole batch.
For a finishing touch, I like to put a thinly sliced round of carrot on the bottom of each siu mai, as well as a small pile of chopped carrot on top. Traditionally, crab roe is used on top, but since the purpose of the roe is more for color and less for flavor, I like to replace it with minced carrots. Other garnish options include tobiko (flying fish roe), ikura (salmon roe), peas, or chopped scallion. If you're planning to use tobiko or ikura, add those at the end, after the siu mai are cooked and out of the steamer.
To steam the dumplings, make sure to line the tray or basket with parchment paper or cabbage leaves to prevent sticking.
Siu mai can be cooked fresh, but they can also be frozen and then cooked straight from frozen, which only takes a few minutes longer than for fresh ones.
Usually, siu mai require no dipping sauce. If you do want to whip up something quick, keep it simple—a splash of soy sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, and some fresh chopped scallions on the side is what I would recommend. Not only are siu mai quick to wrap and steam, these meaty little dumplings take even less time to consume.
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