Love XLB? Time to Make Sheng Jian Bao (Pan-Fried Pork Soup Dumplings)

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Deliciously doughy pan-fried soup dumplings. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

Is there anything better than xiao long bao, a.k.a. soup dumplings, a.k.a. one of the most delicious dumplings* in the world? Bursting with hot soup and seasoned meat, they're pretty hard to top. Unless, of course, you're talking about sheng jian bao, the breadier, pan-fried cousin of XLB.

Just like XLB, sheng jian bao hail from Shanghai and are filled with a flavorful, juicy pork filling. What sets the two apart is how they are cooked. Soup dumplings are always steamed and bursting with soup, while sheng jian bao are a little less soupy and are steamed and pan-fried—all in the same pan.

* Or 'buns' if you prefer.

The method of both pan-frying and steaming in the same pan is genius. You get the best of both textures. The dumplings are crisp on the bottom and tender everywhere else. It's the same cooking method used to cook gyoza, Japanese potstickers.

You'll begin the sheng jian bao by making the filling. Just like with any pork dumpling, if you want it to be juicy, you need fatty pork. One of the best cuts for that is pork belly.

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Napa cabbage and shiitakes are added for both texture and flavor along with seasonings like Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, garlic, scallion, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and white pepper. You can make the filling a day ahead and keep it refrigerated.

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Next is the dough. The wrapper for sheng jian bao is a little thicker and less stretchy than what you'd use for xiao long bao.

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I make it by combining all-purpose flour with baking powder, cornstarch, yeast, sugar, and salt, then mixing in warm milk.

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I knead the dough into a ball, then let it rest for 30 minutes.

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Then I divide it into sections...

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...cut those sections into smaller portions...

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...and roll them out into 3 1/2-inch rounds.

One of the problems I find here in the U.S. when eating sheng jian bao is the dough tends to be too thick, too doughy, and the dumplings too big. Sheng jian bao are not supposed to be as delicate as soup dumplings, but they also aren't meant to be twice as big and thick. For this recipe, the dough ends up tender and just the right thickness.

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Once the dough is rolled out and you have the filling made, it's time for the part that most novice dumpling-makers dread: wrapping.

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Explaining how to wrap a dumpling using text instructions is probably one of the least helpful ways to do it. For this step, I'm going to direct you to this video from Christine's Recipe. As you can see, it's a process that involves pleating, pinching...

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...pleating, pinching...

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...repeat, repeat.

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Even if you're not great at wrapping dumplings, do give it a try. If you're not happy with the results, you can always flip the dumpling over and pan-fry it seam-side down.

To cook your sheng jian bao, get a pan with some oil in it nice and hot. Then arrange the dumplings in it, being careful not to crowd the pan, since the dumplings will expand as they cook (work in batches if necessary).

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Once the bottoms of the dumplings are lightly golden brown, which takes about 30 seconds, pour a little water in the pan, cover, and cook until the water evaporates.

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The water steams the dumplings, and, as it evaporates, the bottoms of the dumplings fry and brown even more, eventually becoming crispy.

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These are best enjoyed hot, straight out of the pan when they are at their peak of juiciness. If you love soup dumplings, you need to give sheng jian bao a try.

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They might not be as famous as their cousins, but sheng jian bao are just as tasty and delicious.

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