With bright pink chunks of plump shrimp veiled in thin, stretchy, translucent dough, har gow—crystal-skinned shrimp dumplings—may well be the most popular dim sum classic of all. You might think there's a lot of difficult technique involved in getting those shrimp so plump and the skins so delicate, but it's really much easier than it seems. This particular recipe is a combination of tricks and techniques I've learned watching my parents and uncle make har gow since I was a small child.
Let's start with the filling.
The filling for har gow is usually pretty straightforward—shrimp and pork fat at its most basic, with the occasional bamboo shoot or scallion thrown in for fancier versions.
To start, I boil pork fatback in water to remove some of the excess moisture and to soften it a bit. Fatback is great because it releases its fat slowly, keeping things moist and flavorful instead of greasy the way, say, lard or excess oil would do.
I cut it into very fine pieces so that they melt into the shrimp as the dumplings steam.
The secret to plump shrimp? A brief marinade in a baking soda solution. The higher pH helps the shrimp retain more moisture as it cooks. Check out Kenji's post on shrimp wontons for a side-by-side look at how it works.
After marinating, I cut the shrimp into small chunks, and then combine them with the fatback and a few aromatics.
Ginger, garlic, Shaoxing rice wine, salt, sugar, and a pinch of white pepper, along with a dash of oil and cornstarch. The cornstarch helps thicken and retain any juices that escape during the steaming process.
The trickiest part of making this dumpling is getting the right texture for the skin. Unlike siu mai (open-topped pork and shrimp dumplings) and pan fried dumplings, the skin of a har gow—made from a combination of wheat and tapioca starches—is translucent and slightly chewy.
Classic har gow dough is made with the hot water method: boiling water is poured over a bowl containing the starches, and then the mixture is kneaded. The boiling water will help prevent the dough from getting too elastic, instead allowing it to form a smooth, malleable mass with an easy-to-roll texture similar to Play-Doh.
I knead it until smooth, then roll it into a long strip to make it easy to cut into even balls.
Then, I roll out each evenly sliced piece with a pin, making sure to work on a lightly floured surface.
If you are the kind of cook who likes to take on one task at a time, make sure to keep the finished rounds of dough stacked up underneath a sheet of plastic wrap so that they don't dry out before you can stuff them.
If you're not used to pleating dumpling skins, wrapping these can be a little tricky. Check out some step-by-step instructions in this post about making potstickers.
Personally, my dumpling pleating skills are pretty sad, so I usually do a simple half-moon wrap and just crimp the edges with a fork.
So long as your dumpling stays shut tightly enough to keep the filling and juices trapped inside, you've accomplished your goal.
Once formed, the dumplings can be frozen on a sheet tray, then placed in a zipper-lock bag for long-term storage. You can even cook them directly out of the freezer. That's why it's always nice to invite friends over for a dumpling party and get huge batches of them frozen ahead of time to feed you at moment's notice down the line.
When you're ready to cook, just place the dumplings in a parchment or cabbage-lined steamer over boiling water and a few minutes later you've got yourself one of the greatest dim sum treats around.
No, one batch is NOT enough.