Why It Works
- Marinating the shrimp with baking soda helps keep them plump and crisp as they steam.
- Finely diced, par-boiled fatback adds plenty of moisture to the mix.
- A hot water dough made with pure wheat starch is easily malleable and forms a translucent shell when steamed.
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 then cut the fatback 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, as well as 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 gyoza. 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.
For the Dough:
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup wheat starch (see notes)
6 tablespoons tapioca flour or tapioca starch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
For the Shrimp Filling:
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and de-veined
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 (2- by 3-inch piece) pork fatback, about 2 ounces
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Black vinegar for serving
For the Dough: Bring 1/2 cup of water to boil. In a bowl, add wheat starch, tapioca flour/starch, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients together. Add oil and boiling water. With a spatula, mix until a loose dough is formed. Turn dough out onto a table and knead until a smooth ball is formed. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.
For the Filling: In a medium bowl, cover shrimp with cold water and stir in baking soda. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a small pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add fatback and boil for 10 minutes. Drain fatback on paper towels and let cool. When the fatback is cool to the touch, remove the skin (if the skin is attached) and mince the fat. Set aside.
After 30 minutes in the refrigerator, drain and rinse shrimp under cold running water, then pat dry with paper towels. Chop shrimp into 4 to 5 pieces and place in a bowl. Add minced fatback, minced ginger, minced garlic, Shaoxing wine, salt, sugar, ground white pepper, oil, and cornstarch. Mix well and set aside in the refrigerator.
Cut the dough in half. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying and set aside. Roll the other half into a long rope. Cut the dough into 12 portions, about 1/4 ounce each. Using a small rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a circle about 2 inches in diameter. Continue with the rest of the portions and the other half of the dough, covering the finished wrappers in plastic wrap as you work. Cover the wrappers with plastic wrap until ready to fill.
To fill the wrappers, place 3 to 4 pieces of shrimp with the fatback in the middle of one wrapper. To form pleated dumplings, follow the instructions in this post. Alternatively, fold one side of the wrapper onto the other side forming a half moon.
Using a small fork, crimp the edge. Set aside on top of parchment paper. (See make-ahead and storage section below for freezing instructions.)
To cook the dumplings, set up a steamer. Make sure to line the steaming surface with parchment paper or cabbage leaves to prevent the dumplings from sticking. Steam each batch of dumplings over high heat for 7 minutes, or 9 minutes if they are coming straight from the freezer. Let the dumplings rest for 1 minute and serve with black vinegar.
Small roller, steamer
Wheat starch is available in Asian grocers or you can order it online from Amazon.
Pleating dumplings can be a little tricky (see this post for instructions on folding purse-shaped dumplings).
Make-Ahead and Storage
To freeze the dumplings, place the dumplings on a sheet pan or a flat surface lined with wax paper. Make sure dumplings are not touching each other. Freeze in the freezer until hard, about 1 hour. Once they are frozen, you can store them in ziplock bags or in another sealed container. Cook the dumplings straight from the freezer following directions in step 8.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 2g||3%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||3%|
|Total Carbohydrate 7g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|