Lately I've been craving some of my favorite dim sum dishes at home. First, I made har gow (crystal shrimp dumplings) and then I got on a sui mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) kick. Now I've fixed my eyes on lo mai gai—sticky rice wrapped in a dried lotus leaf.
Lo mai gai contains glutinous rice flavored with chicken, shiitake mushrooms, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), pork belly, dried shrimp, and salted egg yolk. It's wrapped into a rectangular parcel, then steamed for over an hour. One of the best parts, besides eating it, of course, is unwrapping it. The first thing you notice is the scent of the lotus leaf. As you start unwrapping it, that scent lingers, but now it's joined by the smell of the sweet sausage and seasonings like soy sauce and shallot. When you start eating it, all the ingredients come together.
There are different variations of lo mai gai with different fillings, but sticky rice and chicken are always included. It just wouldn't be lo mai gai without them—the exact translation of the dish's name is, after all, "sticky rice chicken."
To make these, you first need sticky rice. Commonly labeled as "sweet rice" or "glutinous rice", sticky rice is not the same as short grain rice, which is the rice you would use for sushi. To soften the sticky rice for steaming, it first needs to be soaked in water for at least 2 hours. If you want to prepare these in advance, you can also soak the rice overnight.
After soaking, drain the rice well. Next, you'll mix sautéed shallots, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil into the rice. I like to add a little bit of dried shrimp too, for both flavor and texture. Dried shrimp are sort of an acquired taste—feel free to skip them if you prefer.
Another important component of this recipe is the chicken. It needs to be marinated first and then stir-fried before being folded into the rice.
For the pork belly, instead of braising fresh belly, I like to use lap yuk (Chinese bacon). It's flavorful, adds just a hint of smokiness to the filling, and doesn't need to be cooked beforehand.
To give the filling a little bit of richness, I add half of a salted egg yolk. You can use either cooked or uncooked salted egg yolks here.
When you have all the ingredients for the filling ready, it's time to wrap it all up. Lo mai gai just wouldn't be the same without the lotus leaf. Not only does it hold everything together, but it adds that subtle fragrance to the dish.
They're usually sold at well stocked Asian supermarkets, but they need to be soaked for an hour before being used to wrap up the rice. If you don't can't find lotus leaves, you still can make this recipe using parchment paper (which I've shown in some of the photo at the top), but the taste will be slightly different.
Unlike other dim sum dishes, such as dumplings, lo mai gai is quite easy to form—just put the sticky rice mixture in the middle of a leaf and fold the leaf around it, then tie with twine.
Since the sticky rice is raw inside, it needs to be cooked, which you can do by steaming the wraps for about an hour and a half. Make sure to check the water level every 30 minutes to make sure it doesn't fully evaporate away.
Lo mai gai are best when they are hot and right out of the steamer. To eat, remove the string that's holding it together and carefully unwrap the lotus leaf. If you are planning to eat these later in the day or the next day, steam them, let them cool down, and then refrigerate. To reheat, steam for 10 to 20 minutes.
Lo mai gai also freeze well. Just steam them, let them cool down, wrap each one in a double layer of plastic wrap and place them in the freezer. There's no need to defrost before you reheat them; they can go straight into the steamer for 30 minutes.
As for me, I'll be eating mine right away. I can't help it!