Why It Works
- Collagen-rich cuts of chicken ensure the stock will gel properly.
- Homemade dumpling wrappers are perfect for stretching around the filling and crimping into the traditional purse shape that keeps the juicy soup filling from leaking out.
- Whisking the jellied stock with the filling simplifies the dumpling-making process.
Ok, so we've been through guo tie (fried dumplings), the thick-skinned, crisp-on-the-bottom potstickers from Beijing, but what about their Shanghai counterparts? I'm talking the delicate xiao long bao of Shanghai; the ones that appear to be your standard dumplings, but miraculously burst open in a mouthful of savory broth with a tender meatball floating inside as you bite into them.
They're not extremely tough to make, but they are time-consuming, and here's why: In order to get the broth inside the filling, it must first be solidified, and that means making a real chicken and/or pork broth—no cheating by using the canned stuff.
When you cook down real chicken or pork bones, the connective tissue collagen (mainly from in and around the ligaments where the muscles connect to the bones and the joints) slowly breaks down into three gelatin molecules. It's these long, string-like proteins that form a connective matrix that adds viscosity to a well-made stock.
A slow-cooked broth made with plenty of bones and reduced a bit should gel into a firm, Jell-O-like texture when it's chilled, like the stock above. Here, I used chicken wings and backs for body and flavored the stock with Chinese ham, ginger, white pepper, and scallions.
Of course, if you're really desperate for a fix, you could always use packaged commercial gelatin (or even agar agar) to set canned chicken broth into a gel, but where's the fun in that?
After making your broth, the rest of the process is simple—no different from any other dumpling. Blend together your filling ingredients (I like to use a mix of pork and shrimp flavored simply with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, salt, sugar, and a few scallions), add your gelled broth, fold them into dumpling wrappers, and steam them.*
*I must acknowledge that hardcore soup-dumpling makers will add filling and gelled broth separately. I find this very difficult, so I just mix the gelled broth directly into the filling. The end result: The meat forms a slightly looser meatball inside the wrapper as it cooks because of all the space left behind from the melting broth, but to my taste, this is not a bad thing.
"With soup dumplings in particular, shape is important."
This is one case where you must use homemade dough—store-bought dumpling wrappers are not stretchy enough, and you will not be able to fold them into the right shape. With soup dumplings in particular, shape is important: Rather than having a long seam running along one side (like with fried dumplings), soup dumplings are pleated up like a purse, so that the only place where the filling could possibly leak out is the tiny hole at the tip.
Once you have rolled out your dough into round wrappers, place a small amount of filling in the center of the wrapper and moisten very slightly with your fingertip.
You can try crimping the dumpling while holding it in your palm, but it's far easier to rest the dumpling on the board as you work. Start crimping the edges, working your way slowly around the entire circumference of the wrapper.
Keep crimping until the entire top is sealed save for a small hole in the center.
Pinch and twist the very top to form a seal.
When steaming, you must line your steamer with something to prevent sticking. Parchment paper works, but napa cabbage leaves are cheaper, tastier, and more traditional.
If all goes well, the dumplings should stay intact, housing a delicious, soupy secret.
For the Broth:
3 pounds chicken backs or wings
1/2 pound Chinese ham or slab bacon
6 scallions, whites separated, greens roughly chopped
1-inch knob ginger
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
For the Filling:
1/3 pound ground pork
1/4 pound raw shrimp, peeled
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sugar
For the Dough:
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
Napa cabbage leaves
Combine chicken bones, ham, scallion whites, half of scallion greens, ginger, and white peppercorns in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Strain broth, season to taste with salt, cover, and refrigerate until set into a semi-firm jelly, at least 8 hours.
Meanwhile, combine pork, shrimp, soy sauce, wine, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining scallion greens in a food processor. Process until a fine paste is formed, about 12 to 15 one-second pulses. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Meanwhile, place flour in the bowl of a food processor. With machine running, slowly drizzle in water until a cohesive dough is formed (you probably won't need all the water). Allow dough to ride around processor for 30 seconds. Form into a ball using floured hands and transfer to a bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
When broth is gelled, transfer filling mixture to a bowl along with 1 cup of jellied broth (save the rest for another use). Beat or whisk it in until homogenous. Keep filling well chilled.
Divide dough into 4 sections, and each section into 10 small tablespoon-sized balls, making 40 balls total. On a well-floured work surface, roll each ball into a round, flat wrapper, 3 1/2- to 4-inches in diameter. Stack wrappers and keep under plastic until all of them are rolled out.
To form dumplings, place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with a wet fingertip or a pastry brush. Pleat edges of the wrapper repeatedly, pinching the edge closed after each pleat until the entire dumpling is sealed in a cinched purse shape. Pinch and twist top to seal. Transfer sealed dumplings to a lightly floured wooden or parchment-lined board.
Place a bamboo steamer over a wok with 2 inches of water. Place over medium-high heat until simmering. Line steamer with napa cabbage leaves and place dumplings directly on leaves. Steam until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, being careful not to break them.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||6%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||8%|
|Total Carbohydrate 33g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||5%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||3%|
|*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.|