Shanghai Soup Dumplings

Shanghai Soup Dumplings. (Image:  Charles Hayes via  flickr  CC BY-SA 2.0)
Shanghai Soup Dumplings. (Image: Charles Hayes via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

To make Shanghai soup dumplings or xiao long bao, you would normally mix ground pork with a thick pork aspic (made by boiling pork skin, fat, and feet for hours) and wrap it in a thin purse of dough. As the dumplings steam, the aspic melts into a soup. This approach can make a delicious dumpling, but if you’re not careful, it can also turn out heavy and greasy. That’s why this method calls for aspic to be made with powdered gelatin, which, after an overnight rest in the refrigerator, will set into a gel without the hours of boiling and straining of the traditional method — and with far less fat. If you’ve had the fatty soup dumplings before, you may be surprised at how light and clean these are, while still packed with flavor. The yield for this recipe is 24 dumplings.

If you’ve had the fatty soup dumplings before, you may be shocked at how light and clean these are, while still packed with flavor. (Image: jewell willett via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

If you’ve had the fatty soup dumplings before, you may be shocked at how light and clean these are, while still packed with flavor. (Image: jewell willett via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Ingredients

  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 32 1/4-ounce envelopes
  • 3-4 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, white and green parts
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 tbsp sherry cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 8 large cabbage leaves, or perforated sheets of parchment paper for lining the steamers
  • 24 steamed dumpling wrappers

Preparing the filling

The night before, bring a large pot with 14 cups of water to a boil and stir in 1 tsp of the sugar and ½ tsp of the salt. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved, then simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened like a rich stock. Remove from the heat, transfer the liquid to a bowl, and let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, in a blender, small food processor, or mortar, combine the ginger, scallions, and 2 tbsp of water and puree (or mash with a pestle) until the mixture becomes a paste.

In a medium bowl, use your hands to combine the pork, ginger-scallion paste, wine, remaining 4 tbsp plus 2 tsp of sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, remaining tsp of salt, the pepper, and sesame oil, and fold it together for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is very well blended and all the liquid is fully absorbed into the meat. Finely chop the gel and use your hands to gently fold it into the filling until well combined.

Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water; a bamboo steamer should fit snugly on top of the pot. Bring the water to a simmer and line 2 steamers with the cabbage leaves.

Pick up one dumpling wrapper and lightly tug around the edges to stretch it out slightly; place it in the palm of your non-dominant hand. With your dominant hand, use a fork to add about 1½ to 2 tbsp of the filling to the center of the wrapper, and then lightly pat down the filling with the fork to get rid of any air bubbles.

Place the thumb of your non-dominant hand on the filling to secure it in place. Pinch an edge of the wrapper between your other thumb and index finger and start pleating the edge of the wrapper up and around the filling, rotating the dumpling as you pleat the wrapper while pressing the filling into place. As you connect the two ends of the dumpling together, lightly twist the topknot to get rid of any air bubbles, and then pinch it shut. Inspect the dumpling for any holes where the filling could leak out and pinch them shut. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers.

Preparing the sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Divide into small dishes and top with julienned ginger.

Steaming the dumplings

Gently place 6 dumplings, spaced 1 inch apart, in each steamer so the topknots are facing up. Stack the steamers on top of each other on top of the pot, cover the top steamer, and steam the dumplings for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the wrappers lose their white sheen and turn slightly translucent. Remove from the heat, uncover the steamers, and serve immediately. Repeat with any remaining dumplings.

Eating

Scoop up a dumpling in a spoon and take a nibble out of the side to slurp up the broth and release the heat, then eat the dumpling. Soup dumplings are typically served with black vinegar and slivered ginger. Nibble an opening in the dumpling and add a few drops of the vinegar right inside.

Scoop up a dumpling in a spoon and take a nibble out of the side to slurp up the broth and release the heat, then eat the dumpling. (Image: Phil Denton via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Scoop up a dumpling in a spoon and take a nibble out of the side to slurp up the broth and release the heat, then eat the dumpling. (Image: Phil Denton via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tradition says a soup dumpling must have 18 pleats twisted into the top, a sure sign of a dumpling maker’s skill, but as long as you seal the dumpling well and fix any tears to keep the filling from leaking, the dumpling will taste great, which is all that matters in the end. If it’s your first time making soup dumplings, consider doubling the recipe to give yourself some practice dough, which can tear easily.

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