Saturday, September 13, 2014

For the Love of Xiaolongbao

From the time I moved to Shanghai, I have been obsessed with Shanghainese Soup Dumplings, aka Xiaolongbao.  Xiaolongbao is the perfect marriage of pasta, meatballs, and soup.  They are usually presented scalding, in a bamboo steamer.  After a five to ten minute wait, it is safe to puncture the translucent pasta skin, suck out the meaty broth, and savor the remains with a little vinegar. 

The perfect xiaolongbao has a delicate pasta shell and a juicy, meaty inside.  This is the ultimate Chinese comfort food.
The flavor of the xiaolongbao is enhanced with Chinese vinegar.  
If you haven’t eaten Xiaolongbao, I highly recommend stopping by Din Tai Fung, or another dumpling restaurant to try them out.

My favorite Xiaolongbao joint is Linlong Fang in the Dapuqiao Metro Station.  One can get 12 xiaolongbao for 12RMB.  (That's about $2.00 USD)  Places like Din Tai Fung are a tad pricer.
One of my biggest fears of repatriating is I will be deprived of this amazing dish.  For the last two years, I have been asking my local friends how to make Xiaolongbao so I will be able to eat them anytime anywhere, and they have always given me the same response,

“Xiaolongbao is so difficult to make.  I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” Or “If you learn how to make them, please show me how.”

So, Chris signed us up for an advanced Xiaolongbao class at The Kitchen At so we will never be without.  I have to tell you, making Xiaolongbao is that tricky.  I hope I am able to recreate what we learned.  Here’s how we did it.

First we mixed 200g of flour and 100 ml of cold water to make the wraps.  It was extremely important for this mixture to be well mixed.  Otherwise the xiaolongbao wrappers would be too dry. 
Then we covered the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes. 
While the dough rested, we combined 250g ground pork belly, 30g ginger, 5g salt, 30g sugar, a dash of white pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
We then "whipped the meat" by kneading the mixture and throwing it in a metal bowl.  This process was extremely messy!  Ground pork flew all over our recipe and workspace. 
When the mixture felt "glutinous", we added 50ml of water until and continued mixing until it felt "glutinous" again.  We repeated this process once.
After the water had absorbed, we added 100g of pork skin jelly to the mixture.  In case you were wondering, pork jelly is made of pork skin, chicken feet, lean pork leg, shiitake mushrooms, water, spring onions, ginger, yellow rice wine, and salt.  It takes at least 6 hours to cook and even longer to chill.  After I read this part of the recipe, I knew there was a slim chance of this dish ever being recreated in my home. I'm not that gifted of a chef.
After we gently combined the pork jelly with the meat mixture, we grabbed our dough and started to make xiaolongbao wrappers.
We rolled the dough into long logs.

Then we snapped pieces of dough off the log to make little dough balls.  
We rolled the balls into wrappers...
...and stuffed them with the meat mixture.

Then we pinched the dough in special folds to finish the dumplings.

I was quite proud of my first two xiaolongbao!
These were the instructor's xiaolongbao.
These were my xiaolongbao.  I think they were the ugliest xiaolongbao I have ever seen. 

After 6 minutes in the steamer, the xiaolongbao were ready to eat!!!  They were pretty tasty, but restaurant xiaolongbao is MUCH tastier.

Needless to say, it is MUCH easier and cheaper to buy Xiaolongbao than make them from scratch.  However, it is comforting to know I could hypothetically make these in the States.  In the meantime, I will stick with Linlong Fang and Din Tai Fung for my Xiaolongbao fix!