It’s easy to imagine my life in New York. Although I’ve made Tel Aviv my home for over 4 years now, my life in NY feels like it’s merely a blink away. Blink my eyes and I am standing in the subway station in Carroll Gardens waiting for the F, (or running to the G. Silly little short train that forces people to act crazy and sprint to the center of the platform whenever you approach.) If I close my eyes again and I can be sitting on the steps of the Met contemplating a warm pretzel with mustard. Knowing that the vendors are completely ripping me off because their prime location allows them to. If I squeeze them shut tightly enough I am in Chinatown at a giant table with a lazy susan devouring soup dumplings by the dozen.
While all this imagining stuff is great, sometimes you need more than just sugar plum fairies dancing in your head. The rush of warm air that engulfs the subway station or the frenzy of chatter on the front steps of the Met are difficult things to recreate. But soup dumplings; with their tiny surprises of liquid gold, packaged neatly in a perfectly pinched purse…. this is something I can aspire to. To create a tiny bite of NYC, oozing the taste of something so familiar it transports my mouth (bringing my body along with it) back to a table with a group of friends eating these cuties.
Though, it hadn’t crossed my mind to actually make soup dumplings or Xaio Long Bao, until I read a recipe for how these bad-baos are made (get it?).
The truth is that they are pure genius! Long before you taste the salty pork filling or the chewy exterior, you get a burst of wonderful soup. But how? In this case, the magic comes from the natural gelling process that takes place once you create a broth using chicken bones and pork. The first step to making these dumplings is to make a soup containing such gelatin rich ingredients, followed by a cooling down period, which in-turn allows the gelatin time to set up. Like magic, this concoction comes back to life while steaming, transforming it back into a liquid again, ensuring that when you slurp the dumpling into our mouth it is filled with a delicious burst of broth! TA-DA! Can you handle all of that molecular gastronomy inyourface action!?
When it comes to recipes that involve technique I’m unfamiliar with, I often consult Serious Eats to help me get all my cooking ducks in a row. More than that– I often check to see if this guy, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, has anything to say about it. He is both the Chief Creative Officer at Serious Eats and the guy who test and tastes all sorts of wonderful awe inspired recipes. I ‘consult’ with him, (in my head we are having a thorough conversation). I read his introduction, I read his recipe, and then before I make another move I read the comments section. Here, I often find even more crucial information from other readers. There are those who have tried the recipe, some have suggested alternatives, substitutions, even misgivings, failed attempts, constructive criticism and outright complaints. If you dig hard enough you will also find Kenji’s thoughtful responses, creating a sort of larger conversation that drifts between the blogger and his readers. I love this. If I’m hooked long enough to read through all the comments, then I have probably already written myself a list of ingredients to buy and am plotting my own culinary attempt.
Soup Dumplings * Recipe adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats
4 chicken backs
3″ piece of slab bacon
handful of green onions roughly chopped
1″ piece of ginger
1 tablespoon of white pepper (kenji calls for peppercorns- I only had ground white pepper, whatever)
small handful of szechuan peppercorns
salt to season with later
150 grams ground pork
120 grams shrimp
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
handful of green onion
1 chili or small handful of chili flakes (not enough to burn, just for flavor)
2 cups ’00’ flour
1 cup boiling water
It is important to get started with the soup the day before you intend to make the dumplings. Dump all ingredients for the soup into a big pot and cover with cold water. Leave the salt out until the end so you can season it properly.
Let it come to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Leave it to simmer for 2 -3 hours. Strain out all the contents and place the broth in a new bowl or container. At this point salt is key. Make sure you salt pretty liberally so that this component of your filling is nicely balanced.
Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours but I recommend a full overnight stay in the fridge to ensure the gelling process is complete.
To make the dough: combine your flour and boiling water in a bowl. Begin mixing with a spoon (the water is hot) once it starts to come together plop the whole mess on the table and work it until you have a nice smooth ball. This should come together in 2 to 3 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it hang out for 20 minutes or so.
Place your filling ingredients in a mixer and pulse to combine.
Mix in roughly 1 1/3 cups of your gelled soup mixture. We played around with this ratio quite a bit and felt that the more soup you are able to incorporate without making your overall mixture too wet the better the result.
Start to roll out your dough. I found it best to leave the bulk of it under the towel to keep it from drying out. I could then portion myself a small amount at a time. Each dumpling wrapper should be about the size of a gum ball. Using some flour on the table and the rolling pin, roll until it is a nice circle about 4″ in diameter.
Grab a small bowl and fill it with cold water. Holding the wrapper in your palm, wet the edges with a tiny bit of water, then place a tablespoon of filling in the center. Then using a crimping method begin folding the edge of the dumpling until you are able to pinch it shut and twist it slightly closed. I HIGHLY recommend watching a youtube video or two about this method before you try your hand at it.
Place your finished dumplings on a floured surface and begin to boil water for the steamer. Be sure there is at least 2″ distance between the water and the steamer.
IF you have cabbage at home, use the leaves to cover the base of your steamer (if you don’t have cabbage you can use baking paper. Just cut it according to the shape and size of your steamer. Be sure to cut a few narrow slits to allow some steam to get through easily).
Once the water is simmering fill the steamer with dumplings being sure to leave space to avoid them sticking. Steam for 5-6 minutes.
Remove carefully from the steamer – remember, these are filled with a hot liquid and are fragile.
Dip them in some soy sauce mixed with a touch of sugar, or whatever other sauce floats your boat!