In our home, Hubby is the Dishwasher-in-Chief, and I am the Cook. So whenever I prepare dinner in the traditional American style (meat cooked by itself, starch prepared by itself, vegetables cooked separately), I get a lot of dirty looks, even if the food was yummy. I can’t say as I blame him; I wouldn’t want to wash three pots, associated utensils, and assorted food preparation implements in addition to the dishes we actually used to eat, either. To remedy the overabundance of dirty dishes per dinner, he has been lobbying extensively for the inclusion of more Chinese-style cooking in our diet. Since most Chinese dishes use just a wok and a rice cooker or noodle pot, it means much fewer dishes for him to wash and (usually) much less fuss and preparation for me. So I’m learning.
Today, we had our second go at baozi, which are steamed pork buns. They are typically served as a brunch/lunch item (i.e. dim sum). Our first go-round, we didn’t have all the right ingredients, and we tried to steam the dumplings in our electric rice cooker. That last was pretty much an epic fail due to inconsistent heating, so I wouldn’t recommend steaming dumplings in a rice cooker unless you have no other choice. But anyway! I think this recipe is an excellent example of American convenience meets traditional Chinese cuisine. This is definitely a weekend or day-off dish, and it improves with the addition of more people to help make them. (Recipe after the jump.)
Elizabeth Chang’s baozi
You will need:
3 sheets of clean white printer paper, cut in ~1.5″ squares. Parchment works too.
1 dumpling-steaming setup. I recommend a wok + multi-tier bamboo steamer. We use a “stir-fry pan” (a flat-bottomed woklike pot that can be used on an electric stove) and a two-tier bamboo steamer that we got for cheap from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Such a steamer can also be used to steam fish and large-cut veggies, so I think it’s a good investment. A metal steamer basket is not a good idea unless you’re making dumplings for one. Takes too long due to low capacity otherwise. You can use a skillet or soup pot for the base if you don’t have a wok; just make sure your steamer will sit suspended over the water, and keep an eye on your water level if your pan is shallow.
1.5 lb ground pork (turkey or beef will do if you can’t find ground pork)
4-6 leaves Napa cabbage, white parts finely diced, leafy parts shredded
1-2 green onions, white and pale green parts minced
6 dong gu (dried black shiitake mushrooms), soaked in very hot water at least 10 mins, finely diced
1-2 Tbsp xia mi (dried tiny shrimp), soaked with the mushrooms and minced
3/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp corn starch
3-4 cans refrigerator biscuits (NOT the big Grands kind – get the small ones that usually come in value packs of 4 cans. Get the plain ones if possible, not the butter or flaky varieties). Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Note: I can find everything except the dried shrimp and mushrooms in a conventional grocery store. If you have an Asian market nearby, I would suggest getting these two ingredients there. Look for products made in Hong Kong, Japan, or somewhere in the States. Food manufacture standards in mainland China are somewhat lax, so I strongly suggest you look for (and pay the premium for) products made elsewhere. If you can’t get the dried stuff, then use 4-6 regular shiitake mushroom caps, diced, and ~1/4 pound raw shrimp; shelled, deveined, and minced to substitute. I would imagine you can also use 4 oz tiny salad shrimp; drained, rinsed, and minced.
Combine all ingredients except the biscuits in a medium mixing bowl. Combine thoroughly but carefully. Pretend you’re making meatballs – you want the ingredients well mixed, but don’t make paste. Standard Chinese method calls for mixing with chopsticks (which prevents paste-making), but using your hands will work just as well.
Prepare the steamer: Fill simmering pot such that the steamer will sit at least an inch above the surface of the water. Put steamer in place and set the burner to medium. You will want the water bubbling vigorously, but not so enthusiastically that it will all boil away before your dumplings are done.
Set mixing bowl, clean plate or sheet pan, stack of paper squares, and a couple cans of biscuits on counter or table. Here’s where the American convenience comes in. Instead of making dough for the dumplings, we use refrigerator biscuits. Crack open a can, and have each dumpling-maker take a biscuit and start flattening it out in their hands such that the diameter increases to about 3″. You’ll want to try to leave the middle a little thicker and stretch out the edges. Place a generously heaped tablespoon of pork mixture onto center of biscuit, and form the dough into a little purse around the filling. Finished dumpling should be about the size of a golf ball.
Hold the dumpling by the top seam area and plunk down onto a piece of paper, such that the paper adheres to the bottom of the dumpling. Place onto plate/pan. Rinse and repeat until you have enough dumplings made to fill your steamer. (We fit 7 per tier of a 10-inch steamer) Place dumplings in steamer in a single, flat layer. Cover and steam 15 minutes. RESIST THE URGE TO PEEK. Every time you peek, you add 3 mins to the steaming time, so go make more dumplings and DON’T PEEK. Mind you don’t let the pot boil dry. At 15 mins, remove cover and find a dumpling whose top has split open (this is rather common). Pierce exposed filling with a sharp knife and check to be sure juices run clear. If not, cover and steam a little longer. If they’re done, unload the steamer onto a CLEAN plate (not the one that held the raw dumplings).
Making dumplings is ideally a social event (although solitary dumplings are just as yummy). Eating them is also a social event. The general format is to have all the dumpling makers and other dumpling eaters crowd around the plate of finished dumplings and eat them right there. Be sure you peel the paper off first. You generally have a 50/50 shot at keeping your dumpling whole. The other 50% of the time, the bottom rips off with the paper, so be ready to invert quickly. This can get messy, so small plates are recommended to prevent mishaps. I’m told (and have experienced) that the American tendency to politely eat messy things with a fork and knife should be roundly teased and avoided. The proper method of consuming baozi is with one’s fingers. Eating them without dribbling everywhere is something of a sport. In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, you can either leave them out for snacking (popular when dumpling-making coincides with a holiday gathering) or refrigerate to enjoy later.