Monday, January 17, 2011

Dim Sum at Home: Shu Mai

First blog pic with our new camera!
We bought a new camera last night to replace the one that died after the soup incident.  My husband has been jabbering on about all the wonderful new features our Canon PowerShot S95 has. I'm sure the myriad of settings will come in useful eventually, but all I care about is that I don't have to take food pictures with my camera phone anymore!  Woohoo!

Anyway, I knew when I changed my blog name to incorporate dumplings as a nod to my Chinese heritage I would probably have to make some dumplings at some point.  So, this is my first stab at steamed dumplings (shu mai), which is probably one of the most popular dim sum dishes.

When I told my sister I was going to start with a Cook's Illustrated (CI) shu mai recipe, she balked.  "You're not going to use a Chinese recipe?" she asked.  Well, to be fair, I didn't have a family shu mai recipe handed down to me, and none of my current Chinese cookbooks had a recipe for shu mai.  Plus, I like that the CI team tries many different variations on a recipe to optimize flavor, and I trust that they would try to make their recipes taste as authentic as possible.

My husband and I agreed that the flavors were pretty much spot on in this CI version of shu mai. I only left out their recommendation of cilantro due to my husband's severe aversion to the herb and my feeling that it didn't quite belong in shu mai to begin with. I admire the other things the CI team did to tweak the recipe.  They used gelatin to try to recreate the succulent texture lard usually lends to the dish, and instead of MSG they used a combination of soy sauce, cooking wine, and rice vinegar to add flavor to the filling.  The pork ribs I got were pretty lean, and while my shu mai weren't dry, maybe next time I'll use some fattier pork for a juicier dumpling with better mouthfeel.

Shu Mai (Steamed Chinese Dumplings)
adapted from Cook's Illustrated September 2010

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, tails removed and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup water chestnuts, chopped
3/4 ounces dried shitake mushroom caps (about 5 large or 10 small), soaked in hot water 30 minutes, squeezed dry, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine (Shaoxing) or dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package yellow, round wonton/dumpling skins
1/4 cup carrot , finely grated (optional)

1. Combine soy sauce and gelatin in small bowl. Set aside to allow gelatin to bloom, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place half of pork in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground into approximate 1/8-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses; transfer to large bowl. Add shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped into approximate ¼-inch pieces, about five 1-second pulses. Transfer to bowl with more finely ground pork. Stir in soy sauce mixture, water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper.

3. Working with 6 rounds at a time, brush edges of each round lightly with water. Cover remaining rounds with wet paper towel to prevent drying out. Place heaping tablespoon of filling into center of each round. Pinch wrapper creating a fold on opposite sides of filling.  Rotate wrapper 1/2 turn and pinch wrapper again.  Make a total of 8 pinches and then squeeze sides against filling, shaping dumpling so that top of filling is exposed. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with damp kitchen towel, and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Top center of each dumpling with pinch of grated carrot, if using.

4. Cut piece of parchment paper slightly smaller than diameter of steamer basket and place in basket. Poke about 20 small holes in parchment and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Place batches of dumplings on parchment liner, making sure they are not touching. Set steamer over simmering water and cook, covered, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yields 35 to 45 pieces
Active time: About 90 minutes (maybe I'll be faster next time)
Total time: About 100 minutes

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