Putting the Soup in Soup Dumplings
Written by Chef Kian Lam Kho
I observed something very interesting a few years ago while lunching with a few friends at Joeâ€™s Shanghai, which is famed for its soup dumplings, in New York Chinatown. It was packed and consequently we were seated at a large communal table with two other parties. Every party ordered multiple portions of dumplings so I wasnâ€™t surprised when a piping hot steamer full of these luscious morsels were delivered to the party next to me. A man from the party picked up a dumpling and placed it on his plate. Without hesitation he stabbed the dumpling with his chopsticks and drained all the soup from the delicate skin.
I was horrified that he should waste the delicious soup, which most people would agree is the essence of these dumplings. I immediately inquired as to the purpose of this carnage against the soup dumpling. The answer was not completely unexpected. The man asserted that he was removing the fat that was masquerading as soup. To the laymen it is not inconceivable to think that what oozes out of the dumplings is just melted fat. But contrary to this general belief the soup is in fact concentrated pork stock made from pigâ€™s feet and skin.
This stock actually contains large amount of collagen that is the ingredient for gelatin, and when cooled it solidifies making it possible to be mixed with ground pork to make the dumpling filling. After being wrapped in the dumpling skin and steamed, the gelatin melts and becomes a highly nutritious soup. Granted the fat from the ground pork will render and blend with the soup. But it is simply the normal amount of fat expected from any pork dish. It is hardly enough to warrant avoidance for health reasons. If only my neighbor understood this cooking technique he might have experienced a better lunch.
The episode at Joeâ€™s Shanghai clearly demonstrates the importance of understanding cooking techniques while enjoying or preparing a meal. Given the knowledge of the technique it is natural to extend it to other creative interpretation. A radical adaptation of this technique is to make vegetarian dumplings. Using the same principle we can create a rich vegetarian stock, gels it and mixes it with other vegetarian ingredients before enclosing the mixture in flour wrappers.
Agar powder, which is made from seaweed, is the perfect choice for gelling the vegetarian stock. It is stable enough at room temperature for wrapping and will melt perfectly during steaming. The other filling ingredients can be anything that is seasonal. Be creative! Add a starch such as taro or sweet potato, use green vegetables such as pea shoots or spinach, and pick something aromatic such as garlic chives or shiitake mushrooms.
Ultimately the most important thing is to understand the technique well. So start with a flavorful broth, be creative with the filling, and then wrap everything tightly to prevent the soup from leaking. Steam the dumplings and watch your friendsâ€™ amazement at how you put the soup in dumplings.
Vegetarian Soup Dumplings (ç´ ĺ°Źç± ĺŚ…)
(Makes 32 dumplings)
Enough napa cabbage to line two 13-inch steamers
8 oz. taro root
2 oz. water chestnuts
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives (éźčŹś)
1 tablespoon finely chopped scallion
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 ear of corn
1 1/2 cups soybean sprouts
2 dried shiitake mushrooms
Square sheet of dried kombu (ćµ·ĺ¸¶) about 2 inches x 2 inches
1 inch long fresh ginger root
2 1/2 cups water
Vegetable Stock Gelatin
1 1/2 cups vegetarian stock
1/2 teaspoon agar powder
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Combine all the ingredients for the vegetarian stock in a medium (4 quart) stockpot and simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the stock and discard all the solid ingredients. Return 1 1/2 cups of the stock to the pot and add the agar powder. Simmer until the agar powder is completely dissolved. Pour the stock into a plastic or glass container and refrigerate until it gels (at least six hours).
Dice the taro and the water chestnuts into about 1/16 inch wide pieces and set aside. Reconstitute the dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about 20 minutes and finely dice to about 1/16 inch wide and set aside. Chop the garlic chives, scallion and ginger and set aside. Heat a wok until a small drop of water sizzles and evaporates immediately. Swirl the vegetable oil in the wok. Add the chopped scallion and ginger and stir-fry for about 20 seconds. Add the chopped taro and stir-fry for about one minute. Add the chopped water chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms and stir-fry for another minute or so. Then turn the heat off and add the chopped garlic chives, salt, ground white pepper and sesame oil. Stir and mix everything together until combined evenly. Let the filling mixture cool to room temperature.
Put the flour for the wrapper into a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the water and oil into it. Slowly mix all the ingredients by swirling you hand around the mixing bowl. Then knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl with wet towel or plastic wrap and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
Remove the vegetable stock gelatin from the refrigerator and chop it into small pieces about 1/16 inch wide. Add the chopped gelatin into the cool filling mixture and combine evenly. Set the finished filling aside.
Divide the dough into four equal portions. Roll each portion into a cylinder about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the cylinder into eight cross section pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Roll the pieces into balls. Use a rolling pin and roll the balls into paper-thin round wrappers of about 4 inches in diameter. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle. Cup the wrapper in one hand, then with the other hand make small pleats along the edge all the way around and over the stuffing to form a seal. Place the finished dumplings in two 13-inch steamers lined with napa cabbage leaves.
Steam the dumplings in the steamers over boiling water for not more than ten minutes. Serve the dumplings immediately with thinly shredded ginger and black Chinkiang vinegar.
Chef Kian Lam Kho
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