Siu Mai Open-Faced Dumplings

Yum, yum. Dim sum.

I am a fan of dim sum, a statement that hardly needs be made here in a blog that extols the virtues of morsels and sauces. A few years ago, when (one of) the landlocked niece(s) came to visit, we took her out for dim sum; she declared that Cantonese food was not her favorite cuisine (instead, she insisted that she loved Ethiopian or Indian food more). While I do not necessarily share in her ranking system (Steamed Pork Buns! Har Gau! Turnip Cakes! Phoenix Claws!), I am glad we got to introduce her to one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning.

Dim sum comes from a Cantonese tradition of weary travelers eating morsels and snacks with a pot of tea in roadside tea houses. Typically these small dishes are served from as early as 5 in the morning all the way until mid-afternoon. Such a tradition is one I readily embrace, and this new cookbook, Asian Dumplings, happily leads me on what is going to be one heck of a culinary journey, even if it is not solely to the dim sum house.  Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen is generous in her dumpling offerings, and her book covers East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. In her introduction, she acknowledges that she has had to leave off Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey, and most of Russia. Perhaps there is hope that she will write a sequel, as this little book is delightful.

With stops in Malayasia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India (to name a few), as well as the more standard stops in China, Nguyen offers up Nepalese Vegetable and Cheese Dumplings, Filipino Chicken and Egg Buns, Fried Sticky Rice Dumplings, Curry Puffs, Samosas, Shrimp Wonton Soup, Gyoza, and Steamed Pork Buns. You'll see your favorite dim sum treats, and be nudged to try a slew of others, including Empanadas and Thai Tapioca Pearl Dumplings. The flavors are bold and the geography wide reaching.

Nguyen encourages you to make the wrappers from scratch, and she provides extensive recipes in order to do so. Nguyen suggests that if we limit ourselves to only store bought wrappers, we will limit ourselves from the multitude of dumplings served throughout Asia. She does suggest some specialized equipment--from a pasta roller, a tortilla press, and a bamboo steamer--but she also gives hints on how to improvise in the kitchen, including crisscrossing chopsticks atop a wok to create a makeshift steamer (although she argues that an actual steamer--metal or bamboo--is much better).

Admittedly, for this first foray into the book, we used store bought wonton wrappers, and we went for a classic dim sum staple, Siu Mai--steamed pork (and sometimes shrimp) dumplings. These morsels, when coupled with soy sauce and hot mustard, are the perfect rainy day treat. And thankfully, the recipe makes 25-30 dumplings, enough to fill up on a 1/2 dozen or so each and then freeze the rest. 

Delightfully, the water chestnuts add crunch to a simple and fresh pork and mushroom base. I opted not to garnish of diced carrots or peas (but left that step in the recipe in case you're feeling all fancy and stuff). I would like to say we lingered over these morsels and savored them. We did not. 

We ate them too quickly, gobbling them up with glee. But they were so darned good. 

Now I just have a rainy afternoon in front of me. I can't wait to see what dumpling is in my near future. And with this cookbook, I just might even convince the niece that she should move dim sum higher on her culinary list next time she comes to visit.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Siu Mai Open-Faced Dumplings

About 25-30 dumplings, serving 6-8 as a snack

For the filling:
2/3 pounds coarsely ground pork (fattier kind preferred)
4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Generous 1/4 cup finely diced water chestnuts
3 Tbsp finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 large egg white, beaten

30 round siu mai (wonton) skins
1 1/2 Tbsp finely diced carrots or 30 peas for garnish (optional)
Soy sauce
Chinese hot mustard or Colman's English mustard

1. To make the filling:  In a bowl, combine the pork, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and scallions. Use a fork or spatula to stir and lightly mash the ingredients together so they begin to blend.

2.  Put the salt, sugar, pepper, cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and egg white into a small bowl and stir to combine well.  Pour over the meat mixture, and stir, fold, and mash everything together until they form a compact mass.

3.  Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, returning it to room temperature before assembling the dumplings.  You should have a generous 2 cups of filling.

4.  To assemble the dumplings: Line steamer trays and/or a baking sheet with parchment paper (for the baking sheet, lightly dust the paper with cornstarch to prevent sticking). Set aside.

5.  Hold a siu mai skin in one hand. Using your other hand and a fork, scoop about 1 Tbsp of the filling, and position it in the center of the skin, pressing down gently. After setting down the fork, pick up the skin, and gather and pinch it together to form an open bag. Use both sets of index fingers and thumbs to bring up the sides of the skin and gently press it into the filling at four equidistant places. The skin should stick easily. Then repeatedly gather, pinch, and rotate the dumpling to form the sides of the bag. There should be a slight "waist" near the top. Secure the waist by wrapping your index finger and thumb around it as if you're making a very loose fist. Crown the dumpling with a sprinkling of carrots or a pea, if using. Hold the dumpling a few inches over the work surface, then drop it to flatten the bottom and ensure it sits upright.  (See below for pictures.)

6.  If steaming right away, place each finished dumpling in a bamboo or metal steamer tray, open side up, spacing them 1/2 inch apart and 1 inch away from the edge if you're using a metal steamer.  Otherwise place the waiting dumplings on the baking sheet 1/2 inch apart.

7.  Keeping he finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel to prevent drying, form and fill wrappers from the remaining dough. Dumplings made several hours in advance of cooking should be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a plastic container and keep them frozen up to 1 month; partially thaw them before steaming.

8.  To cook the dumplings: Steam the dumplings in a bamboo or metal steamer basket/tray over boiling water for 6-8 minutes, until the dumplings have puffed slightly and their skins have become translucent. Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate.

9.  Serve immediately with the soy sauce and hot mustard.


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