Archive for the 'appetizers' Category

Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai Soup Dumplings

soup dumplings 1

If you’ve ever been out for dim sum, you’ve likely bitten into some xiao long bao – soup dumplings filled with a nugget of seasoned pork and a burst of warm soup. It’s a staple of Shanghai cuisine and something most people don’t make at home, likely because it’s no easy feat to get soup inside a dumpling. Except that it is – when the stock is chilled and gelled. You add a cube or two of flavourful chicken gel along with your filling, and it reliquefies as the dumplings steam. It’s like molecular gastronomy before that was even a thing.

soup dumplings 9

I was lucky enough to visit Richmond, BC last weekend – it’s part of the Metro Vancouver area, up around the airport – for a couple days of eating with some people in the know. I need a little hand-holding when eating my way around a city with over 400 Asian restaurants, with 200 of them contained within a 3 block strip. With the Asian population and availability of ingredients, there are many who say Richmond has the best Asian food in North America. I’m not going to argue this.

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Fascinated with the idea of homemade xiao long bao, I came home and made some rich soup stock, then firmed it up a little with plain gelatin. Most recipes I found online call for this – likely because while a good gelled stock isn’t difficult, it’s also not guaranteed. A little bit of plain gelatin doesn’t change the flavour at all. If you chill a cup or two of stock in a loaf pan, then cut it into strips, you wind up with these snakes of chicken stock I can’t help but play with. They must have potential in other kitchen applications. I wonder what W would say if I sent one to school in his lunch.

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I used my usual potsticker filling formula – ground pork with chopped cilantro and green onions, ginger and garlic, soy sauce and a bit of sugar, and a squirt of Sriracha.

steaming dumplings

Some people make their own hot water dough, but if this seems a little too ambitious, fresh dumpling wrappers are easy to find. They’re dusted with a fine layer of cornstarch to keep them from sticking, which can also keep them from pleating – a quick brush with water prevents this. If you have trouble twisting the little topknot, stick your finger in the water and tap it, then twist and it should stick.

soup dumplings collage 2

Xiao long bao are most often served right in their bamboo steamers, to keep them hot – there is a technique to eating them without popping one whole in your mouth to have hot soup squirt down your throat. Pick it up with chopsticks by its topknot and set it on (or over) a Chinese soup spoon. Some people poke it in the side, letting the broth leak out into the spoon to cool off a bit before downing all in one bite; others nibble off a bit of the wrapper from one side, then sip the broth out before eating the dumpling. Whatever works. First, dip it in a mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar, with some finely sliced or grated fresh ginger.

soup dumplings 2

Gung hay fat choy! Happy year of the ram!

Xiao Long Bao

bones of 1 roasted chicken
1 small carrot, cut into chunks
a few slices of ham or Asian-style cured sausage
a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley
1 green onion
big pinch salt
1 Tbsp. plain gelatin

1 lb. ground pork
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (stems too)
2 green onions, finely chopped
2-3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1-2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
2 tsp. brown sugar
a squirt of Sriracha (to taste)

1 pkg. dumpling wrappers

Dipping Sauce:
thinly sliced fresh ginger
dark soy sauce
rice vinegar
pinch dried red chili flakes (optional)

To make the stock, combine everything but the gelatin in a medium pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, without bringing it to a rolling boil, for 30-45 minutes, or until you have a rich-tasting stock. Strain and pour back into the pot. Sprinkle the gelatin overtop (you should have about 2 cups of stock – reduce the gelatin if you have less) and let sit a few minutes to soften. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the gelatin completely. Pour into a loaf pan or other dish and refrigerate until firm.

To make the dumpling filling, combine the ground pork, cilantro, green onions, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, brown sugar and Sriracha, mixing gently with your hands to combine.

When you’re ready to assemble the dumplings, put some water in a small dish and find a clean work surface, like a chopping board. Cut the gelled stock into strips, then into pieces about 1/3-inch square. (If you like, stir the pieces of gelled stock gently into the pork mixture.)

Place a few dumpling wrappers at a time on the board, and brush around the edge with water using a pastry brush or your finger. Place a small spoonful of the pork mixture in the middle of each wrapper, along with a square or two of gelled stock. Gather the dumpling up into the palm of your hand and pleat it all around the edges using your thumb, twisting it in a small topknot at the top to close. If it doesn’t stick (most dumpling wrappers are coated with a layer of cornstarch), add another drop of water.

As you fill them, put them on a parchment-lined sheet and cover with a light towel. Steam over simmering water in a bamboo steamer basket (or in a rice cooker or other steamer), on a layer of parchment, cheesecloth or cabbage leaves, for 12-15 minutes, or until cooked through. For the dipping sauce, mix the ginger with about 2 parts soy sauce to 1 part vinegar, or to taste.

To eat, pick up the soup dumpling by its topknot using chopsticks, and transfer to a Chinese soup spoon. Either poke a hole in the side with your chopstick and let the soup run out into the spoon, or lift it up, bite off one side and sip out the soup, then eat the dumpling.

Makes 2-3 dozen soup dumplings.

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February 19 2015 | appetizers and pork | 7 Comments »

Pear, Caramelized Onion & Brie Pizza

Pear & Brie Flatbread 2

People often ask me what pizza dough recipe I use. The truth is, most formulas for pizza dough are the same – flour, yeast, water, olive oil and salt. The key ingredient not many recipes call for is time.

pear brie pizza 3

Yeast doughs are a lot like people – the longer it’s alive before it’s baked, the more character it develops. Which means mixing up a batch of dough on Thursday if Friday is pizza night will make all the difference in the world. Let it hang out in the counter, on the fridge – wherever it won’t get into any trouble. Punch it down when it needs taming. The next day, you’ll see its potential in the stretchy bubbles interspersed throughout the dough. Which I apparently took no photos of, I was so preoccupied with the stretching and the topping. And the chilling of the wine – do you know this trick? Wrap a bottle in wet paper towel and put it into the freezer to chill fast.

(Just make sure it’s not in the vicinity of any bananas. Which in our freezer is impossible.)

pear brie flatbread 2

Pear, Caramelized Onion & Brie Pizza

1 pkg. (2 tsp.) active dry yeast
pinch sugar
2 1/2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (or a good glug) olive oil
1 tsp. salt

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 ripe but firm pear, thinly sliced
4 oz. Brie, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil

Put 1 cup warm water into a large bowl, add the sugar and sprinkle the yeast overtop; let stand for 5 minutes, until it gets foamy. Add 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, the olive oil and salt and stir until you have a shaggy dough. Let rest for 20 minutes, then knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if you need it – the dough should be tacky, but not too sticky.

If you like, place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat all over. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place – if you’re in a hurry, it only needs to wait for about an hour, until it’s doubled in bulk. If you have time, leave it. When it gets too big, punch it down. If you’re going out or to bed, cover it and put it in the fridge, which will slow the rise. Or freeze it. Take it out to thaw or warm up before you use it.

When you’re ready for pizza, heat a generous drizzle of oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes, or until soft and turning golden. Preheat the oven to 450F.

Divide the dough in half and roll or stretch each out into a 9-inch circle or oval. Place each on a parchment-lined or floured baking sheet and top with half the caramelized onions, half the pear slices and half the Brie. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until deep golden. Let rest for a few minutes, then drizzle with honey before slicing.

Makes 2 pizzas; serves 12-16.

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January 28 2015 | appetizers and bread | 10 Comments »

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