Archive for the 'pork' 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 | 8 Comments »

Crispy Pork Belly

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A woman I didn’t know walked up to me at the coffee shop this morning and said, “pork belly!”

And I was like, yes! Pork belly! As if it made perfect sense as a sort of salutation/introduction to our imminent conversation. She was British and wanted to know where to get some – it’s not exactly a mainstream cut in these parts, where you’d be hard pressed to find any piece of pig with the skin still attached. For crackling lovers, this is a problem.

pork belly 1

If you’re a fan of crispy bits and can find yourself a slab of pork belly, knowing how to cook it will make any carnivores in the immediate vicinity very, very happy. (Presuming you plan to share, that is.) It’s a cinch to cook, and a prime example of what happens when you take a good piece of meat and apply heat. So simple. To be honest, this belly never even made it to the table – we just stood around the stovetop, tearing it apart with our fingers when it was barely cool enough to handle.

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The trick is in the crackling; I read recently a technique where you rub the skin with baking soda to mess with the ph and encourage browning (it helps with the Maillard reaction by producing a more alkaline environment) and kickstart the breakdown of proteins in the skin, then leave the slab uncovered on a rack in the fridge overnight to dry it out somewhat. Because I rarely have the wherewithal to plan a day ahead, I skipped this step, but tried it with chicharrones.

(If you do it, rinse the baking soda off and pat the skin dry before you cook the belly.)

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This is the way to straight-up roast your piece of meat, with lots of crispy crackling on top. If you like, maximize the rendered fat and the heat of the oven by tossing some potatoes into the pan around the meat halfway through the cooking time. (I’m still getting to know my new oven, and so may have blasted my poor little potatoes a little too much. Ahem.)

Crispy Roast Pork Belly

one 2 lb. piece of pork belly
canola or olive oil
a few sprigs fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and sliced
1-2 small heads garlic, left whole and halved crosswise
1/2 lb. (250 g) new potatoes, halved if needed (optional)

Pat the pork belly dry and score the skin with a sharp knife in both directions, without cutting all the way through to the meat. Rub the garlic clove over the surface of the pork, drizzle with oil and rub all over. Pull the leaves off a couple sprigs of thyme and sprinkle overtop; drizzle with a little more oil. Let the meat stand for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450?F and place the onions in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the pork belly on top and place a couple sprigs of thyme and the halved garlic around it; drizzle the exposed garlic with a little oil and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 300?F and continue to roast for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp. If you like, toss a few new potatoes into the pan around the meat, shaking it up to coat them with the rendered fat, about three quarters of the way through the cooking time.

Let rest on a cutting board before slicing. Serves 4-6.

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January 06 2015 | pork | 13 Comments »

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