I fell in love with soup dumplings about five years ago on a friend’s recommendation to try them at Joe’s Shanghai (JS) in NYC’s China Town; their silky texture and the rush of soup filling your mouth upon first bite can truly be a life changing experience. I have tried several times, to no avail, to find similar quality in the Southeast and have even broken down and purchased the frozen variety from Super H…while each were somewhat satisfying, they all lacked the finesse and deep flavors JS achieves. Feeling defeated, I decided to try and make some on my own; what follows is my attempt (through researching several recipes) to recreate the magic! Disclaimer: the aspic in this dish must set overnight, so plan on two days for this recipe!
Serves 5 – 6 (approx 35 dumplings)
5 cups of water
2 lbs chicken parts (legs, thighs, necks, etc)
2 oz Chinese-style cured smoked ham or Smithfield ham, cut into 4 slices
3/4 cup coarsely chopped green onions (white parts only)
1 (1inch thick) slice peeled fresh ginger
1 whole shiitake mushroom
1 large garlic clove, flattened
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)
1 tbsp unflavored gelatin (from 1 envelope)
S&P to taste
½ cup black vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp very matchstick-size strips peeled fresh ginger
1 lb ground pork
¼ lb peeled deveined uncooked shrimp, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions (white parts only)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 large garlic clove, minced
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)
¼ tsp Asian sesame oil
35 3-inch square or round dumpling wrappers (from two 14-ounce packages)
1 large head of Napa cabbage
The first step is to make the soup/stock for the aspic. Start by browning your chicken parts in a little oil; about 3-5 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, combine the water and the rest of the soup ingredients (with the exception of the gelatin) in a large stock pot and bring to a boil; add the browned chicken, reduce heat and simmer for about 3 hours. Add more water to keep the chicken submerged if necessary.
You can use any type of soy sauce or rice wine vinegar, but depending on which brand/style you use the flavors could differ. I choose to use some traditional stuff I picked up at Super H; the soy has a more pungent earthy taste than your basic Kikkoman.
Strain the soup and return it to the stock pot and continue to cook until there are only 2 cups remaining and season with S&P; this will really intensify the flavors (approx 30 minutes). Pour 1.5 tbsp of water in a small bowl and the gelatin of one packet and let it stand until it softens; then add the soup and combine. Pour the mixture into a glass baking tray, cover and refrigerate for 8 hrs or overnight.
For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir for about 10 seconds. This can also be made a day in advance and be stored covered in the fridge. If you do this, make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving or the chill will overpower the dish and distort the taste. In my humble opinion, the sauce should be made at least an hour before serving so all the flavors can mix together and there liquids can abstract a good amount of flavor from the ginger. You could also add basil as well for some color and to balance the acidity.
To make the filling, mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. You need to chop the shrimp very fine, to the point where they become almost ground and resemble the pork; this will allow for an easier marriage of the proteins and the end result will be easier to chew. Using a sharp knife, cut the aspic into little ¼ inch cubes about the size of a small die and fold into the pork; don’t mix them too hard, as you want the cubes to maintain their shape.
On to the assembly part of the show! I used some premade dumpling wrappers purchased in the reach in cooler section at Super H…yes I could have made them from scratch, but this thing was already going on two days…place a little dollop of the filling on each wrapper, being sure to leave enough room to wrap the dough around the filling. Be sure there at least 2-3 cubes in each wrapper. This will take a few times to get the optimal amount, but if you don’t have a complete seal your dumplings will be mushy and there will be no soup…
Brush edges of dumpling wrapper with water; using your finger as the brush works the best. Bring one corner of wrapper up around filling, then pleat remaining edges of wrapper at regular intervals all around filling until it’s enclosed and the wrapper forms a bundle-like shape with a small opening at the top.
When you are done pleating each dumpling use your fingers to twist them shut; this will exaggerate the pleats down the dumpling and you’ll be left with the classic dumpling look that you probably thought took great skill to master. Again, be sure there are no holes or tears in the dough; if there are, start over and discard the wrapper. I tried patching a few and all of them lost their soup during steaming.
Prepare the bamboo steamer by lining each layer with cabbage leaves and place dumplings on top ensuring they are not touching. Bring some water to boil in a wok or sauté pan, place the covered steamer on top and steam for approx 12 minutes. You could just as easily use any steamer, but the bamboo steamer is the best way…and it gives you street cred!
After they’re done, place a few over some fresh cabbage leaf on a plate and serve with a little of the dipping sauce. However, if they are done right there really isn’t a need for the sauce, as the soup takes care of that!