Before I start, I just want to say thank you all so much for your sweet comments and emails about my poppa – grandfather in Kiwi English, by the way – it was so touching and it felt great to receive so much support and kindness. You guys are awesome.
If I say “I made dumplings!” you’re all probably going to roll your eyes and say “big surprise, Sasa” and it’s true, I have posted a crap-tonne of dumplings on this blog. Usually, I say they’re easier than you’d think.
Well, I’m not gonna lie, these were not quite so easy. My self-esteem’s intact though, because while the woman I got the recipe from claimed it was the first time she had ever made them, that woman was Jaden Hair. I’m sure you’ll agree that she’s up there with Superwoman on the amazing scale so I figure that managing to produce something that didn’t spontaneously combust or otherwise fail spectacularly qualifies me for some sort of (large, cash) prize.
Which is not to say Jaden’s recipes are normally difficult; on the contrary, I’ve made heaps of quick, easy and delicious recipes from Steamy Kitchen’s archives but this one completely unwomanned me. Can I say that? People say “it unmanned him” so I’m gonna roll with it. Also, soup dumplings, or XLB as they’re also known in Shanghai whence they hail – that’s Xiao Long Bao – aren’t normally the sort of thing you make at home, you eat them at yum cha as part of the spread of dim sum created by cooks with far nimbler fingers than I’ll ever hope to have.
Jaden must be the hardest working woman in the business: she’s on TV, on Steamy Kitchen, on Food Blog Forum, on the radio, has published several cookbooks and she organises a community garden project! I mean, in about 2.5 months the woman is basically going to be the Asian Martha Stewart, am I right? I say in 2.5 months because apparently she only started her blog 3 years ago so clearly she works at the speed of light. I’m expecting to see Steamy Kitchen cookware and home decorating products in stores any minute now.
Anyway, the dumplings. The stock part? Simple – dump lots of meat in water and simmer. Making the jelly, you know that’s easy. Mixing some minced spring onions, pork and prawns together to make prork? Candy from a baby. The dough (her mum’s) even, piece of cake. The actual assembling part? Not so much. The tops are supposed to be a delicate mass of folds so the soupy goodness inside melts in your mouth, not your hand but um, mine…Well, mine had to be squeezed together like a dishrag at the top. And that’s putting it charitably. They were moreish as all get out though; try them if you like a challenge, you won’t be disappointed by the taste, though you may realise your manual dexterity isn’t what Jaden’s is. And if you’re a wuss, have a look at her post on them anyway; it’s where food and porn intersect in the most delightful way.
So, without further ado, I give you: Jaden!
Sweet, salty, sour or bitter or a combination, and if so which?
Salty, spicy, sour, sweet! Which is why I love Southeast Asian food.
Did you grow up in a food-centric household or did your interest in food develop independently of your upbringing? If the latter, do you remember why?
Our dinner table was the center of the house, dinner time was always family time, so I always grew up enjoying good food.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Oh gosh, i don’t remember! ;-)
Hmmmmm…. I remember loving to eat white rice with my hands (and making a big mess!)
The knife you use most often; brand and type?
Wusthof Ikon Chef’s Knife.
Are you a cook or baker? Why?
Cook, because I don’t like measuring.
Do you get hangry (dangerously irritable and irrational when hungry)?
Every night at 11 pm.
Any tips you follow to avoid the dreaded hangrrr or try and stave it off in others?
Drink more ;-)
Where was your favourite country food-wise to travel to?
How many kitchens have you called your own and what was your favourite one like?
2 kitchens. The home we had in San Francisco was my favorite – because I designed each and every part of it to be open, useable and spacious! The kitchen I have now is great, but if I could find an extra $50,000 lying around, I’d tear it down and redesign.
Bedside table – cookbooks, novels or something else?
Oh don’t you want to know! *wink*
What is one of the best things that has happened to you because of blogging?
Friendship – some of my closest friends are now food bloggers. We manage to still see each other several times a year at blogging events despite living all over the world.
Have you had any scary stalker moments?
Yes. But would require a couple glasses of wine first.
What was the biggest learning curve for you as you developed as a blogger (ie: using the software, photography, styling, writing etc.)?
CSS, PHP, HTML (basically anything with initials).
How do you handle people saying “oh, I’m scared to cook for you because you must have such high standards”? Do you have high standards or are you just happy someone wants to cook for you?
I just want to eat! I’m happy to be fed, even if it’s just take-out.
What’s one food/kitchen product/utensil you love but can’t get where you are?
A robot to wash dishes and clean up kitchen.
When you blog, do you think of yourself primarily as a cook/baker, writer, photographer, stylist, a combination or something else?
Post squirrel, storing up posts for weeks (months!) to come or living on the edge and banging ‘em out as you go?
Bang ‘em out as I go.
Thanks Jaden! If you ever get bored of writing about food, I think you’ll find writing steamy romances right up your alley…
Soup Dumpling or Xiao Long Bao Recipe
I changed a few things here, like including metric measurements but mostly I have remained faithful to Jaden’s recipe, though I rewrote it in my own words. I divided the work into 2 days because that’s how I did it and it seems less overwhelming.
Jaden says the dough should make 40 dumplings but I didn’t roll it as thinly as I ought to have so I only used up about half the filling; if you think you might have the same problem, double the dough.
The First Day
2 litres (2 quarts) of water
1 kg (2 pounds) bone-in chicken bones such as wings, back and neck
60 grams (2 ounces) cured Chinese ham or cured ham (I used speck), cut into 4 pieces
450 grams (1/2 pound) of pork skin & fat or pork belly (I used the latter)
2. 5 cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, sliced into 4-5 rounds
2 spring onions, cut into 10 cm (3 inch) pieces
2 large garlic cloves, smashed with side of your knife
2 teaspoons of Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry, or sake, which I used)
Scrape the top of the pork skin or belly with your knife and rinse well.
Put all the ingredients in a pot and bring to the boil. Skim off the impurities, turn down the heat and simmer for 2 hours uncovered.
Strain through a sieve to remove the solids.
1 litre (4 cups) of the soup
1 tablespoon powdered agar agar or 1 tablespoon of plain gelatine
Put the soup in a pot and bring to a point just before the boil.
Meanwhile, find some sort of container to set the jelly in, a tupperware will do.
Remove the soup from the heat and whisk the gelatine or agar agar in until completely dissolved.
Pour into the container and allow to cool before chilling it in the fridge.
When completely cool, run the tines of a fork through it so the jelly is in tiny cubes of a few millimetres wide.
The Second Day
The Prork Filling
450 grams (1 pound) pork mince
120 grams (1/4 pound) shrimp, shelled, deveined and minced finely
3 spring onions, finely minced
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry, or sake as I used)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix all the ingredients together.
Add the jelly and mix well.
Jaden’s Mum’s Hot Water Dough and Assembling/Steaming
400 grams of all-purpose flour
175 ml (3/4 cup) boiling water
75 ml (1/4 cup) cold water
1 tablespoon plain cooking oil
Put 90% of the flour in a large bowl. Pour about 1/3 of the hot water in the flour. Use a fork to stir vigorously. Repeat twice more.
Add the cold water and oil. Keep stirring vigorously until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off.
Dust counter with the remaining 40 grams of flour.
Place the dough on floured surface and knead for 8 -10 minutes, until it becomes smooth, elastic and bounces slowly back when poked with a finger.
Cover with cling film and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Prepare a tray with baking paper on it to place the dumplings on as they are finished.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
Cover 3 of them and roll the remaining piece into a log about 3cm (1 and 1/4 inch) wide, then cut and roll into smooth pieces of about golf ball size.
Use a floured rolling pin to flatten it and cut out with a 7.5 cm (3 inch) cookie cutter. Mine shrunk immediately so I stopped and just tried to approximate a circle.
Fill each circle with about a tablespoon of filling and pleat together as beautifully as you can manage.
Keep the finished ones on the tray and covered with a damp tea towel.
Place dumplings still on the pieces of baking paper in the steamer and steam for about 8 minutes.
Serve with the dipping sauce below, and rice.
The Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons of sambal (I used rayu, Japanese chilli oil)
125 ml (1/2 cup) black vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
125 ml (1/2 cup) soy sauce (I used Japanese shoyu)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
A thumbsized piece ginger
Julienne the ginger and then make tiny cubes with the strips.
Mix with the other ingredients.