Monday, December 5, 2011

Joak (Rice Porrige or Congee)




Joak, Jook, or Juk (cantonese) Zhou (Mandarin) Rice Porrige or Congee

This is akin to fried rice, in that in Asia it is a staple comfort food with endless variations in the details of the recipe and condiments.  There is not even agreement regarding the type of rice to use.  All over the Asian continent, hundreds of millions of people begin their day in homes and cafes with Joak , yet it's simplicity belies the fragrant, silky deliciousness of rice porridge.   Rice, water or stock and a dash of salt, simmered for an hour or two--the rest is an accent, and depends on what is available in the kitchen.  It is also a major offering at dim sum, though it is hidden inside a warmer, on a cart, alongside a stack of bowls and chopped green onion.

9 cups stock (see techniques section on homemade chicken stock) or water.
1 cup short grain rice (calrose rice, not glutinous rice; long grain rice can be used)
salt to taste

Rinse the rice two or three times and drain through a sieve.  Add the rice to a pot with the stock or water and bring to a boil, stirring often.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding stock or water as needed to adjust texture.  Add salt to taste.  Joak is generally the texture of a thick soup or batter, and the grains of rice are barely intact.

As for the garnishes and additions, here is a list of typical items, ordered from the most to the least common, although it is purely a matter of personal taste.  Feel free to use none or one or several…

Garnishes:
You tiao (Chinese fried cruller, shown in photo)
Green onion, sliced thin, diagonally
Fresh ginger, finely shredded
Pickled ginger, finely shredded
Pickled vegetable
Chinese black mushroom, reconstituted, stem removed, slivered
Cilantro

Additions:
Peanuts
Thousand year old egg, cut into eighths, lengthwise
Fish, filet, cut in pieces
Lop cheong (Chinese sausage) sliced thin, diagonally
Pork "dumplings"  This simple addition can be made as follows:

Mix 8 oz.  ground pork with a scallion, finely minced and 1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced.  About 4 minutes before serving, pluck a teaspoon or so of the pork mixture with the fingers and drop it in the simmering joak.  Repeat for as many dumplings as desired, then gently submerge the meat and allow to cook for 4 minutes, or until firm.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hui Guo Rou Twice cooked pork



Hui Guo Rou Twice Cooked Pork

Hui Guo Rou (literally, "return to the pot pork") is a classic Sichuanese dish. So much so that it appears often on Chinese restaurant menus in the west; however, as always, the sea change takes its toll on the traditional recipe. Stateside, you might find bell peppers, carrots, green cabbage and sugar as main ingredients, with the meat almost as an afterthought. The treatment in this post reflects our experience of the dish in Chengdu, Sichuan, as well as referencing Fuchsia Dunlop's version in her superb book, Land of Plenty.


Gathering together the ingredients may take a bit of effort: the traditional hui guo rou uses several ingredients that will only be found in Asian groceries, including green garlic (saun miao), Sichuan chili bean paste (dou ban jiang) and sweet bean paste (tian main jiang) . Dunlop points out that one can substitute hoisin sauce for the sweet bean paste, but its distinctive sweetnesss and flavor is a bit overpowering.

12 oz pork belly, skin on


3 green garlic (suan miao) or leeks (sliced diagonally) 2 1/2 - 3 oz.)
1" x 1/2 " pc ginger, sliced thin
1 TAB rice wine or sherry (Shao Xing Chiu)
2 tsp Sichuan chili bean paste (duo ban jian)
1 TAB Sweet bean paste (tian mian jiang)
1 round tsp sugar

2 tsp fermented black beans (dou chi)
1 tsp dark soy
1 Tab peanut or other vegetable oil 



Bring 2/3 quarts of water (you can throw in a couple of chopped scallions and 3 or 4 slices of ginger if the stock will be used later) to a gentle boil; add meat and, depending on the thickness of the belly, simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool in the refrigerator at least a couple of hours--if possible overnight. When completely cool, cut the belly piece into sections so that when it is sliced thin across the striations of fat and meat, the pieces will be approximately 1" x 2" x 1/8".

If you are using leeks, remove dryer outer sheaths, slice as indicated and stir fry the leak slivers to soften them. 

Make ready all the ingredients on the list. When the oil is smoking hot, stir fry pork slices until nicely brown on the edges. Don't overcook. Remember, you're frying what is basically bacon, so if you cook the pork until it is well browned, it will be crisp and somewhat tough. If you fry it only slightly, it will turn out soft, gelatinous and obviously fatty. When lightly browned, splash with wine, move the meat up the sides of the wok and add ginger slices, sliced green garlic or softened leeks, and chili bean paste. Stir fry for 30 seconds, add sweet bean paste for 30 seconds, and then toss in sugar and dark soy.  Toss the mixture in the wok for a minute or so, plate the hui guo rou and garnish with sesame oil.




Thursday, August 4, 2011

Guo Tie and Jiaozi (pot stickers and pork dumplings)



Pot Stickers  Guo Tie  and Jiaozi

This minutely detailed first recipe for pot stickers and jiaozi is only for those who, like myself, consider eating dumplings as something like a religious experience.

A few years ago in the United states, when asked to name a Chinese dish, most people would say, chow mein or lo mein.  The less savvy might have said chop suey, egg fu yung or egg rolls.  But today, the best known item on Chinese menus is probably pot stickers, or as they are known in Mandarin Chinese, guo tie.  These fried pork dumplings are so common that even grocery store delis have sad, damp heaps of them in warming pans, alongside roast chicken and kielbasa.  (In a more global sense one might think of dumplings as a gastronomical archetype, since stuffed doughs can be seen in just about every culture: raviolis, perogies, knishes, empanadas, samosas, knodels, vushka, pelmeni, Korean mandu...the list is endless) Less famous in the west is the steamed or boiled—and most likely original—version of this dumpling, jiaozi, which is a mainstay of Chinese cuisine.   In fact, jiaozi are at the heart and soul of Chinese culture.  No other food, with the exception of rice and noodles, has a more prominent place in the everyday lives of Chinese: they are a snack, a staple, a holiday treat, and an almost sacred ritual around the Lunar New Year.  During this time, making jiaozi is a social ritual as well, with family and friends gathering round the bowls of fillings and dough, rolling skins, stuffing the jiaozi and talking, until hundreds of the little morsels are ready for boiling.

There is no such thing as an “authentic” Chinese recipe, since within China there is no agreement on how any particular dish should be made.  In China, jiaozi and guo tie are made with beef or pork; they sometimes have fresh shrimp, dried shrimp or no shrimp at all; you’ll find dried mushrooms in some, but not in others; sometimes cabbage, sometimes not.  But in general, the tradition of these dumplings include the ingredients and methods outlined here.

As far as wrappers are concerned, acceptable factory made skins for making jiaozi and guo tie are available at all Asian groceries.  Also, home cooks can take the recipe below and process the skins with a pasta machine, cutting the sheets of dough with an appropriate sized circle cutter; however, the homemade, hand-rolled hot-water version is closest to the traditional Chinese method, and worth the effort in its superior texture: it will be substantial, flavorful and chewy.

About the meat: fatty cuts of meat are not demonized in China as they are in the west; traditional cooks will most often use ground pork belly, here commonly called fresh bacon.  On Chinese streets, you will find vendors selling ground pork for dumplings which is nearly white with fat.  In the present recipe, the cut of pork is optional, and a even lean meat will make an acceptable dumpling.

Filling:
  • 1 lb. Pork with fat (pork rib, pork shoulder, or pork belly)
  • 1 lb. Napa Cabbage
  • 2 green onions, white and green portion minced
  • 1 heap TAB minced ginger
  • 1 TAB Shao Xing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 TAB sesame oil
  • 1 TAB soy sauce
  • 1 round tsp salt, to taste.
  • 1 Heap TAB cornstarch
  • 1/4 to 3/4 cup Chicken or pork stock


Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water for about two and a half minutes. Allow to cool; meanwhile, chop the pork with a cleaver, rolling the mass and varying the direction of the chop: this is a matter of personal preference, since finer mincing produces a more tender, “grainy” homogenous filling, while a larger mince, say, 3/16” to 1/4” will be somewhat more firm and varied in texture.  I prefer the larger mince.  You can also put the pork through a meat grinder, using a quarter inch plate. Place chopped meat in a bowl. Wring out the water from the blanched cabbage using a kitchen towel, and chop to 1/4" to 1/2" pieces. Mix this together with meat and all remaining filling ingredients, adding cornstarch last.  Add chicken or pork stock slowly as you mix the filling in one direction.  Continue adding stock until mixture is visibly wet and "sloppy." If you've overdone the addition of liquid, and the fillng is impossible to handle when making the dumpling, add more cornstarch to firm it up. Keep in mind that the filling will firm up when it is refrigerated. Covered, the filling can be refrigerated for up to five days.  When you are ready to fill the dumplings, make one and boil it to test the flavor and texture, and making any adjustments at that time.

Wrappers:
Cold water can be used, but hot water dough produces a softer, more elastic dough, which is preferable in making most dumplings.
  • 1-1/4 lb bread flour, sifted.
  • 12 fl oz boiling water




When water just comes to a boil, slowly add it to the sifted flour and mix with chopsticks until a crumbled paste forms.  Knead the dough on a floured board as soon as it is cool enough to handle.  Add flour as necessary to form a soft, elastic dough which is not too sticky to handle.  Wrap with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about an hour.  Divide the dough in quarters, and roll each quarter into a rope approximately 1” in diameter.  Cut these into segments of about 5/8”, flatten with the palm, then roll out into a disk approximately 3” to 3-1/2” diameter, and 1/16” to 1/8” thick.
Keep all dough and rolled skins covered to prevent drying.  As I said, the skins can be purchased or the dough kneaded and rolled with a pasta machine, but texture and tradition will be sacrificed.

Making the dumplings:
The manipulation required for making jiaozi may appear daunting, but it is really very simple: essentially, the round disk of dough is folded with the filling inside, and the fold furthest from you is pleated as it is pressed to the fold closest to you, resulting in the traditional scalloped crescent-shaped packet.  Place a circle of dough flat in your left hand.  Moisten the edge all the way around with water, then using a spoon or chopsticks, place approximately a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center.  (If the dough is fresh and moist, the water may not be necessary.)  Fold the skin, and before the edges touch, grasp them with your right thumb and index finger, and beginning at the fold, pleat the outside edge, guiding the dough with your left fingers and press it to the inside (see photos).  As you do this from right to left, you will create a dumpling, which, when set aside on a piece of parchment paper or floured board, will form a flat side perfect for browning when making potstickers.  With a little practice, this process will become second nature.  Note that if you are making boiled jiaozi the dumpling must be sealed very securely to prevent the water from seeping into the jiaozi while cooking.
The dumplings can be frozen if desired—arrange them without touching each other on a piece of parchment paper or floured tray and place in freezer until the surface of the dumpling is very firm and dry to the touch.  You can then put them together in a plastic bag and remove as many as needed in the future.























Dipping Sauce:
Dipping sauce for dumplings is traditional in China, and will usually appear served with potstickers and jiaozi in Western Chinese restaurants.  Often, only vinegar is used, especially the famous, dark Qing Kiang vinegar.  But all sorts of variations exists; the sauce below is a sweet version:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sweet soy
  • 2 Tab Shao Xing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 Tab rice vinegar, or Qing Kiang vinegar
  • 1-1/2 Tab finely minced ginger, steeped in 1/4 cup hot water for 30 min.
Cooking Guo Tie (potstickers):

Pre-heat a flat bottomed, well-seasoned pan or skillet on medium heat; add peanut oil to a depth of approximately 1/16 inch.  Arrange guo tie close together with the flat side of the dumpling in the oil.  Cover and cook for about 3 minutes; after a couple of minutes, lift one or two of the dumplings to see how the browning is progressing. Add water to a depth of about 1/8”—be careful, this will spatter.  Cover again and turn heat down to low or medium low, for about 4 minutes.  After the potstickers are well steamed, uncover and cook for another two minutes, to evaporate any remaining water and to re-crisp the dumplings. Remove dumplings to a platter, and serve with browned sides facing up.

Cooking Jiaozi (boiled dumplings):
One traditional method for cooking jiaozi calls for adding the dumplings to boiling water, then re-boiling after three more additions of  cold water.  However, this causes the cooking time to vary according to the quantity of water, number of dumplings, and size of pot.  I prefer the simpler method of straightforward boiling, depending on the size of the jiaozi.
In a large pot or kettle full of boiling water on high heat, add dumplings and immediately stir very gently to prevent them sticking to the bottom.  Once the water is boiling fully, turn heat to med/med high, and boil for 4 to 6 minutes.  As always, it is recommended that you test the dumpling to make certain it is done.
If you are boiling or frying frozen dumplings, add approximately 1 minute to the cooking time.
Drain and serve in a shallow bowl or platter.  Garnish with sesame oil and minced onion green if desired, although in China jiaozi is generally served without adornment.

Chi You Chao Mian (Soy Sauce Chow Mein)



Chi You Chao Mian (Soy Sauce Chow Mein)

One of the lesser known items enjoyed at Chinese dim sum restaurants is a chewy, savory noodle dish known in English as Soy Sauce Chow Mein.  This is not usually seen on the ordinary steam carts circling the dim sum restaurant; instead, you'll find it on a cold cart featuring other specials, such as salt-and-pepper squid, roast duck, steamed greens with oyster sauce, etc.  Its unique texture and flavor requires a thin steamed wheat noodle, often labeled  won ton noodle,  beansprouts, green and white onion, and soy sauce, all stir fried to perfection.  The Hong Kong style "won ton" noodles can be purchased fresh at most Asian groceries; however, it is essential to use the steamed version, which isn't always labeled as such, but you can also buy the raw noodle, and steam it yourself in a bamboo steamer: spread the noodles out in a steamer tray 1" to 2" thick, and steam for approx 7  to 10 minutes.   As soon as they are cool enough to handle, separate and fluff the noodles and set aside.

8 oz  thin steamed Chow Mein Noodles,  aka: "won ton noodles" (i.e. Wan Hua Foods brand) 
3/4 med yellow onion
2 or 3 green onion
7 oz beansprouts
3 Tab Soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
2 rounded tsp sugar
Dash of vinegar
Dash of dry white sherry, or XiaoShing wine...
Sesame oil

Submerge steamed noodles in hot (150 degree) water for 2 minutes.  Drain well.

Cut yellow onion into tapered slivers, about 1/2 " wide.  Cut green onion into 1-1/2" sections; slice the white portions in half and break apart.  Mix soy with sugar and dash of vinegar and set aside.

Heat 3 Tablespoons of peanut oil in a wok, until just beginning to smoke, and add yellow and white portion if green onion.  Gently flatten the onions to the wok with the shovel, allowing to brown for 20 seconds or so; add beansprouts, green onion pieces, and a dash of wine, then stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, till the sprouts just begin to soften.  Add steamed noodles and soy sauce/sugar mixture; it's a good idea to chop into the mass of noodles with the spatula 2 or 3 times to shorten them, then toss until sauce is thoroughly incorporated and the noodles are hot.  Serve on oval platter and garnish with sesame oil.

Xia Ren Chao Mian (Shrimp Fried Noodles)




Xia Ren Chao Mian (Shrimp Fried Noodles)

Anyone traveling to China, and Asia in general, will notice that noodles are everywhere, at all hours, in every variety.  It is an understatement to call it a staple--it is more like a way of life, especially among the working classes. Nevertheless, perhaps no Chinese dish has suffered more in its passage from the mainland to the West than chao mian (Chow mein).  In China, particularly the north, chao mian is a mainstay dish akin to fried rice (chao fan) in its simplicity and adaptation to the ingredients on hand; with this freedom in mind, one would have thought “Chow Mein,” as it is seen in Chinese-American restaurants, would bear at least a passing resemblance to those versions on the mainland.  In a very few cases, this is true, but most Americans have experienced “Chow Mein” as a sodden, glutinous mass of starchy sauce, overcooked bean sprouts and any number of ingredients standing in for fresh noodles.  In parts of the Eastern and Southern United States,  chao mian will be served without any noodles whatsoever!  In these places, one must order “Lo Mein” to receive noodles.
Chinese chao mian may differ widely from household to household, restaurant to restaurant, and north to south.  If there is a tradition to chao mian, it may be limited to the following: fresh wheat noodles or egg noodles, fried, with some vegetables and flavoring ingredients; its sauce will serve to season the dish, subservient to the noodles, not to overwhelm or bind it together.   With this in mind, one has a great deal of leeway; almost any kind of meat or vegetable can be used, as well as the type of noodle and technique for its frying.  In Southern China and elsewhere, it is more customary to see a thin egg noodle, fried crisp on one or more sides, (Cantonese: Leung Mein Wong) with the meat, vegetables and sauce applied to the top after it’s plated.  In other parts of China, the noodles are fried in the wok along with the other ingredients, and may or may not be crisped, but only heated through and saturated with flavor.  It should also be noticed that while countless traditional recipes exist with the above characteristics, the term chao may not appear in the name, in recipes or menus, though it certainly falls within the category of fried noodles.

One can—and has—written books on the subject of Chinese noodles. [See Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads.] Making noodles at home, however, is an activity reserved for die-hard food enthusiasts, ones that don't mind the near destruction of their kitchens.  No matter how much care is taken, flour inevitably winds up on the floor, ceiling, clothing, hair and walls.  In China, cooks seem to know better: folks rarely make their own fresh noodles, they are cheap and available on nearly every block.  Here, the faint of heart can buy fresh wheat noodles at any Asian grocery. The version below is based on chao mian I’ve enjoyed in several Sichuan street restaurants.  Keep in mind, you may want to vary the meat, or omit it for a vegetarian version; chilies, dried mushroom, red or green peppers, doufu, can all be utilized if desired, without changing the essential tradition of Chao mian.  It is recommended however, that the garlic, ginger, yellow onion and sprouts be retained, since their flavor and texture is a key to the character of this dish.

Homemade Fresh Noodles
  • 3-1/2 cups flour (approx.)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil
The amount of flour used in this recipe will depend on the type of flour, its age, and humidity.  Adjust as necessary.  Combine the flour, water, salt and oil and knead until the dough roughly coheres in a ball.  The dough should be dry and somewhat stiff.  Begin running the dough through the machine on the largest setting, folding it each time, until it is smooth and begins to feel slightly sticky.  Dust the dough repeatedly with flour as you do this, until it will not absorb any more.  The idea is to make a very strong dough with a high proportion of flour to water.  Wrap and allow the dough to rest for several hours—this will relax the gluten and distribute the moisture.  You can now repeat the process of rolling and adding more flour, until you have a very strong,  elastic dough.   Now divide the dough into 3 or 4 equal parts and run it through the machine, trimming the width if necessary, dusting with flour when needed, and decreasing the dimension, until the sheets are approximately 1/16” thick and at least 15” long, depending on the type of noodle desired.  Run the sheet through the narrow cutter attachment, producing a strand approximately 1/16” by 1/16” in diameter, and 15” to 20” long.  Dust with cornstarch. The dimensions of a chao mian noodle can vary: it can be flat, like an Italian fettuccine, or somewhat larger, resembling a Japanese udon; the Chinese, however, consider a long noodle best, as it traditionally symbolizes long life, and is a customary—we should say, mandatory—dish served at Birthday celebrations.
The noodles should be refrigerated, dried, or frozen, however homemade noodles do not hold up as well as commercially made, so it is best to use them as soon as possible.

Xia ren chao mian:

15 oz fresh noodle
7-8 oz shelled de-veined shrimp or prawn
2-3 garlic cloves, very finely minced
1” x1/2” pc ginger, peeled and finely minced
1/2 yellow onion, cut into small wedges
8 oz beansprouts
3 green onions
4 oz green cabbage or bai cai

Sauce: 

1 Tab ground bean sauce
3 Tab soy
1 rounded tsp sugar
1 tsp sweet vinegar
Garnish:
A few shreds sweet red pepper
A few shreds green tops of green onion
Sesame oil
    Boil fresh noodles for two minutes, checking them every quarter minute for desired doneness.  They should be slightly undercooked, since they will undergo a second cooking in the wok.  Remove the noodles when they are done, drain, and spread on a countertop to cool and dry.  As soon as the surface of the noodles have dulled, drizzle a small amount of peanut oil on them to prevent sticking.
    Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients:  wash and trim shrimp, if necessary, and drain thoroughly.  Cut yellow onion into wedges along its axis, and separate them.  Cut green onions into 2” sections; cut white portion into quarters lengthwise, then shred 2 or so tablespoons of the green portion to use as a garnish.  Shred a few pieces of sweet red pepper for garnish. Cut the cabbage into 1/4” shreds.  Combine the sauce ingredients.
    Dredge the shrimp or prawn in cornstarch and thoroughly shake off excess.  On high, heat wok til it begins to smoke and add 2-3 Tab of peanut oil; add dusted shrimp and stir fry quickly just until they loose their transluscence.  Remove and set aside.  Add another tablespoon or two of oil and when wok is very hot, toss in yellow and green onion but do not stir—you want to achieve some caramelization on the onion pieces (if you have a professional wok burner, this will not be necessary); when wok is hot again, add ginger and garlic, toss, then cabbage and sprouts and stir fry for 1 or 2 minutes until sprouts barely begin to wilt.  Add the noodles and begin tossing with the other ingredients.  The noodles will tend to roll up and turn over without suspending the other ingredients; it is necessary to gently pull the noodles apart as you stir fry, to combine it all.  Using large chopsticks rather than the shovel, is sometimes helpful.  After 2 minutes or so, add sauce ingredients and continue mixing, trying to pull the noodles apart as you go, until the noodles and ingredients are thoroughly heated through.  When you plate the dish, roll the mass onto the platter and heap any remaining onions or flavoring ingredients onto the top of the noodles.  Arrange the shrimp on top as well, before garnishing with shredded onion, red pepper and sesame oil.

    Dan Dan Mian (Dan Dan Noodles)



    Dan Dan Mian (Dan Dan Noodles)

    The name of this dish derives from the verb dan, to carry on a pole, referring to the time, until recently, when Sichuanese street vendors carried the makings for snack noodles on bamboo poles and called out their offerings,"dan dan mian!". Among devotees of this dish there is much discussion with regards to the addition or omission of sesame paste. It's worth noting the difference, since sesame paste is intensely flavorful and the two versions would seem to be at odds within the tradition of dan dan mian. The fact is, both are common in Sichuan, though the exported version of Dan Dan Mian seems to always contain the sesame paste. Common elements to look for are pork, chili oil, scallion and ya cai, (preserved vegetable), and sichuan peppercorn (Hua Jiao)--the latter being included in countless traditional Sichuan preparations. In my time in Chengdu, the capitol of Sichuan province, I enjoyed this snack many times in the small restaurants that one found in the side streets of that city.

    12 oz fresh wheat noodles
    4 oz pork, minced
    3/4 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, lightly roasted and ground
    1 med clove garlic, minced
    1-1/2 Tab Sichuan pickled vegetable ya cai (editor: Tianjin preserved vegetable works well)1 Tab soy sauce
    1 Tab rice wine

    Sauce/topping:

    2 tsp dark soy sauce
    1 Tab Soy sauce
    1 Tab chicken stock
    1 tsp ChingKiang black vinegar
    1/2 tsp sugar
    2 Tab chili oil
    1/4 tsp of salt

    2 scallions, green portion only, sliced thin--reserve a few for garnish
    Cook the fresh noodles for 2 minutes or so, and check for desired doneness. Remove, drain until the noodles begin to stick together, then toss with a small amount of oil; portion out to 2 or 3 bowls.
    Combine the sauce ingredients.
    Heat the wok on medium heat until it just begins to smoke and add 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add minced pork and stir fry, taking care to break up the meat; quickly add the garlic, peppercorn and preserved vegetable and toss. Splash in a tablespoon each of soy sauce and rice wine, toss, and remove.
    Portion out the sauce/topping equally over each bowl of noodles; garnish with sesame oil and a few slices of green scallion

    To make the sesame paste version: use the recipe above, omitting the Chingkiang vinegar and dark soy sauce. Also, to the sauce/topping ingredients, add 1 round Tablespoon of sesame paste and another tablespoon of chicken stock, and mix very thoroughly to dissolve the sesame paste.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Ha Gao (Shrimp Dumpling)



    Ha Gao  (Shrimp Dumpling)

    Ha Gao (Cantonese, also Romanized as Ha Gow, Har Gow or Ha Gau, meaning “Shrimp Dumpling”) is possibly the most classic dim sum delicacy, seen in every dim sum restaurant on earth, no matter how limited the menu.  It works excellently as an appetizer for a Western meal, however, in China it is exclusively a dim sum item or a street snack sold alongside other dim sum favorites.  When done well, Ha Gau has a spectacular appearance as well as taste.  Wheat starch is the key ingredient for the skin, and its sticky texture and semi-transparency, while very unusual to western tastes, is ubiquitous in Southern China and Southeast Asia.  When making this snack, you might find that handling the wheat starch wrapper for these dumplings is a challenge. The dough trades off its finished beauty with being sticky and structurally weak to work with. Having said that, because it has no gluten, the dough actually becomes easier to manipulate than wheat flour once you get used to it. I’ve tried to photograph the process in the hopes that this will help.  In any event, the effort will be rewarded...

    Filling:
    1       oz         Pork Fat, finely diced (Optional...)
    10     oz         deveined and shelled shrimp
    1       oz         bamboo shoots, rinsed, drained well, chopped fine.
    1       egg       white only, lightly beaten
    1       tsp         sugar
    1/2    Tab       cornstarch
    1/2    tsp         salt
    1/2    tsp         sherry
    1/2    tsp         sesame oil
    Dash    white pepper
    Finely mince and pound or puree 1/2 of the shrimp.  With the other half, cut the shrimp into 3 or 4 large segments, depending on the size.  (For appearance and texture, you want large pieces of shrimp in the filling; the finely minced provides an overall binder.)   In a bowl, mix the shrimp and beaten egg white thoroughly.  Add minced pork fat, bamboo shoots, sesame oil, salt, white pepper, sherry and cornstarch.  Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula.  Refrigerate while you make the skins.

    Skins:

    1       Cup      wheat starch
    1/4    Cup      tapioca Starch
    1       Tab       Peanut oil
    1/4    tsp         salt
    1       Cup       boiling water
    Sift the starches and salt into a bowl; form a well in the powders, then add the oil.  Pour the boiling water, measured with a pre-heated measuring cup, into the well and stir quickly with a rubber spatula.  Scrape the sides as you mix, to incorporate all the ingredients.  Form a ball of dough.  As soon as you can handle the dough, knead it vigorously for a full 3 minutes, occasionally compressing the ball forcefully as you knead.  Wheat starch dough is firm to the gentle touch, but extremely malleable.  This enthusiastic kneading is to insure that the starches and water and oil are smoothly and completely incorporated.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces and let it rest in a plastic bag for 6 minutes.  In the meantime, make certain your steamer water is boiling.  Prepare a parchment paper liner for the steamer tray—punch or cut 1/4” holes randomly in the paper to allow steam to pass through.

    Compress each ball into a smooth, round shape and then roll on a flat surface to make a 3/4”to 1” dia.   Rope.  Put three back in the plastic bag and cut the remaining into 3/4” to 1” segments.  To make the skins: working on a high density polyethylene cutting board, place a piece of 4” square piece of parchment paper over the segment and flatten it one at a time with rolling pin, Chinese cleaver, or tortilla press (works great), making sure the skin is a uniform thickness of between 1/16” and 3/16”  This disk will be slightly irregular in shape; you can proceed with making the dumplings and trim the excess with scissors if necessary, or cut the skin now to appx. 3-1/4” diam. using a cookie cutter, empty tin can or similar round object(An empty 6-1/2 oz.  tuna can works very well).  You can make the skins all at once, if they are kept covered with plastic or damp cloth at room temperature.
    Pick up the skin very gently (these wrappers are soft and tear easily—even if you nick it with a fingernail, this will likely produce a tear in the dumpling as it steams) put a rounded tablespoon of filling in the middle, fold the skin patially around the filling to form a trough; hold this loosely in the fingers of your left hand, with the thumb resting in the middle, over the filling.   Gently pleat the side furthest from you only, from right to left, using the left thumb and right index finger to guide the pleats against the side closest to you, while the right thumb provides backing.  Pleat along the dumpling, until the dumpling is enclosed.   You need not tightly seal the wrapper as you pleat—the concern at this point is not to stress the wrapper resulting in a tear.  Once it’s pleated, you can press the edges, sealing the dumpling and cutting off the excess if the wrapper wasn’t pre-cut.  Place as many dumplings as you can (without touching) on the paper-lined steamer tray. It is best to use all the wrapper dough right away; it works best when still warm.










    Steam the dumplings for 5 minutes.  If it is necessary to take the dumplings out of the steamer tray—as opposed to setting out the tray as a serving dish—you should wait 3 or 4 
    minutes while the skins cool somewhat; they are very soft and sticky while piping hot.


    If absolutely necessary, these dumplings can be frozen once they are steamed, but they lose about 15% of their texture.  Thaw them on parchment paper or polyethylene cutting board before reheating, and steam for about 3 minutes as before