Xiao long bao, aka juicy buns, aka soup dumplings, to be exact. As a Firefly fan, I’ve wanted to use that quote as a title for something for a very long time, and I didn’t even know these little treasures existed until I visited Boston’s Chinatown with my sister last weekend. Once I did, making them in my own kitchen became my obsession. I bought a package of dumpling skins at the Asian grocery store we visited in Chinatown and when I returned home from Boston, I began tirelessly researching the methods people suggested of creating the most flavorful soup filling.
Tracking down the pieces I needed was harder than it should have been. Nobody in Bangor, it seems, sells pork bones or skin, and forget about chicken backs or wing-tips. I finally settled on the first package of fresh (unsmoked) pork hocks I found, after days of calling so-called butcher shops and being lied to by grocery store meat cutters. I also bought a package of chicken drumsticks, and after roasting a chicken, added the carcass to the stock as well. The result was exactly the rich, gelatinous concoction I needed to make my soup dumplings happen without adding pre-packaged gelatin. Once I had that figured out, the trickiest part would be sealing the dumplings to steam them. It wasn’t as tricky as I thought. Even though my pleating lacks finesse, it was easier than I expected, if time-consuming.
Xiao Long Bao
- 3.5 lbs pork hocks (unsmoked)
- 3.5 lbs chicken drumsticks
- any other soup bones or similar you have around
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 5 star anise
- 1 onion, halved
- 2 heads of garlic
- 4 large carrots
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 2 large knobs of ginger, chunked
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp black soy sauce
- lots of water
Reserve garlic powder, soy sauce and one knob of ginger, but put all other ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and turn down heat; keep at a simmer until all connective tissue has dissolved; I let mine go for probably 20 hours total. Strain out meat, bones, aromatics, fat, etc. and add reserved ginger and soy sauce; reduce. Remove ginger knobs. Pour into a baking pan and cool in refrigerator until solid. Scoop off the layer of fat on the top and cut the gelatin into cubes for filling dumplings.
- 1 package (or 1 recipe, if making your own) round dumpling skins.
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine (I substituted vermouth)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 inch knob grated ginger
- 3 cloves minced garlic
Combine a little cornstarch with water in a little bowl for sealing wrappers. Mix all filling ingredients together, and place one small daub of meat in each dumpling skin along with one tiny cube of soup jelly, and pleat into gathered purse shapes. Steam in a steamer basket lined with cabbage leaves or parchment paper and placed over 2 inches of water for 5 minutes.
Serve hot — being careful not to burn your mouth. Most recipes I looked at suggested serving them with a bowl of black vinegar and fresh ginger slivers, and Dumpling Cafe served mine with some, but I didn’t use it. I also didn’t have the foresight to buy any black vinegar in Chinatown, and I couldn’t find any in Bangor. Black vinegar has a similar flavor profile to balsamic, though, so we tried that, and it was very complementary, though the buns certainly don’t suffer from lack of it.