Long before molecular gastronomy set out to astonish diners with liquid olives and other unimaginable foods, xiao long bao (steamed dumplings filled with hot broth and meat) had people asking, “How’d they get the soup in there?” The secret to the Shanghainese specialty: The broth is so rich in gelatin that it solidifies when chilled, allowing chefs to fold dough around it. For a lesson in how to make the dumplings from scratch, we turned to chef Joe Ng and restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld, the team behind RedFarm in New York City. According to these Chinese-food experts, soup dumplings draw on three kitchen arts: pastry (the dough), sauces (the stock) and charcuterie (the meat).
Making the dumplings is a bit of a project, best tackled over the course of a few days. The difficult part comes at the end: “The hardest part is forming the dumplings,” says Schoenfeld. “No,” counters Ng, “the hardest part is eating them: If you aren’t careful, you’ll burn your mouth.” We have to side with Schoenfeld on this one, though we promise that dumpling-wrapping skills improve with practice.
Tips for Soup Dumpling Success
Ng runs his jellied stock through a meat grinder to give it the same texture as the pork. He says a food processor works well for home cooks.
To avoid burning your mouth, place the soup dumpling on a spoon and carefully bite a hole in the top to let the steam out.
Freeze uncooked dumplings on a baking sheet; seal in a plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Steam until cooked, 10 minutes.
While Ng’s soup dumplings are delicious on their own, they’re also good with a very simple sauce of 1/4 cup Chinese black vinegar with 1 tablespoon julienned fresh ginger. Drizzle the sauce on top of each dumpling before eating.