There are a few dishes you can get at basically any Chinese restaurant in America: General Tso’s, kung pao, pork and chive dumplings to name a few. But unless you’re in New York or LA, good luck finding xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. Even in those cities, soup dumplings are a delicacy only found at restaurants that tend to specialize in them.
Hailing from Shanghai, these little pockets of deliciousness are bursting with flavor – and burning hot broth. With a texture that’s firm yet sticky, they’re thick enough to hold a mini cauldron of hot pork soup on the inside, but delicate enough that they must be eaten with care.
Going out for a meal of xiaolongbao – in the U.S., often done as part of a dim sum outing – is a ritual in a sense, requiring great care to correctly open the dumpling at the topknot, add the sauce, and eat the whole thing without spilling the soup out everywhere or burning your mouth.
Cooking your own soup dumplings is a laborious process, but if you make it your weekend project you’ll be rewarded with a meal you won’t soon forget.
For the gelatin
- 2 lbs unsmoked, skin-on pork hock
- 1/2 pound pork skin
- 1 lb chicken carcasses, if available, or parts such as drumsticks and wings
- 2 stalks green onions, cut into 3-inch segments
- 3 slices fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine or dry Marsala wine
- kosher salt
- 3 quarts water, plus more as needed
- 1 (1/4-ounce) envelope Knox gelatin (optional)
- 2 stalks green onions, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
For the dough
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 cup bread flour
- 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon hot water (150-160F)
For the filling
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon white pepper powder
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the black vinegar chili-garlic sauce
- 1/2 cup Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chili bean sauce
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
To make the gelatin
- 1 Put the pork hock, pork skin, chicken carcasses, onions, ginger, soy sauce, wine and salt to taste in a stock pot. Add the water, adding more as needed to make sure it covers all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat and then immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until the broth is reduced by at least half and the consistency has thickened from the collagen; it will resemble a slurry.
- 2 You will have to check it from time to time and gently shift the hocks and chicken to prevent any sticking. After 2 hours, add additional salt to taste. Let cool slightly and strain the broth into a 2-quart glass baking dish (or other similar heatproof container). Let the broth cool to room temperature, cover, and then chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- 3 The gelatin should be quite firm. If it’s not, it will make your filling too damp and very challenging to use. If, the next day, the gelatin still jiggles when you shake the pan, here’show to correct it: In a pot over medium heat, melt the gelatin. Add the Knox gelatin into the broth gelatin, and stir to dissolve. Transfer to the baking dish and chill until firm.
- 4 Cut the gelatin into ¼-inch cubes and place in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator.
- 5 Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Line the steamer baskets with perforated parchment paper and set up the steamer.
To make the dough
- 1 Put the flours in a large bowl and stir to combine. Gradually add half the water while stirring with a spatula or a pair of chopsticks. As the dough comes together, add more water. You may or may not need all of the water.
- 2 Press the dough together; if you can form a ball, you can stop adding water. Form a ball and knead the dough for about 4 minutes, or until smooth. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
To make the filling
- 1 In the bowl of a food processor, put the pork, soy sauce, onions, ginger and pepper. Pulse about five to six times to mix the meat and to create a fluffy texture. Add the oil and the gelatin. Pulse two to three times just until the gelatin becomes incorporated.
- 2 Do not overprocess or the filling will become too pasty. Transfer the filling to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- 3 On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough again for 2 minutes, or until smooth. Divide the dough into two portions. Cover one half with a damp towel. Roll the other half into a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Cut rope into pieces about 1 inch long or about 10 grams each.
- 4 With a Chinese rolling pin (dowel), roll out each piece of dough into a 3.-inch round. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Gather the edges and twist into a “topknot” above the center of the dumpling.
- 5 Place each dumpling in the steamer basket, leaving about 1 inch of space between dumplings. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. If you don't have enough steamer baskets, place the sealed dumplings on the lined baking sheet.
- 6 Steam the dumplings over high heat for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the dumplings. When done steaming, the dough will transform from opaque to slightly translucent.
- 7 Serve immediately, straight from the basket, with the chili-garlic sauce.
For the black vinegar chili-garlic sauce
- 1 In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, bean sauce, garlic, and soy sauce. You can store this sauce in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
How to eat a soup dumpling
- 1 You have to eat a soup dumpling while it’s still steaming hot. You need a pair of chopsticks, a sauce dish with black vinegar and ginger, and a Chinese soupspoon or other deep spoon. Gently use your chopsticks to lift the soup dumpling by the topknot.
- 2 Be careful not to puncture the skin to avoid spilling out the melted gelatin, which is now the eponymous soup. Quickly dip the dumpling in the vinegar-ginger sauce and then place it in your spoon.
- 3 Take a small bite from the top of the dumpling and suck out the soup, being cautious of the potentially scalding temperature. Then eat the rest of the dumpling. Some people take a bite first and then spoon in some dipping sauce. It’s up to you.
- 4 Some people prefer to put the entire soup dumpling in my mouth so that when I bite into it, the soup and dumpling create the perfect bite. That, however, takes skill to keep from burning your tongue.