Making Xiao Long Bao with No Roadmap

One of the training classes around career development I’ve written for my company lays out the premise that you can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are going and how you will get there.  Having a clear destination and taking the time to plan your route are important of course, not just in career development but in cooking, too.  So it was all but certain that my desire to make Xiao Long Bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings, hereafter abbreviated as XLB) was bound to fail as I had no clear road map for getting there.

I definitely had my destination in mind!  XLB are my favorite Chinese dumpling and my favorite place to have them is at Din Tai Fung, a chain originating in Taipei.  In fact, here’s a little video about Din Tai Fung’s XLB from my November trip to Taipei with Tawn to visit Andy and Sugi.

The destination was clear, but as I started reading the recipes and learning about the technique, I realized that this was going to be a lot more effort than I was ready to expend for some weeknight dumplings.  Surely, I thought, I could just find my way through the wilderness without a map.  Couldn’t I just, you know, feel my way to the XLB?

(Yeah, you know where this story is going, don’t you?)

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I started with what I did know about XLB: the filling was a mixture of minced pork, ginger, garlic, green onions, soy sauce, rice wine, and white pepper.  Easy enough.  I gathered those together.

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The “secret ingredient” of these soup dumplings is that you gelatinize broth and mix the cubes of the gelatine into the filling so that the broth melts as the dumplings steam, leaving a nice pool of juicy goodness to slurp up as you eat the XLB.  So I used some broth and some gelatine and made broth jell-o.  Easy enough.

When I mixed the cubes of broth into the pork mixture, though, the kitchen was too warm and they started melting.  Before you knew it, I had no more cubes but instead had a watery filling mixture.  Oh, no!

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The next step was to fill the dumpling wrappers with that perfect twisted pleat, shown above in the handiwork of the Din Tai Fung cooks.  I was using gyoza (potsticker) wrappers purchased premade at the store.  Even before I started filling them, I had a suspicion that my lack of a road map was going to lead me down a dead-end street.  Sure enough, I couldn’t get the gyoza wrappers to hold that pleated shape.

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Getting hungry, I just went with a simple half-moon fold, trying to satisfy myself with being able to keep the runny filling (thanks to the no longer gelatinous broth) from leaking out.

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The end result wasn’t pretty but actually tasted just fine.  Nobody in their right mind would confuse this mess of a dumpling with XLB, but for a weeknight it was good enough.  Sometimes, driving without a road map takes you somewhere other than you intended, but a place that is perfectly suitable nonetheless.

 

0 thoughts on “Making Xiao Long Bao with No Roadmap

  1. very good saying.. and you included it whilst explaining the art of making xiao long baos. i love love xiao long baos, especially at din tai fung. well, they don’t look the same but you said they tasted pretty good, and that’s what it boils down to 🙂

  2. that’s awesome to see that you actually executed it!! with or without the pleats, they look delicious :)ps. did you mix the broth cubes into the pork mix by hand?

  3. @iskrak –  With a spoon, yes. I’m sure had I bothered to follow a recipe, I would have done a much better job. Next time I’m in Taipei, though, I want to find a cooking class that can teach me XLB!@stepaside_loser –  “boils down to” or “steams up to”… I’m not sure which is more appropriate to say! Ha ha…

  4. i wonder if it would help to freeze the broth next time, instead of simply refrigerating it? you would have to do it in two parts in order to get small cubes though; you’d have to refrigerate it, cube it, and then freeze it. the trade-off would be that it would give you more time to work with the filling. i wonder if you should use the square dumpling wrappers instead of the round ones? i’m not sure how you would make that twisty shape.

  5. You know those gyoza-like dumplings look pretty good to me =)  You get BIG kudos for attempting something that’s not remotely easy!!  I love XLB–we’re lucky we can get them here pretty easily!!

  6. That’s quite an adventurous execution but I guess you did the other kind of dumplings, called ‘guao tze’, and it’s boiled with hot water. Your photo turned out good!

  7. “Sometimes, driving without a road map takes you somewhere other than you intended, but a place that is perfectly suitable nonetheless.”Spoken like a true Buddhist. :)Another great entry Chris!

  8. oohh…. very adventerous, everytime I make some pork soup and the stock becomes a gelatin overnight in the fridge, I keep thinking of making xlb. But I haven’t quite figured out all the steps yet. Bravo Chris – anytime you need someone to taste test your food, give me a call.

  9. You are so funny. Even when you are out on a limb, you get a perfect outcome. Too bad that the mixtured jello broth got runny. The end resulta look great though.

  10. Haha wow, that whole first part sounds very similar to what I learned in my Strategic planning course. Indeed, without understanding the wheres and hows, your chance of success decreases ever so much.

  11. Yeah I wondered about using dumpling skin to make XLB. I haven’t tried it yet since they’re different (to me). Thanks for doing this haha.Perhaps you need more gelatin for the cube so it stays firmer? Also I thought they slice it into cubes and just put one cube in the middle of the filling kind of making a “meatball.” Maybe see how that works since the filling would insulate the cube from the warm kitchen.

  12. Hey, at least yours tasted the same! I’ve been meaning to put up the epic failure that was my XLB but have gotten caught up with things. 1st attempt, the soup got eaten up by the skin. (I made my own dumpling skin.) 2nd attempt, the skin burst, soup went away. 3rd attempt… I salvaged two decent XLB, the rest were just like steamed dumplings for some reason. Bah! I fridged my broth for an hour and froze it for an hour, that seemed to help hold its shape. Did you at least get some soup remaining in the dumplings?

  13. It looks pretty good for your first attempt. It doesn’t matter what they look like as long as they taste good. 🙂 I love Din Tai Fung. They have one here in LA where I sometimes go when I have a craving for xiao long biao.

  14. @icebladz – From what I’ve heard, the Din Tai Fung in Arcadia isn’t as good as the overseas branches.  Have you compared them?  What do you think?@rave3708 – Goodness, sorry for causing a mess!  =D@Shades_of_Athena – You’d be sorely disappointed, I think.  “What!?  You call this Xiao Long Bao!?”@moolgishin – You should post some pictures of your attempts!  I ended up soupless as it has all melted into the filling mixture.  What a mess!@kunhuo42 – Freezing the broth along with using more gelatine/less stock would both help.  Even with the air conditioning running, my kitchen is usually pretty warm, so I have to take that into better account.@lil_squirrel4ever – You folks in Vancouver are lucky on many accounts, especially food-wise.@yang1815 – I figured the wrappers wouldn’t be quite the same – texture is different.  I need to practice making and rolling the wrappers from scratch, but need more time for that.  Not a weeknight adventure, for sure.@ElusiveWords – Even with Skype, I don’t think you’ll be able to taste the food from so far away…  Not unless there’s an app for that!@beowulf222 – Executive chef?  You’re too generous.  Maybe if they have an opening as dishwasher I could start as his assistant and work my way up.@Umnenga – Looking forwrad to it.@ZSA_MD – I got an outcome, certainly, but not a perfect one. That’s okay, life is about experimenting and failing and learning and enjoying.@marc11864 – I thought it was more Taoist.  =D@Roadlesstaken – Strategic planning, career development, cooking – it is amazing how many times you can trot the same chestnut out and use it.@Dezinerdreams – Consider yourself warned.  =D@CurryPuffy – @foggysunnymorning – There’s a zillion different bao I could learn to make.  Time to sign up for some classes.@grammarboy – Thank you.@AppsScraps – And I’m sure you and G did a much more thorough job of planning, thus getting a better result!@Norcani – You’re welcome.

  15. That’s what I hear too, but I haven’t been to the one in Taipei, so I can’t really compare. I been to the one in Tokyo, when I was in Japan. I think the Din Tai Fung overseas does taste better than the one in US. Even though the one in Arcadia is not as good, it will have to do since it is the closest one to me right now.

  16. Hahahah…aw…somehow this made me feel closer to you…Chris CAN have mishaps in the kitchen just like me! Not everything you make is perfect…aw…you are human too!

  17. @moolgishin –  They have many outlets in Japan and their Taiwan locations seem to be very popular with Japanese tourists.@black_lie –  That was my secret motive – just to make people hungry! Ha ha ha… =D@icebladz –  I’m just curious why the overseas ones are better. Andy and I have discussed this at length and we agree that the chicken and pork in the US is generally flavorless, in comparison with the meats in Asia. The pork would play a big role in the flavor of XLB, of course. But if you’re in LA without the means to fly to Taipei for some lunch, Arcadia is pretty handy!@murisopsis –  Oh, you totally could do that.@Wangium –  Oh, Jason, I just want to give you a big hug and then slap you upside the head with the back of my hand to thank you for that back-handed compliment! Many of the things I create turn out differently or not as good as I had hoped, mostly because I don’t follow recipes carefully and haven’t developed my technique. I’ve even had a dinner party where I had to order pizza because the main course was literally a disaster.

  18. even though i’m cantonese, my father group up in shanghai, so we are quite familiar with shanghai cuisine. your biggest mistake is the gyoza wrapper. the skin of the xlb is the most important piece of the equation. doesn’t matter how well you make the filling, if the skin doesn’t hold the soup, or falls apart when you grab it, the xlb is a total fail. my father reminisces about his childhood and the xlb he used to get from the local street vendor, describing the skin as nearly transparent, and that you can see the soup and filling inside. unfortunately, i’m not sure any of the premade frozen wrappers you get at the store will do the job.

  19. Cool!! You attempted them yourself too!! =D Kudos. I went the making your own wrappers route… a LONG ASS route it is too. <,< Esp when you’re the only one doing it. Heh. <,< Sorry about the butt load of footprints. I was trying to find the Pineapple Fried Rice recipe, and kept getting lost. Apologies.

  20. @M_1 – You’re probably right about trying to use premade wrappers!  Oh well, just gives me more opportunity to learn…@Heather_Also – That was probably the route to go, wasn’t it?  No worries about the footprints.  I have a maid to clean them up.  LOL  =P

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