Published September 1, 2010.
It’s not only Cantonese chefs who make great shu mai. But to achieve restaurant-quality results at home, we had to nail down a different shopping list.
The recipes we found for these Chinese dumplings surprised us with their simplicity but disappointed us with their one-dimensional, mealy meatball flavor.
We wanted to re-create the moist, tender, deeply flavored dumplings we love from our favorite dim sum restaurants.
We began our research by heading to one of our favorite Cantonese dumpling destinations for a few lessons with an expert. One of the tips we received was to ground the pork ourselves. Pre-ground pork from the supermarket tends to be a hodgepodge of scraps from different parts of the animal, so it cooks up with unpredictable and inconsistent results.
For moist and tender meat, we used our food processor to ground boneless country-style ribs into two batches: one chunky and one fine. Once combined in the filling, the smaller pieces helped hold the larger bits together and added a pleasant textural contrast. We pulsed the shrimp with the more coarsely ground batch, which produced chunks large enough to be discernible but not distracting.
Though we were pleased with the juiciness and tenderness of our filling, the texture turned grainy and dry once the steaming basket reached 165 degrees—the point at which proteins begin to expel water and shrink. Though the restaurant chef’s solution was to add lard or fatback to the filling, we discovered that a mixture of gelatin powder and cornstarch worked just as well in reclaiming the moisture and tenderness.
When it came to flavorings, we mimicked the Cantonese chef’s recipe by adding a liberal dose of toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, and rice vinegar. Chinese black mushrooms, a traditional ingredient, aren’t widely available, so we found a viable substitution in dried reconstituted shitake mushrooms. And though unusual, cilantro, water chestnuts, and fresh ginger rounded out our filling’s ingredients.
For wrappers, we used square egg roll skins, which we cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. As a final touch, instead of traditional shrimp paste or roe, we garnished each dumpling’s exposed center with finely grated carrot. Finally, we steamed them and served them with a quick dash of chili oil.list of recipes