I’m going to start this little story by making a confession. I really love to cook, and I really love to try new recipes and different types of food. When I say I love it I’m not using hyperbole, I really get a lot of joy finding recipes, creating a shopping list, buying new or interesting ingredients, combining all of these things together, and enjoying the final results. I often find myself perusing different web sites for anything that might look different and delicious. Kelli will sometimes have to drag me back to reality if I start planning a dinner that in no way will be able to be completed by bed time (or basketball practice, or dance lessons, or horseback, or baseball game, or soccer game, or…) This urge to find new and flavorful creations has led me to discover several out of the ordinary meals that have become regulars at the farmhouse. One of our favorite and most unique meals is Dim Sum.
Dim Sum is a term used to describe a style of Cantonese dumplings from China. They are usually served steamed but can also be fried. There are several varieties of Dim Sum ranging from savory meat fillings to sweet fruits or cake type fillings. I have only tried to make one kind of Dim Sum called Shaomai. This kind of dumpling is filled with a pork and shrimp mixture that I’m certain was used to lure sailors to their deaths on the rocky shores of some ancient Chinese island. It’s possible I got my wires crossed on that story. One of the odd things about these meatballs form heaven is that the stuffing only contains four ingredients. FOUR! That’s it! There is some elbow grease required to get the meat mixture stuffed into the wrapper but I have come to really enjoy the process. It’s a great meal to prepare while talking to your beautiful wife and drinking a glass of wine. If you’re into that kind of stuff. Now at this point you may be asking, “But how do you cook these most glorious sounding dumplings from the land of the raising sun?” and that is one of the tricks, or exceptions, to this otherwise straight forward gift from our neighbors across the biggest pond. A bamboo steamer. This simple yet elegant contraption is the most primitive and at the same time most artistic tool in our kitchen, it is made of interwoven strands of bamboo similar to a basket made of flattened material.
I doubt I would have ever decided to go in search of my own steamer but luckily I married into a family that shares some of my same passions. Our steamer came as a gift from Kelli’s sister, Frankie. Frankie puts my little dabbles in cooking to shame, and her blog Recipe Realities (go ahead and click it- you know you want to) is a great source for anything food related. The steamer works by trapping steam coming from a pan full of boiling water, the steam causes the bamboo to expand which in turn traps even more steam causing the temperature in the steamer to rise to levels that are capable of cooking just about anything.
Ok enough jibber jabber lets get to the nuts and bolts of this recipe. The pan full of water should be put on an eye that is set to a medium high temperature. For this treat you will need to prepare a few things for the filling first.
You will need:
1 lb of ground pork
1 lb of raw shrimp-it will need to be shelled and tailed (if you can find it that way already then good for you)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Later you will need:
1 head of Bok Choi
And for a ridiculously easy dipping sauce you need:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp. fresh chopped garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
Hot sauce to taste
Start by shelling and pulling the tails off of your shrimp. Be sure not to waste any of the precious little bugs. Here is a short video on how to “pinch the tails” to keep all that yummy in one piece.
After shelling the shrimp process them in a…….um……..processer until they have the consistency of the ground pork.
Then combine the pork, shrimp, green onions and chives in a large mixing bowl.
Stir it up…little darling
This is the point where these little guys take a bit of elbow grease. The steamer needs to be lined with something to prevent the cooked dumplings from falling through the grates in the bamboo. Parchment paper with holes poked in it can be used but we prefer to use bok choi because it is delicious after soaking up the dumpling juices. The meat also needs to be placed into the wrappers to make the dumplings. There is an art to this, some dumplings are made sealed on all sides (think ravioli, only with a thinner cover.) However, I prepare this version using an open top dumpling. This process allows more of the meat mixture to be in each dumpling. The wrappers used to make traditional Dim Sum are made with rice flour. They are very thin and difficult to work with, and nearly impossible to find in Northeast Tennessee. My little cheat is to use egg roll wrappers that have been cut into four equal squares. Stuffing the wrappers starts by laying one of the pieces on top of your hand while making the “OK” sign with your index finger and your thumb and then placing the meat mixture right in the center of the hole formed by you hand.
You slowly work the meat and the wrapper into a bell shape to keep it from falling over in the steamer and then place each one in the steamer making sure they do not touch to allow steam to circulate on all sides.
They’re like snowflakes no two are ever the same
The amounts given in this recipe make around 30 dumplings. Most steamers have two levels and if you throw some edimame or asparagus in it will pretty much fill up the entire steamer….and three or four bellies.
Closer to heaven
All that is left to do at this point it to reassemble the steamer and place it on nearly boiling water and let it just hang out for 10-15 minutes.
While things are getting steamy its a good time to throw together the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and hot sauce to make a perfect dipping sauce. Just combine in a bowl and give it a good stir.
Checking for doneness is the same as for any meat product, your best tool is a meat thermometer, it can give you an idea about the internal temp of the dumplings. I usually shoot for around 160.
Now, eat ’em. Just try to stop before you get so full your pants feel tight. I never stop in time. I know this culinary adventure requires some time and a couple of things that aren’t in an average kitchen, but just in case you ever get the urge for a simple, unique, and delicious treat give it a try. Or just show up at the Unconventional Farmhouse and twist my arm. If you bring a bottle of something fun to drink I’m sure I can be motivated.
(P.S. by Kelli- My mouth is watering reading this, for real. Warning: If you give this a try then addiction is highly likely.)