Jasper Shen knows Chinese food—the General Tso’s kind and the real thing, too. By age 9 he was cleaning green beans and mixing drinks at his uncle’s Americanized Chinese joint in Chicago. On weekends, his family gathered for hot pot and stir-fried ong choy. But nothing, says the former Aviary chef, authentic or otherwise, compares to soup dumplings, a.k.a. xiao long bao: pleated purses full of garlic- and ginger-flecked pork and scorching-hot, deeply spiced broth.
Making them takes two days and a bit of dumpling dexterity, but with your first (cautious) nibble, you’ll get what the fuss is all about.
The dumplings headline Shen’s recently opened North Portland Chinese restaurant, XLB, joined by a dozen or so strictly un-Americanized noodle dishes, obscure Asian vegetables, and steamed buns. “I love General Tso’s as much as the next guy,” Shen says of the sweet, deep-fried US menu standby, “but I think people are ready for the wide world of Chinese cooking. I think they want it.”
Xiao Long Bao
Makes 50 dumplings
Make the Soup
- 5 lbs pork bones (available at butcher shops and most Asian supermarkets)
- 2 yellow onions, halved
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 inches peeled ginger, sliced into ⅛-inch pieces
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp star anise
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 6 oz dried Chinese ham (available at Fubonn, or substitute with any ham)
Put all ingredients in a large stock pot, and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, skim to remove the surface scum, turn stove down to a simmering medium-low, and cook for 6 hours. Strain stock through a wire mesh strainer into a large container, and refrigerate overnight.* The next day, stock should be the texture of Jell-O. Remove the layer of top fat using a spoon, then scoop the stock into a food processor, and pulse for about 6 seconds, or until it’s in pebble-size chunks.
Form the Dough
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup warm water
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add flour. Turn to medium-low speed and slowly add water. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue mixing for 10 minutes, or until firm, soft, and slightly pliable. Wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Mix the Filling
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp thinly sliced garlic chives, tough stems discarded (available at most Asian markets)
- 2 cups (¾ lb) gelatinized pork soup
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add all ingredients except for pork gelatin and mix on medium speed until a creamy film starts to develop on the side of the bowl, around 20 seconds. Add gelatinized soup and mix just until incorporated, a few seconds more.
Form the XLB
(and scroll down to the video below to see Jasper Shen show you how to do it)
Cut the dough into two, reserving one piece in plastic wrap for the second batch. Roll the other piece into a 14-inch long rope with your hands and cut into ⅓-inch-thick (6–8 gram) pieces. Using a thin, Asian-style rolling pin ($2.50 at Fubonn), roll cubes into thin wrappers: First, pat the square into a rough pancake shape. Next, holding the top edge of the dough with one hand and the rolling pin in the other, gently roll halfway up and back down the pancake, applying pressure on the down-stroke and tugging slightly with your other hand to stretch out the dough. This will ensure that the dumpling stays thick in the center and thin at the edges. Repeat this motion while turning the dough clockwise until the dumpling wrapper is roughly 3 inches in diameter.
Hold wrapper in one hand and place a heaping tablespoon (about 30 grams) of the filling in center. Using the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand, make a small pinch at the edge. As you pinch, lift and stretch the dough slightly while using the thumb of the hand holding the wrapper to keep the filling contained inside. Turn the wrapper slightly in your hand and make another pinch, joining it to the previous pinch. Continue until the dumpling is fully crimped and gently twist the top.
Cut out a round of parchment paper and place in the bottom of a metal or bamboo steamer, making sure to leave some room around the edges for the steam to get through. Fill a pot or skillet with just enough water to boil, but not enough to enter the steamer, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the steamer and dumplings, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
Everyone has their own technique for (very carefully) tackling the scalding dumpling. Here’s what Shen recommends: Place cooked dumpling in a soup spoon. Bite a tiny hole in the skin and let the soup pour out. Remove the dumpling and drink the soup. Place dumpling back on the spoon, dunk in XLB sauce (¼ cup light soy sauce, 2 tbsp white vinegar, 1 tbsp ginger cut into matchsticks about ⅛-inch thick). Eat in one bite.
*Stock can be frozen up to three months.