"Five portions of xiaolongbao, please..." said my editor, as she placed a lunch order at a Chinese restaurant near our workplace, recently. One portion each for the five of us, because who shares xiaolongbao? It's the one dish on the menu that we do not miss, at any Chinese restaurant.
Xiaolongbao literally translates to "small basket buns," and are named after the bamboo baskets (or zhēnglóng) that they're steamed in.
The delicate skin of the xiaolongbao encases a meat filling and gelatinised meat broth. During steaming, the broth liquefies, poaching the meat in a rich, savoury soup. Get your chopsticks game right and you're rewarded with a burst of flavours in your mouth.
For the meat jelly
37 gms Chongqing hot pot base (available at Chinese groceries)
23 gms fish gelatin powder
450 ml water
10 gms sugar
10 ml Lee Kum Kee spicy oil (or a Chinese chili oil avaialble at Chinese groceries)
10 ml Sichuan peppercorn oil
300 gms carrot (chopped)
For the beef filling
300 gms Australian Wagyu beef
1 gm white pepper powder
7 gm sugar
48 gm chicken stock powder
40 gm spring onions (chopped)
For skin of xiolongbao
225 gms high-gluten flour
5 ml oil
110 ml unsweetened juice of a carrot blended and strained
8 gms ice
To make meat jelly
1. Add 300 ml water to a pot, then add the chili oil, peppercorn oil, hot pot condiment and sugar together.
2. Wait for the hot pot base to melt completely and slowly add fish gelatin powder. Once the powder is melted, let it cool naturally, and then refrigerate for one hour.
3. Remove from the fridge and check if it has solidified, then take it out and cut it into small pieces.
To make the Beef stuffing
1) Finely chop the wagyu beef.
2) In a bowl, mix the beef with corn starch, white pepper powder, sugar, chicken powder, hot pot condiment and oil, to form a thick mixture. Now, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3) After 30 minutes, mix 312 gms of the beef with 312 gms of meat jelly prepared earlier and some chopped spring onions.
To make the xiaolongbao
1) Add the chopped carrots to a blender with water, and blend. Strain the carrot juice and add the ice and oil to it. Now, stir till the ice melts.
2) Pour the carrot juice inside the high-gluten flour.
3) Knead to form a smooth dough and seal it with cling film. Set aside for 10 minutes.
4) After 10 minutes, knead the flour into 4.5cm dough balls (or roughly the size of a golf ball).
5) Using a rolling pin, roll them out thin and add beef stuffing. Now, pinch the edges to make small buns.
6) Place your pot or wok of water on the cooking range and bring to a boil.
7) Prepare your steamer basket or rack by placing your liner down.
8) Next, place your dumplings down with one inch of separation between each one.
9) When the water is boiled, carefully put your steamer in place and steam for 10 minutes.
- Chef Dingxu Ren is the Head Chef at Hutong, Dubai