Who “am I?” What was that? Oh, sui mai… mmm sui maiNovember 8, 2006
Lately I’ve been having extraordinary cravings for dim sum, and we’ve been hitting the “China Garden” in town an embarassing number of times. Luckily that place is always packed (they actually drop off tour buses full of Asian tourists there and it seats about 300 or more), so we’ve remained fairly incognito. (I’d hate to be called out by the hostess… “You again?”)
The real highlight of any dim sum venture is when that steam cart comes rollin’ on up. You gotta hit that thing… hard. Sui mai, haw gao, sharkfin, char sui bao and all that other good stuff. We put a hurt on that cart. If I’m really hungry, I’ll start pulling my grandpa’s favorite move — which is to refrain from all conversation and continously follow the steam cart with my eyes as it wends its way around the dining room — not unlike an eagle tracking its prey.
At these moments, I may fantasize: Wouldn’t it be great if that steam cart just rolled up to my mouth and dropped some dumplings off?
Well, folks, it has.
My husband has actually figured out how to make two of the best dim sum offerings — char sui bao and sui mai — right here in our own kitchen. Char sui bao is the subject of another post, however, so I’ll take this moment to wax poetic about his sui mai…. It’s perfect. It has that delicious mix of pork and shrimp, with just a hint of earthiness from the shitake mushrooms and a tiny whiff of ginger. Steamed to perfection, the dumplings have a really delicate, elegant air that belies their meaty goodness. The only thing missing is that strange red dot they put on top of the dumplings in restaurants. Contented sigh. What can I say? He’s pretty good, that husband of mine.
So, now I can eat dim sum on demand — and maybe I’ll only need to hit China Garden every other weekend.
As much as my lovely wife might make demands for dim sum while in her pajamas, I’m not about to spend the money on a steam cart to do laps in our house just to entertain her. I still need my professionally produced dumplings!
Futhermore, my wife is entirely too kind. They taste right but they lack a certain perfection that the professionally made ones have. Mostly, I suspect there is something to be said about the experience of making 600 or more in one day versus the 60 sui mai I’ve made in my life. My guess is that if some professional Dim Sum chef saw my recipe and work, he’d be mortified that I call my dumplings sui mai.
Also, my dumplings lack the little orange/red dot on top. When you order sui mai from the carts, it always has an orange dot in the middle. I’ve yet to figure out what it is. I’ve asked and never had the same answer twice. Confounding me further is that it appears to be different things depending on the restaurant. Currently, carrots or roe are my leading contenders, but so far I’ve got no leads. If you know, please tell!
Finally, a note about this recipe. It’s not difficult, but it’s time consuming. Like making pot stickers, meatballs, or many appetizers, there is a lot of manual labor that goes into it, but they are consumed in one bite. But I encourage you to not worry about that, make a half dozen really ugly ones to get past that part, embrace the joy of getting your fingers dirty and enjoy them.
3/4 lb. pork chop (boneless)
1/4 lb. shrimp
20 wonton/gyoza wrappers
6 green onions, finely diced
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sake
1 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. oyster sauce
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup shitake mushrooms
2 tbsp. sugar
Two things before we begin. First, the pork here can be ground if you desire. I actually find that if I mince my own in the food processor, I get a better texture for the dumplings later. But don’t hesitate to use ground pork if it’s convenient.
Second, I don’t specify the size of shrimp in this recipe because it’s up to you. In the photos, I used medium-sized (I believe they were 30-40s, meaning 30-40 shrimp per pound). But I’ve also used tiny rock shrimp. The shrimp are in the dish for flavoring and not for presentation. They also get relatively ground, so don’t bust your budget buying large prawns. You can also skip the use of the food processor if you use ground pork, give the shrimp a quick dice, and then do all the remaining mixing by hand.
1. Give the pork chops a rough chop and then add them to a food processor. Process the meat until you have relatively minced pork. You do not want a puree or a smooth paste. You simply want it about the consistency of ground meat.
2. Add the shrimp and the mushrooms to the food processor. Give the mixture six, 2-second pulses. The shrimp and mushrooms should still be visible, but well-chopped and spread throughout.
3. Add soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, oyster sauce, white pepper, and sugar to the food processor. Give the mixture a quick pulse to integrate. Remove to a separate bowl.
4. Fold the green onions and ginger into the meat mixture.
5. Construct the sui mai (see “Wrapping up” below). Place in a dish, cover and refrigerate until right before you are ready to serve.
6. When you are ready to cook, put a large pot with about an inch of water over high heat. When the water begins to bubble, place a steam basket with the uncooked sui mai in the pot, above the water. Cover the pot and let steam for about 10 min. Let cool for about 3-4 min. Serve. Enjoy!
(NOTE: I wrap the pot’s lid in a towel to prevent the steam from dripping back onto the sui mai and getting them damp. I would recommend this if you are making them for a party.)
The traditional wrapper for sui mai are gyoza wrappers. Gyoza wrappers are round, but otherwise identical to wonton skins. They are simpler to use for this recipe, but I see them less often in stores than I do wonton skins. If you can only get wonton skins, then you can take a circular cookie cutter and make them gyoza. I tend to not like the extra labor, so I’ve described how to do it with both types.
Option 1: Gyoza Wrappers (Round Skins)
1. Make a loose fist and make a circle with your fingers as if you were gesturing “OK” at someone.
2. Place the gyoza wrapper over the opening in your fist. Take about 1 tablespoon of the filling and place it into the center of the wrapper.
3. Using your fingers, press the meat into the opening. Grip the wrapper with your fist to ensure the wrapper seals on all sides of the meat. Then press with your fingers on top and bottom to ensure the shape is flat and cylinder-ish.
Option 2: Wonton Skin (Square skins and my improvised technique used in the photos)
1. Place the wonton skin on a dry surface (if it’s a wet one, it will stick!). Place the mixture along the upper line and in the center.
2. Fold the wanton skin over. Stand up and press it down to give it a flat bottom.
3. Fold the ‘wings,’ which are now on both sides of the meat mixture, behind so they meet.
(NOTE: If you are going to make these for hors d’oeuvres or a special occasion, then take out some insurance against the sui mai bottoms sticking to the steamer. Cut out about 3’’ squares of parchment paper and place the sui mai on them before steaming. You can then peel them off before you plate them or allow your guests to do so.)