David Parker had been on the look out for a recipe for 'magical' Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) for a while. In his latest cook book review, find out if the recipe from Jean François Mallet's China Towns lived up to his high expectations.
Story by David Parker
Photography by David Parker
Journalist and former chef Jean François Mallet visited China Towns the world over while researching this book. Instead of focusing on American–Chinese cuisine or what the greater Western world thinks of as 'Chinese Food' the book tends to lean toward the traditional, but the recipes are simplified and often slightly Westernised. A symptom of these dishes being made in China Towns in a country that might not have all the ingredients required means they’re not always completely authentic. Surprisingly, there are also a couple of Vietnamese, Thai and Korean dishes in the book as China Towns have attracted different cultures too.
I've been wanting to try my hand at Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) for some time. I've made many a dumpling but when I was introduced to Xiao Long Bao they intrigued me. How did they get the soup inside? Well you turn a broth into a jelly which will then melt when the dumplings get cooked. Amazing. There’s something magic about it; it’s such a simple concept with an amazing effect when the soup bursts out of the dumpling into your mouth. Of course, the first thing I looked for in China Towns was Xiao Long Bao and I was so disappointed to not find them, but then I remembered the book was Westernised, so I looked for their other common name: Juicy Pork Dumplings. Success!
Traditionally you'd make a simple chicken or pork broth and then boil it with pork skin to extract the gelatin from it, but this recipe just called for pre–made beef stock and leaves of gelatin. I soaked the gelatin in cold water to soften it, added it to the beef stock and ginger and brought to the boil.
Once the gelatin had dissolved fully I took the beef stock off the heat and left to cool in the fridge overnight.
The next day I dealt with mincing the pork. The recipe calls for pork loin but I couldn't be sure of the provenance of any of the ground pork available and I still don't own a meat mincer. I figured I could just use the food processor trick again. First, I cut the skin off the pork loin and discarded it (sigh, it would've been perfect to boil up with the broth to extract the gelatin from it! What a waste!) then I cut the pork loin into cubes and after they'd been in the freezer for about 20 minutes I could blend them in small batches. Finely ground pork loin! Great!
Then I added chopped spring onions, ginger, salt, sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and a bit of water and mixed them together. I set aside the filling to get to work on the dumpling skins.
The dumpling skins are just made from flour and water – nothing else. I poured the water into a well in the flour and mixed it in with my hands before kneading for a few minutes. I finished off the kneading by working the dough on a bench with a rolling pin for about 5 minutes.
In this visually stunning cookbook, author Jean-Francois Mallet, a trained chef and photographer, goes behind the scenes in Chinese communities around the world.
As well as intimate portraits of these fascinating communities this book contains 100 delicious recipes capturing the essence of China Towns from across the world and their various geographical influences.
China Towns by Jean-Francois Mallet is published by Jacqui Small.