Har gow — shrimp dumplings — dipped in soy sauce with chili paste are tiny flavorful umami bombs.
Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch has a cool recipe for homemade har gow. Making the shrimp filling is quick and easy but making the dumpling wrappers from scratch is a bit challenging. From making the dough to forming the wrappers, the process is somewhat tedious. If you don’t have the luxury of time, you can use Asian-store-bought dumpling wrappers instead; but if you do, I assure you that your efforts will be rewarded with tasty homemade dumplings.
Making the filling
8 ounces medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 Tbsp minced bamboo shoots
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp rice wine (optional)
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp ginger, grated
1 tsp cornstarch
1 egg white
Mix the ingredients for the filling thoroughly. Set aside.
Making the wrapper
1 1/4 cup wheat starch (wheat starch is different from wheat flour)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (tapioca starch is the same as tapioca flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp canola oil
In a medium bowl. combine the wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt. Here is an important note: wheat starch is different from wheat flour but tapioca starch is the same as tapioca flour. I got my wheat and tapioca starch from the local Asian store.
Add the boiling water and canola oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. Transfer the dough while it is still hot onto a clean surface dusted with wheat starch. Knead until smooth, adding a little more wheat starch, if necessary. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Use your palms to roll each part into an 8-inch log. Cut each log into 8 pieces. Place the pieces, together with the rest of the dough, in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep them moist.
Flatten each piece of dough into a round dumpling wrapper. Cut 6-inch square sheets of parchment paper. Place a piece of dough in between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a knife or the bottom of a flat pan press down on the dough to flatten the dough. Then using a rolling pin or the round end of a wooden spoon, roll out the dough further to make it larger and thinner. Rolling it too thin makes it too fragile and easy to break. The round dumpling wrapper should be at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
Peel off the parchment paper. Place the wrappers in a separate bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep them moist while you continue working on the rest of the batch. Alternatively, keep the wrappers in between two sheets of parchment paper.
Making the dumpling
Working with the wrapper to make the dumpling is the trickiest part. Rolling the wrapper to get the right thickness — neither too thick nor too thin –- is key but wrapping the filling requires a certain technique, which can only be learned and mastered through practice. Form each dumpling wrapper into a cup with overlapping pleats on one side. Dennis learned pleating rather quickly; I honestly didn’t and made unpleated cups instead. The important thing to remember is to form the wrapper into a cup that you can fill. If you go the pleated route, remember to leave about 1/3 of the circumference of the wrapper without pleats.
Spoon about a teaspoon of the shrimp filling into the pocket and keep the filling from touching the open edge of the wrapper. Close the wrapper by pressing the edges of the wrapper together, forming a half circle.
I recommend making the wrappers in the whole batch first and then make dumplings.
Place each dumpling in a steamer and make sure to leave enough space so that they do not get too crowded. I steamed half a dozen dumplings in an 8-inch bamboo steamer,
Set up your steamer and bring the water to a boil. Steam the dumplings over high heat for 7 minutes. Let the dumplings rest for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy with your favorite tasty beverage. Dennis prefers a tall cold glass of Diet Dr. Pepper while I prefer a glass of tasty pinot noir.
From savory dumplings dipped in soy sauce and chili paste to sweet deep-fried sesame balls, here are my top eight picks for my favorite dim sum plates. What’s on your list?
1. Har Gow — shrimp dumpling
2. Spinach shrimp dumpling
3. Chicken feet with black bean sauce
4. Bee’s nest taro puff — fried taro dumpling
5. Shiu mai — pork dumplings with diced mushroom
6. Char siu bao — steamed barbecue pork buns (click here to learn how to make baos from scratch)
7. Custard tart
8. Deep-fried sesame seed ball with sweet red bean paste
Where can you enjoy fresh and great-tasting dim sum in the Bay Area?
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015
101 Spear Street between Howard Street and Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
662 Commercial Street between Kearny Street and Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Char siu baos are Cantonese buns, bao, filled with a barbecued pork filling, char siu. They can either be steamed or baked. I personally prefer the steamed variety either as a snack or as part of dim sum with Chinese tea. The bao filling can either be savory like char siu pork or it can be sweet like a Lotus seed bun made with sweetened Lotus seed paste.
Siopao is the Filipino char siu bao, which can be filled with pork, chicken, or even salted eggs. When I was a kid growing up, I always enjoyed tasty siopao with a cold bottle of soda as a tasty snack after school.
How do you make homemade char siu bao? First make the char siu or barbecue pork filling and then the yeast dough. Place the filling inside the bun and steam them. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings.
Making the char siu pork filling
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp canola oil
salt and ground white pepper to taste
2 scallions, chopped white and green parts
1/2 pound char siu, homemade or store-bought, diced (click here to find out where to buy store-bought char siu pork)
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
Combine sugar, salt, white, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the char siu pork and stir well. Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the pork is heated through.
Add the Shaoxing rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. Add the wine and cornstarch mixture to the warm pork and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the mixture has come together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature before using.
The filling may be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.
Making the yeast dough
1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour
Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
Combine sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. Keep stirring as a ragged but soft dough forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes. You should not need additional flour if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic.Press your finger into the dough and it should spring back with a slight indentation remaining.
Place the dough in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise such as an oven and let it sit for around 45 minutes until the dough has nearly doubled. You can refrigerate the dough if you do not need it right away but make sure that it is covered well with a plastic wrap.
Forming and steaming the bao
Lightly dust your clean work surface with flour. Cut the dough in half and roll into a foot-long log. Cut the log into eight pieces.
Roll each piece into a ball and flatten each piece gently into a small disc using your palm. Using a small rolling pin (either a 1-inch wooden dowel or the end of a wooden spoon like what I used, would do) roll the edges and only the edges. There should be a small bulge at the center of the dough, which the Chinese calls the belly.
Place a generous tablespoon of your char siu pork filling in the center of the dough, right on the belly. Wrap the filling by pressing and pulling the edges of the dough.
Gather and pull the edges up and twist the top to fully cover the filling.
Cut 2-inch square wax paper sheets and use these to line the bottom of each bun before steaming them. Steam up to 4 buns in an 8-inch bamboo steamer. Make sure that there’s around a 1 to 2-inch space in between buns inside the steamer. A bamboo steamer is definitely not a must; a regular steamer will work, too.
Boil water in your wok or a large pan and place the steamers with the buns in your wok or pan. Steam for around 15 minutes. Make sure that the water does not come in contact with the buns.
Remove the lid before you turn off the heat to avoid condensed water from dripping back to the buns. Continue steaming the rest of the batch.
You can pretty much put anything inside your bao. You can make your own barbecue pork from pork loin and your favorite barbecue sauce. You can even make good ol’ Sloppy Joe if you want and make it your bao filling. But as Dennis cleverly pointed out, it has to be called Un-Sloppy Joe because it isn’t sloppy anymore. The fact that the filling is conveniently contained inside the bun actually makes baos a really cool snack.
Let me know what interesting tasty fillings you come up with for your bao.
Shopping in Chinatown is always an adventure.
The oldest in North America and one of the largest outside China, Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in the city.
The adventure starts once you get on the 30 en route to Stockton where you’ll be greeted by an energetic mob of Chinese ladies eager to get the best seat on the bus. It starts to feel distinctively Chinese once the bus maneuvers its way through Union Square and goes through the Broadway tunnel. And once you step off the bus at Stockton, you’ll definitely feel you have entered an entirely different world.
I had two things I wanted to buy last Wednesday: some char siu and a bamboo steamer. I was going to make my very first char siu bao, buns filled with barbecue flavored char siu pork. The buns can be either steamed or baked but I was going to steam them so I was also on the lookout for a bamboo steamer. Crate & Barrel downtown carries bamboo steamers but I wanted to get one from an Asian store and, besides, I was certain I could get a cheaper one in Chinatown.
I intentionally did not have a solid plan on where to get the two items in my shopping list. I guess that was part of the fun. I had just one thing in mind, I was going to rely on people I meet on the street to give me the leads. So where did I start? I was a bit hungry for a snack and went straight to Golden Gate Bakery.
They have the tastiest Chinese sweet treats this side of town, from yummy deep fried sesame balls to creamy custard tarts. I grabbed my flaky melon cake wrapped in a brown paper bag and a tip to go to Yee’s Restaurant a block away along Grant Avenue for some char siu pork.
A true Chinese hole-in-the-wall with take out, Yee’s has everything from roasted duck, chicken, and goose to barbecued pork. A half a pound of char siu for less than 4 bucks was the deal of the day. The friendly butchers at Yee’s then referred me to Ginn Wall Hardware Company down the street for my bamboo steamers. The plan was working out.
I got so excited when I saw the bamboo steamers all lined up in the store’s window display but got so disappointed when I found out that the hardware is closed on Wednesdays! After checking out five other Chinese bazaars along Grant Avenue that carried steamers that were either too big or too small, I started to get a little frustrated. I’m in Chinatown! They should have steamers in every corner, I thought. But I finally stumbled upon The Wok Shop where I got myself a sturdy 8-inch bamboo steamer. It was exactly what I wanted.
With char siu pork in one hand and bamboo steamer in the other, I was ready to go home and make some yummy char siu bao. I looked up, admired the beautiful red Chinese lanterns and noticed that it was laundry Wednesday.
Here is more information about the restaurants and shops mentioned in this blog.
Golden Gate Bakery
1029 Grant Ave between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
1131 Grant Ave between Pacific Avenue and Jack Kerouac Alley
San Francisco, CA 94133
Ginn Wall Hardware Company
1016 Grant Avenue between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
The Wok Shop
718 Grant Avenue between Commercial Street and Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
True to Dennis’s genuine love for all things chocolate and all things peanut butter, we made a chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter frosting for his birthday.
Okay, I’m actually using the pronoun “we” here very loosely. It was more like “he” rather than “we”. Dennis made his first two-layer chocolate cake from scratch and I was the assistant pastry chef and food stylist. We used a basic chocolate cake recipe from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food and a chocolate butter icing recipe from The Joy of Cooking. We tweaked the icing recipe a little to make a decadent chocolate and peanut butter frosting instead. The chocolate cake recipe is a great versatile recipe that can be used to make cakes in any format from sheet cakes to cupcakes.
For the chocolate cake, makes one 9-inch one-layer or multilayer round cake
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, softened
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1-1/4 cups boiling water
For the chocolate and peanut butter frosting, makes two cups of frosting
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Making the cake
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.
Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, and shake out the excess. Lining the pan with parchment paper makes removing the cake from the pan much easier.
Coarsely chop the unsweetened chocolate. We used the Venezuelan chocolate El Rey Bucare that has 58.5% cocoa. Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. The metal bowl should be big enough so that it sits on top of the pot without touching the water.
Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside the melted chocolate.
Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy. Beat the butter either by hand or in a stand mixer. Beat in the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Then beat in the eggs, one egg at a time. When fully blended, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixture and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then stir in the rest of the dry ingredients. Gradually pour in the boiling water until completely blended. The batter will have a thin liquid consistency.
Pour the batter equally into the two cake pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. The cooled cake can be kept in the pan and stored if you are not using the cake the same day. Just make sure that it is tightly covered.
The recipe can also be used to make a sheet cake or cupcakes. For a sheet cake, prepare a half-sheet pan as mentioned above. Pour the batter, smooth the top, and bake for about 20 minutes. For cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes. The recipe makes around 24 individual cupcakes.
Making the icing
Melt the chocolate the same way as previously. Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat. Add the unsalted butter, stir in the milk and the vanilla extract. Blend by hand or use a stand mixer. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add the peanut butter and mix until well blended.
Add more sugar, if needed, to thicken the consistency. According to the Joy of Kitchen, confectioners’s sugar icings tend to thicken on its own if left undisturbed for a few minutes. Also, it thickens if stirred over a bowl of ice water. Add more peanut butter if you prefer a more peanut buttery taste.
Make the icing just before using.
Assembling the Cake
Place the first layer on a cake pedestal. Using a carving knife, trim the top of the first layer to make it flat.
Evenly spread a generous layer of the icing on top of the cake using a metal spatula. Then place the second layer on top of the frosting.
Generously coat the cake with the frosting using a metal spatula. The recipe for the frosting makes 2 cups, which we found to be just enough for a two-layer 9-inch cake. If you prefer a cake more lavishly coated with frosting, adjust the ingredients proportionally to yield more.
The cake was amazing. Rich and moist. Dennis’s birthday, too was equally amazing. Sweet sixteen.
Polpette is Italian meatballs.
Generally made with beef and pork, combined with some olive oil, garlic, cheese, bread crumbs, egg and parsely and rolled by hand, polpette can be easily made at home. Toss them with tomato sauce and spaghetti to make the beloved American favorite, spaghetti with meatballs. Or grab some crusty bread to make a hearty meatball sandwich. Or simply roll them in grated or shredded Parmesan cheese and serve them as an hors d’oeuvre or even a main course.
This Italian meatball recipe is taken from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food.
1 pound ground grass-fed beef
3/4 pound ground pork shoulder
1 cup torn-up pieces of day-old white bread with crusts removed
1/2 cup milk
1 small yellow onion
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and pounded to a paste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and fresh-ground pepper
Season the ground beef and ground pork with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
In a small bowl, combine the bread pieces and milk. Set aside to soften. Grate the onion using the large-holed side of a box grater or if you don’t have a grater, chop the onions very finely until it becomes a rough puree, which will add moisture on top of flavor to the meatballs. Squeeze most of the milk out of the bread and put the bread in a large mixing bowl together with the seasoned meat and the grated onion.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix them with your hands gently and thoroughly. Mixing them too much makes the meatballs tough. Fry a little meatball in a small pan and taste. Adjust the salt and pepper as needed. If it seems a bit dry, add a little milk. Gently roll the mixture into golf-size meatballs by hand.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and bake the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet until just cooked through. Waters suggests a baking time of about 6 minutes. When I made mine, I baked for 8 minutes and then turned up the broiler and broiled the meatballs for another 2 minutes to brown them a bit. An alternative to baking is frying the meatballs in little oil in a pan, turning them occasionally for even browning. I personally prefer baking since I find it hard to brown the meatballs uniformly by frying them.
Waters suggests the following cool variations.
- Use ground turkey instead of ground beef.
- Use cold cooked rice or potato instead of the bread.
- Add other chopped herbs such as mint, marjoram, sage or thyme.
Across the street from the old warehouses in Pier 70, Kitchenette serves tasty lunches out of a garage door along Illinois Street. Run by chefs who have worked with the likes of Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, the food is organic, local and delicious.
I’ve had memorable lunches at Kitchenette since we moved to the Dogpatch. Their house smoked pastrami sandwich (Marin Sun Farms beef smoked over fig wood with apple-caraway mustard and braised cabbage) and their beef and pork polpette sandwich (meatballs in amatriciana sauce with parmesan cheese) are really yummy.
But the most memorable by far is their bacon snickerdoodle. I think it’s genius. It’s an excellent example of how bacon can make anything, like a simple snickerdoodle, extra special.
Where do you get Dungeness crabs in the city?
The first place that comes to mind is, obviously, Fisherman’s Wharf teeming with seafood street vendors and restaurants. But the Wharf gets extremely crowded most of the time unless you go on a rainy weekday. A great alternative is the city’s Asian supermarkets. There’s certainly Chinatown, but there are two new cool neighborhood discoveries I recently made: Clement Street in Inner Richmond and Manila Oriental Market in Excelsior. Start at Clement and Arguello, walk westward down Clement and you’ll hit a goldmine of all things Asian. And there’s Manila Oriental Market along Mission Street in Excelsior, a place that definitely reminds me of home with aisle after aisle of Asian goodies like oyster sauce, tapioca starch, bibingka mix, dumpling wrappers, saba bananas, fresh whole fish and, of course, live crabs.
And if you feel like indulging in Dungeness crab cakes but don’t have the luxury of time to make them, where do you go for crab cakes in the city?
Here’s another surprising discovery: the Castro. Instead of taking the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, hop on the Muni and head over to the Castro and enjoy delicious crab cakes either at Woodhouse Fish Company along Market Street or Anchor Oyster Bar along Castro Street. Their cakes are fresh and tasty.
Here are more information about the supermarkets and restaurants mentioned in this blog.
Where to buy Dungeness crabs
Wing Hing Seafood Market
633 Clement St between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94118
Richmond New May Wah Superemarket
707-719 Clement Street and 8th Aveue
San Francisco, CA 94118
Manila Oriental Market
4175 Mission St between Ney and Trumbull Streets
San Francisco, CA 94112
Where to enjoy Crab Cakes
Woodhouse Fish Company
2073 Market St between 14th and Reservoir Streets
San Francisco, CA 94114
Anchor Oyster Bar
579 Castro St between 18th and 19th Streets
San Francisco, CA 94114