Dim Sum is a Chinese meal consisting of a variety of small plates, usually served with tea. Our first experience with it was in a huge Dim Sum house in San Francisco where women would push heated carts, laden with piles of delicacies, between tables. Just point at what you want. We consider Yank Sing in San Francisco one of the best dim sum places anywhere, and one of our favorites is their Char Siu Bao, steamed pork buns. We present our adaption of the recipe from their own cookbook, Classic Deem Sum: Recipes from Yank Sing Restaurant, San Francisco by by Henry Chan, Yukiko Haydock and Bob Haydock.
But you don't have to make a dim sum plate from scratch. A relatively new addition to the dim sum universe are "soup dumplings", little dumplings that have soup inside of them, often slurped from a spoon with vinegar ginger and scallions. Howie's sells a very good example of them, which we show here. Of course, the marketplace has plenty more dumplings, spring rolls and the like all frozen and ready to go. Check out the Fly by Jing selection at Howie's which include the pork soup dumplings we show below along with a selection of other dumplings, chili crisp, Zhong sauce, as well as special Chinese peppers.... and more to come!
For our dim sum dinner we included the soup dumplings, bao, spring rolls (from a frozen package) and an eggplant dish from renowned Chinese cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop (from her book, The Food of Sichuan). These sorts of more substantial plates are often also available at a dim sum house.
While usually served as a brunch, we loved our dinner. There are lots of frozen items available or have fun and make some yourself!
Pork Soup Dumplings
Fly by Jing is a purveyor of a number of Chinese sauces, dumplings and condiments. A great place to start your dim sum journey with almost no effort. These are not dumplings that go into pork soup. Rather there is a mixture of pork and soup in the dumplings which when eaten burst into glorious flavors in your mouth.
Take your choice of oriental vinegar (we used Chinese red vinegar but you might use black vinegar, rice vinegar or the like). Sliver up some scallions and ginger and mix with the vinegar. Put into dipping bowls. Steam the dumplings for ten minutes and serve. To eat, put some vinegar, scallion and ginger in your spoon then put a dumpling in the spoon and eat. (We steamed our dumplings in a traditional Chinese steamer, see the bao recipe below. But you can steam them any way you like.)
Char Siu Bao
You can purchase Chinese Barbecue Pork or easily make your own. Make more than it calls for, its great by itself or in other Chinese recipes.
Char Siu (Barbecued Pork)
2 pounds pork shoulder/butt
1 TB minced ginger root
1 TB minced garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 TB Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
1 TB ketchup
1 TB hoisin sauce
1 TB ground bean sauce
1 tsp five spice powder
3 TB honey
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Special Equipment (if using)
NOTE: We found that 2 pounds raw pork produced about 1 pound of cooked. Use about 12 ounces of the cooked pork for 24 pork buns. We suggest making extra buns as it freezes well.
Cut the pork into chunks about 2 to 3 inches thick. No need to cut off the fat, it adds flavor. Put the pieces into a large, resealable plastic bag.
Mix the marinade. Reserve 1 TB of the marinade for later use. Pour the rest of the marinade into the bag, mixing well with the pork. We like to roll up the bag, pushing air out and forcing the marinade onto as much of the surface of the meat as possible. Seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Attach a drapery hook to the end of each strip of meat and hang from upper rack (sliding the rack partially out will make this easier). This will allow full hot air circulation. Place a pan with at least 1/2 inch of water below the meat (this catches the drippings and the water makes for much easier cleanup. The drippings are sticky and otherwise will burn).
Alternate method (what we did):
Use a large sheet pan and sheet pan rack. Oil the rack and lay the strips on the rack. Put water into the pan. Place pan in the middle of the oven. While cooking is ongoing, replenish the water if it is starting to disappear.
Mix the glaze ingredients and add the reserved 1 TB of marinade.
Roast the meat for 20 minutes at 450 deg. F. Reduce heat to 350 deg. F. and roast for 30 more minutes, brushing with glaze mixture several times during this period.
Take the pork out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Basic Bun Dough
1 package dry yeast
1 1/4 cups tepid water
pinch of sugar
6 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 TB lard, softened at room temperature (in a pinch butter can be substituted)
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
NOTE: This makes about 24 large buns. The recipe can easily be halved.
Add a pinch of sugar to the water. Sprinkle yeast over the water and stir. Let stand until completely dissolved and mixture begins to bubble (usually about 8 to 10 minutes).
Mix the flour, sugar and salt together by hand in a large bowl. Add softened lard, the yeast mixture, and milk. Mix with a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Add baking powder and knead until it becomes smooth and loses most of its stickiness.
ALTERNATE METHOD: Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a large food processor. With the processor running, add the lard, dissolved yeast mixture, and milk through the feed tube. Process until a moist elastic ball is formed, about 1 minute. Adjust the consistency by adding more flour or water. Do this in in two parts. NOTE: We made a half recipe so we only had to do it once. We chilled the work bowl and blade in the freezer for about 30 minutes. It worked perfectly for us. We did not need to add any flour or water and the cooled bowl/blade made it less sticky when done.
Oil a large ceramic or glass bowl. Place the dough ball in the bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let dough rise until doubled, about 1 hour. NOTE: if you have a proofing oven, use that. If your surroundings are about 80 degrees F., that is a very good proofing temperature. Otherwise, if you have an oven (without standing pilot light), you can consider turning the oven on at the lowest possible temperature for two minutes then turn it off. You are aiming for that 80 degree environment. Too hot is not recommended.
Barbecued Pork Buns
This makes 24 large buns. It can easily be halved. We like our buns steamed, but they can also be baked.
1 recipe Basic Bun Dough
1 TB hoisin sauce
1 TB ketchup
2 TB oyster sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 TB cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 TB Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
1 medium sized onion, diced pea sized
12 oz barbecued pork, diced pea sized
3 TB oil (plus a little more for the steamer)
24 4" square pieces wax paper
1 egg beaten with 1 TB water
4 TB butter or lard, melted
Prepare the Basic Bun Dough
Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl and reserve.
Heat 3 TB of oil in a wok or other appropriate pan over high heat. With a metal spatula also move some oil up the sides of the wok.
Add diced onion to the wok and stir fry until transparent.
Add diced pork and stir fry for about 2 minutes.
Stir the sauce and add to the wok. Stir fry until it JUST thickens. You do not want it to dry out as you want the sauce to be somewhat wet inside the bun after steaming. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate (or refrigerate immediately if your fridge can handle it). Working with the filling is easier when cold.
Soak a bamboo steamer in water for 10 minutes. Dry and lightly oil each steamer bottom. It is ok to use multiple stacked steamers.
Punch down the dough and divide in half. Cover one half with a damp towel or plastic wrap to keep from drying out while working with the other half. Roll the other half into a cylinder about 1 1/2" in diameter, then cut into 12 equal portions and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. NOTE: instead of eyeballing and cutting the cylinder, you can weigh the dough with a kitchen scale (we like to do it in grams) then divide by 12 then carefully remove the unit amount you need one by one (ours came out to about 54 grams each).
Set aside 6 of the portions and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. As we are working with the remaining 6 pieces we like to keep the others covered as well.
Flatten one of the pieces between palms or by gently pressing on the surface you are working with. With a small rolling pin, roll the disk out to 4 inches in the diameter. NOTE: a small rolling pin might be around 5 inches long with tapered ends. We were able to do it with a standard sized rolling pin, working very carefully.
You want the middle of the disk to be thicker than the edges, so do not roll out anywhere in the middle. Carefully just roll out the edges until the dough is 4" in diameter. It's easier than it sounds once you get the hang of it. You can fill each disk as you do them, but we like roll out 6, cover with individual plastic and then fill them.
Put 1 TB of filling in the center of a disk. Place the disk in the palm of your hand. Pull up a small portion of the edge and turn it some in a pleating fashion, bringing it up and very slightly over the top. Slightly turn the disk and continue the pleating until you have gone all the way around. While pleating you can keep your thumb on the filling to keep it in the middle. The recipe is different, but we found an excellent YouTube video that shows you how to fill and pinch the buns.
Close off the top by twisting all the pleats together, sealing the bun. (Some recipes have you leave a little bit of an opening so that you can see a little of the pork when done, but Yank Sing does not do it that way... and it is easier.)
Attach a wax paper square to the sealed end and place in the steamer, paper (sealed side) on the bottom. Continue with the rest of the dough in similar fashion. If you don't have enough baskets to hold all the buns, place the extras on an oiled baking pan or cookie sheet until it is time to steam. Cover with a floured towel. NOTE: don't let them sit for a long time as they can overrise and then won't rise in the steamer.
Allow at least 2" between buns in the steamer. Set in a warm place and let buns rise, covered with a floured towel, for about 45 minutes to an hour.
Using at least an inch of water (more is ok if it is a big enough pot), boil water over high heat. Make sure you have enough so that it doesn't boil away during the steaming and have more hot water ready to add back in as you do additional batches.
Steam the buns for 10 minutes. Do not remove the lid while steaming (that will stop the dough from rising).
After the 45-60 minute rise, instead of steaming, you can bake the buns. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Beat the egg with the water. Place buns, well separated, on a baking sheet and brush with the egg mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and brush on the melted butter or lard.
AFTER COOKING BUNS
We like to dip our buns in soy sauce. You can go further and create or purchase a soy-chili oil sauce, or use the now ubiquitous chili crisp thinned with soy sauce.
Make and freeze extra buns! Reheat still frozen steamed buns by steaming for 20 to 30 minutes.. Microwave in a pinch. Wrap frozen baked buns in foil and heat for 30 minutes in a preheated 250 degree oven.
Fish Fragrant Eggplant
A classic dish that has no fish at all, merely similar spices/cooking ingredients commonly used in fish dishes.
Approx. 1 1/2 lb Chinese eggplant (in a pinch, Japanese eggplant or even globe eggplant will work--it's what we used)
Cooking oil for deep frying
1 1/2 TB Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 TB finely chopped garlic
1 TB finely chopped ginger
10 TB (150ml) hot stock or water
4 tsp superfine sugar
1 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp potato starch, mixed with 1 TB cold water
1 TB Chinkiang vinegar
6 TB thinly sliced scallion greens
Cut the eggplants into batons about 3/ " thick and 2 3/4" long. Sprinkle with salt, mix well and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
Rinse the eggplant well to remove the salt, drain well and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil for deep frying to around 390 deg. F. (Hot enough to sizzle around a test piece of eggplant.) Deep fry in two or three batches for about 3 minutes each until tender and a little golden. Drain well on paper towels and set aside.
Carefully pour off all but 3 TB oil from the wok and return to medium head. Add the chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Be careful not to burn the paste. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until they release their fragrance.
Pour in the stock or water, sugar and soy sauce. Bring to a boil then add the eggplant, moving them gently in the sauce so they don't break apart. Simmer for a minute or two to allow the eggplant to absorb the flavors.
Give the potato starch mixture a stir and add gradually, in about three stages, adding just enough to thicken the sauce to a luxurious gravy. You probably will not need all of the potato starch mixture. Add the vinegar and all but 1 TB of the scallion greens. Stir for a few seconds to meld the flavors.
Serve with a scattering of the remaining scallion greens.
ALTERNATE METHOD - BAKING INSTEAD OF DEEP FRYING
This works well for a small meal and is an easy way to make a lot for a party. It's what we did.
After rinsing the salt off the eggplant and drying with paper towels, toss in a large bowl with a little cooking oil. Roast in a 425 deg. F oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Make the sauce but don't thicken with potato starch. Instead pour the sauce over the roasted eggplant and set aside to allow the flavors to mingle. Serve at room temperature or even a little cooler.
For our Dim Sum dinner we started with the Pork Soup Dumplings, then spring rolls along with the "fish fragrant" eggplant, and ended with the Char Siu Bao. If you can find them in your market, think about a dessert of Chinese Egg Tarts. You can make them, but that's a recipe for another day.
WINE SUGGESTION: Gewürztraminer. Or, perhaps a nice sparkling rosé. Of course tea is the beverage of choice at brunch. Our favorite is oolong.