Chinese New Year with Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)


Happy Chinese New Year! Technically it is the lunar new year, but being part Chinese I reserve the right to call it my own special holiday. The first thing you have to do upon waking up to the new year is eat a piece of candy so that everything will be sweet for the rest of the year, and greet everyone “Gong hay fat choy. Sun nien fai lok.” This is Cantonese for “May you become prosperous. Happy new year.” Interesting how wishes of prosperity comes before the new year greeting, but we Chinese are an enterprising lot.

Homes are filled with gold foil-wrapped chocolates as another symbol of prosperity as well as tangerines with their stems and leaves intact because the Chinese word for them sounds like “luck.” The custom that I remember the most from childhood is getting red envelopes filled with money. I found out later on that kids are not the only lucky recipients–married couples give red envelopes to younger unmarried folks. Hmmm…I think I’m overdue for a visit to my best friends Yin-Jen and Ray.

They might not even mind giving me a red envelope if I bring soup dumplings with me. Yin-Jen was the one who told me about Nan Xiang Dumpling House because you can see the ladies wrapping the dumplings in the back. We have been there a number of times, and each time Yin-Jen patiently waited as I stood and stared to figure out how to wrap a soup dumpling. The ladies were probably weirded out, and the servers gave me the evil eye as they skirted around me, but I didn’t care. I was a woman on a soup dumpling mission! I had the opportunity to watch more wrapping techniques as I searched out soup dumplings in China and Hong Kong.

After researching different ways to make the soup, I opted for the modern method of using gelatin to keep the soup solid while wrapping. I then started with my Pork and Cabbage Pan Fried Dumpling filling. Soup dumplings do not have all of the texture and crunch that I like in my pan-fried dumplings so I simplified it a bit. Some women go shopping to catch up with friends, I called Naoko to join me for an evening of dumpling making. She is a biochemist, and I always love telling people that she worked on a molecule that simulates the umami provided by monosodium glutamate. We already have plans of cooking our way through the Modernist Cuisine.

Anne Noyes Saini from City Spoonful then asked if I would be willing to share my soup dumpling experience on video. We teamed up with Bryan Pace, who captures larger-than-life emotionally gripping images for the New York Daily News, to create a series of videos showing how to make soup dumplings. This is proof that soup dumplings are not genetic. Even if your grandmother isn’t a cute little Chinese woman with a crinkly smile, you can still make these at home.


Photo courtesy of Bryan Pace

Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)


2 pounds chicken legs and thighs
1 1/2 pounds pork belly
3 stalks scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-inch piece ginger, sliced
6 cups of water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
Wrapper Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiled water (use it immediately after boiling)
1/4 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil

1/3 pound fatty ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 scallion, sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon black/dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoon rice wine
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch white pepper
Cook the Broth

Place all of the ingredients except for the gelatin into a large pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 hours. Strain the broth (discard the solids or shred the meat and use for another dish).

Continue to simmer the broth until it reduces to 1 1/2 cups. This is enough broth for two recipes so set aside 3/4 cup of the broth. You can freeze it and use it at a later time (just bring to a boil then follow the rest of the recipe, adding the gelatin and making the filling).

Leave the remaining 3/4 cup in the pot and sprinkle on the 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin. Continue to simmer the broth briefly and stir until the gelatin dissolves.

Transfer the broth to a shallow container (it will set faster when it is spread out) and refrigerate 40 minutes – 1 hours until it sets.

Make the Dough

Place the flour into a large bowl. Drizzle the water and oil into the flour. The just-boiled water will partially cook the flour and create gluten for added structure. Mix the flour with a large spoon or chopsticks until the flour is mostly wet. Finish by combining and squeezing together the ingredients in the bowl by hand.

Transfer the flour onto a lightly floured surface. I like to lay a silpat on the counter for kneading (and rolling out cookies).

Knead the dough for a minute then wash your hands because the dough may stick to the bits of wet dough that initially stuck to your hands even though the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is tacky and does not stick to your fingers. It should also feel soft and moist. When you press into the dough with your hands, it will spring back a little but still leave an indentation. If the dough is still too sticky, add 1/2 teaspoon at a time to the center of the dough so that it incorporates well. Fold over the added flour and continue kneading.

Place the dough in a plastic bag, press out the air and close it airtight so that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest at room temperature for one hour. At this point, you can place the dough in the refrigerator for use over the next two days. Just leave it out on the counter to come to room temperature before using it.

Make the Filling

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Turn the spoon in one direction to help the filling come together. Set aside.

Prepare the Steamer

Fill a large wok, pan or pot with water just so that the water will not touch the bottom of your steamer. Line the steamer with parchment paper or napa cabbage leaves.

Bring the water to a boil when you start wrapping the filling.

Wrap and Steam the Dumplings

Roll half of the dough into a log and cut into 12 pieces. Leave the rest in the plastic bag as you wrap so that it does not dry out.

Work with one piece at a time and cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll out the piece of dough into a circle then roll in only the edges so that you have a thicker center. The thicker center helps prevent the bottom of the dumpling from breaking and also makes the dumpling even when wrapped. You will be collecting dough at the top of the dumpling, and a thicker base will offset that in terms of mouthfeel.

Place 2 teaspoons of the dough into the center (it depends on how large you rolled out the wrapper) of the wrapper. Create pleats and wrap the dumpling according to the video.

Steam the dumplings 6 – 8 min for smaller dumplings and 8 – 10 min for larger ones.

Hazel Sy
January 2012

4 Responses to “Chinese New Year with Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)”

  1. Jesse

    I’m planning on making this tomorrow but wanted to clarify one thing: at the end you say to place “two teaspoons of the dough” in the wrapper. I’m taking it you mean to place *filling.* But also, there’s no specification of how much of the gelatin-broth to put in, could you please advise? Thanks!

    • Hazel

      Yes 2 teaspoons of the filling into the wrapper/round dough. 3/4 cup of the broth with 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin (see last 2 paragraphs of “cookthe broth” above). Add all of that chilled gelatin to the fillingm mixture. Since it takes time for gelatin to set in the refrigerator, I suggest you make the broth (w/ gelatin) tonight so that it will be ready for your filling tomorrow.

      • Jesse

        Ah, mix the meaty stuff with the broth, then fill with that. Got it. Will make the broth today. One other question: is it possible to make more dumplings than I need, and freeze them for later steaming? If I’m going through all this effort I might want to get the most out of it. Thanks!

      • tastypursuits

        I haven’t tried freezing soup dumplings but have successfully frozen regular dumplings so it should work.

        Warm regards, Hazel

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