A little tast of Shanghai (without the pork)?
October 21, 2010 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I want to make Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) but without pork (I know, I know...I'm ruining them already). What would be the best alternative to use for the filling? Does anyone have a good recipe that could be modified?

I've been a pescetarian for about 8 years now (my entire adult life, basically) so I'm new to cooking meat and knowing what to pair it with. I'm okay with making the occasional exception, but I really do not want to eat pork. Beef, for some reason, is less weird to me than poultry so my meat hierarchy is as follows (from "best" to "worst"): seafood, beef, poultry, pork.

The "soup" inside the dumplings is made by using a gelatin/pork fat solid that you mix in with the actual meat filling (this part melts to make the soup when you steam them). I'm thinking the best option would be to use chicken broth with the gelatin instead of pork. But would beef broth be better?

Next is the actual meat filling. My only idea here is to mix shrimp with either chicken or beef, but I have no idea which combinations work best and what other ingredients (spices, sauce, etc.) would go with it. Would beef even be good in a soup dumpling? I have no idea.

So my questions are basically this:

1. What would be the tastiest combination of meat gelatin and meat filling without either of these incorporating pork?

2. Should I use the same spices that are recommended in the pork recipes? Does anyone have a simple recipe that could be modified?

3. Any general tips or tricks for making the dumplings in general? This will be my first time trying a recipe as difficult and time-consuming as this one.

Thanks for the help!
posted by a.steele to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
go to an asian market and you can usually find prepared fish or seafood cake filling. it's still raw and has the consistency of a thick paste. you can fill your dumplings with that.
posted by violetk at 5:49 PM on October 21, 2010

I've had them in restaurants with crab before and they were really tasty. I bet you could do a good shrimp / crab mix.
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:52 PM on October 21, 2010

Best answer: Are you stuck on using meat? I mean if you are going to change the integrity of the dish, why not do something completely different.

The first restaurant I worked at, we did a bao bun with roasted eggplant. I really don't care for eggplant, but this was the best eggplant I've ever had. We used a mixture of different asian ingredients and cut the eggplant pretty small. I think we used some siracha, soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper, scallions, and sesame seed oil.

This would be great to be accompanied with almost any broth, vegetarian or not. If you did want to add meat to it, both beef and seafood would work as the flavors are pretty complimentary.
posted by TheBones at 5:52 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

alternatively, here's a recipe for fish cake. i would just fill the wrappers with the cake mixture.
posted by violetk at 5:53 PM on October 21, 2010

You can get the same gelatin effect from chicken stock that you can with the pork stock. If you rapidly cool the chicken stock (and also don't strain too much of the fat out), the stock will become more gelatinous. To get the effect, though, you might be best off making your own stock, though you might find that a little offputting. I think it would be pretty easy to use a gelatinous batch of chicken stock, then mix in chopped shrimp with minced chicken. You might even try mixing in chopped/minced lotus root for an added texture pop. I don't know, though, that beef would be the right choice. I'd stick with chicken and shrimp. As for spices, well, the standard mix would be garlic, ginger, soy sauce, minced onions, minced scallions, and a good whack of pepper. A little sesame oil would be good, too, but a little goes a long way.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:54 PM on October 21, 2010

oops, here.
posted by violetk at 5:57 PM on October 21, 2010

Make beef broth and reduce it to concentrate the gelatin (not quite to a demi glace).

You can also make a gelatinous fish stock, which uses fish heads. But I don't eat much seafood (and cook even less) so I'm not qualified to help with that part.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:03 PM on October 21, 2010

I've had these with shrimp and egg mixed together as a filling. I have also had a purely vegetarian version with finely diced mushrooms (and again, egg as a sort of binder). I think your idea with chicken stock could work, but I bet fish stock would be tastier.
posted by lollusc at 6:08 PM on October 21, 2010

I've had them in restaurants with crab before and they were really tasty. I bet you could do a good shrimp / crab mix.

Are you sure it was real crab? I've had it too but I believe I was told that it was imitation crab.
posted by cazoo at 7:52 PM on October 21, 2010

The famous Shanghainese kind you would get at Yuyuan Garden does indeed use real crab. But for the OP, why don't you use beef broth and add some flavorless gelatin to it?
posted by reformedjerk at 8:01 PM on October 21, 2010

You pretty much don't have to panic over the gelatin issue. I was in a rush one night when visiting friends who really needed some soup dumplings, so I just mixed up some boxed chicken stock with various spices and soy and added a packet or two of gelatin. After 15 minutes in the freezer, it was set thicker than jello, and made delicious dumplings. If I had been at home, I would have added some shao xing to the stock... but if I had been at home, I would have had my home-made chicken stock, which requires no additional gelatin.

For the filling, I would probably use just shrimp and egg (plus the usual ginger, garlic, scallion, spices, soy).
posted by novalis_dt at 9:32 PM on October 21, 2010

If you want a gelatinous stock AND you aren't squicked by genuine chicken parts, add chicken feet when making a stock from scratch, or simmer feet in some purchased chicken broth.
posted by maudlin at 11:44 PM on October 21, 2010

Nthing the gelatinous chicken stock. I sometimes make mine from wing middles and tips (with the drummettes removed). I use lots of them per volume of water, and the stock sets to a quivering jelly at cool room temperature.

The flavoring can be as intense as you want to make it. Roasting or grilling the wings first will add a lot. Similarly natural flavor enhancers like salt, ginger, dried mushrooms, soy, shaoxing or celery will boost the chicken flavor. And msg is really worth considering if you aren't allergic to it.

But if you wanted to go for a seafood filling with a set soup consistency you could try agar agar. You can get packs of it in powder from Asian supermarkets. Just go really easy on it, or you'll have a rubbery filling, rather than a gelatinous one.

As a final thought, turkey thigh can be quite similar to pork, both in flavor and how it acts when cooked.
posted by Ahab at 3:15 AM on October 22, 2010

Scratch the agar jelly idea. It doesn't unset when heated, and I guess that's one of your major goals.
posted by Ahab at 3:30 AM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, folks! I'm taking a little bit of advice from everyone here, but I marked the "best" answers as the ones I feel like gave me a good understanding of the overall process.

I think for the first batch (since I don't want to spend hours and hours laboring over something that may very well get ruined) I'm going to stick with pre-made stock—probably a mix of chicken and beef—reduced with a little gelatin powder. But all your advice about how to make my own stock will be super-helpful in the future, as my dumpling prowess progresses. :) I'm probably going to use ground turkey mixed with seafood cake for the filling. Hopefully this combo will produce something tasty enough that I'll want to try them again.

Here's the recipe I've chosen to follow, for anyone else who might want it.

If I get good enough at making these, I'll invite you all to a soup-dumpling party!
posted by a.steele at 6:55 AM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: If its not too late, this is a great how-to for proper nanxiang (shanghainese) xiaolongbao. Once you get the idea for the proper ones you'll surely think of a good way to manage a non-porky one.
posted by markovitch at 12:41 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, markovitch! I've been looking for a tutorial with better pictures of the pleating. Also that recipe seems a lot simpler than the ones I've seen.
posted by a.steele at 12:04 PM on October 25, 2010

« Older htaccess redirect problem   |   Help me build a list of props for a Zork... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.