Monday, October 8, 2012

home made dimsum 點心

Very few would want to make dimsum at home. Traditionally dimsum are small dishes of food one eats at a Chinese restaurant in the morning along with copious amount of tea. This morning meal is called 飲茶 (pronounced as yum cha), which translates as drinking tea. Dimsum comes from 2 Chinese words dim and  sum 心, meaning touches one's heart. While individually most dimsum dishes are not too hard to make, making a verity for a morning tea is too much trouble an undertaking unless you have a very big family.

In the old days all self-respecting Chinese restaurants that serves dimsum in the morning (typically from 6:00AM to 10:00AM only) would have a dimsum crew in the kitchen. The crew is led by a dim sum master chef which is trained in the art of dimsum making. dimsum chef is a distinct skill set from the chef that cooks other meals in the restaurant. This crew typically starts work as early as 2AM each day to prepare all the dimsum to be sold that day. While there may be 50 or so traditional Cantonese dimsum dishes most restaurants served may be 25 verity each day. There are always the most popular one like har gow 蝦餃 or shao mei 燒賣 that are served each day but for some you only find them by chance as the restaurant rotate the assortments. This crew mostly make every dish from scratch, including the verity of different wrapper skins. Today many of the classic dishes has all but vanished, leaving may be only 25 or so. Instead many newly invented ones take their place mainly due to the change in taste and to please foreign palate.

So why would one bother to make dimsum at home? It is much easier just go to a Chinese restaurant that serves them. The answer is quality and the hard to find dishes. I have eaten dimsum at many places in North America. Unfortunately except in big cities with huge Cantonese Chinese population and picking the best restaurants I found them often lacking and the tendency to race to the bottom due to sacrifice of quality and shortcuts. One biggest complaint is excessive use of MSG. Here in Portland, Oregon I stop going to dimsum many years. In this day and age even finding a truly good dimsum in Hong Kong and it's nearby cities is not easy without a lot of prior research and local knowledge. Now the nearest cities I would go eat dimsum is Richmond or Vancouver BC. I had good dimsum in San Jose, CA also.

Craving for dimsum I have made a few different dishes over the years. Very often I don't have all the necessary ingredients on hand so at time I would compromise.

steam beef meat ball with aged tangerine skin
a big bamboo steamer works better than metal steamer as the steam can circulate better as it escape mostly and evenly at the top
in a restaurant they use a very large steamer to steam many small dishes; i compromise by steaming one large dish with 2 - 3 servings - what is missing is the soy milk skin to line the meat balls
pig stomach is used in many classic (very rare these days especially in the west) dimsum dishes
pig stomach that has been braised until very flavorful and tender
used in this dish with shitake mushroom, and minced pork
used in this dish with fish maw and chicken wrapped in soy milk skin - before steaming
after steaming - note the release of the tasty juice; i prefer to steam in a metal plate so the heat conducts more evenly and faster on the bottom
dried fish maw brought from store

i would transfer to serving plate if i have guest
this is one improvised dish with the ingredients i have on hand
many different dishes require the similar minced meat and some has minced seafood; this one has minced pork and shrimps

the minced filling is wrapped in a thin soy milk wrapper ready for deep frying
normally i am not a big fan of fried dishes of dimsum - soak out the excess oil
this dish is not to be confused with the more common chinese springroll
if time permits i prefer to use a real meat grinder for more consistent texture instead of using a food processor which pulverizes
pot stickers - there are so many versions one can make; these are ready to be pan fried
i use very thin wrapper on this version - i never deep-fry them
this batch has less-than-photogenic home made thick skins
the thick skin make them more filling
 shrimp and semi-fat pork (pork butt or shoulder work equally well)
 chives and garlic
the best wrapper for springrolls in my town is from the philippines

very thin and uneven - also it tests one's patience to separate them

this version has shitake mushroom and yellowed chives

the secret behind xiao long bao 小籠包 is the jelly-like pork booth
most people use this gelatin powder to help the pork booth become jelly

 flour dough for the skin


it is my first attempt to wrap xiao long bao - very rough looking
they are lined with napa cabbage leaves and steamed

 traditionally one dip xiao long bao in red wine vinegar and julienne cut ginger root
closeup of one ready to eat
traditional individual tea set for one person (top left) - it makes much better tea than a teapot for small serving of one person
Amongst the dimsum dishes my favorites are har gow 蝦餃 and shao mei 燒賣. I use them to judge a dimsum place worthiness. To make them well, the restaurant must make the skins wrappers from scratch. I have bought the special flour for making har gow 蝦餃 skin but I am still looking for the special knife (or a suitable stand-in) used to make the skin.

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