The most of the fillings, I found, for XLBs were fairly standard for Chinese dumplings. Pork or pork combined with shrimp with the usual set of seasonings—ginger, green onion, salt, soy sauce, and a touch of sugar. This is not to say that than you cannot make chicken or vegetarian versions of this dish.
Jan is constantly pushing me to add more vegetables to most of the recipes I make. many of the recipes for XLBs that I found had very little in the way of vegetables matter. A few weeks ago, I found a technique for salting napa cabbage to reduce its volume—allowing you to add more vegetables in less space. I decided to use that technique for my soup dumplings.
Napa cabbage does double duty in this recipe. The white parts are finely diced and salted to be added to the filling. Salting the cabbage leaches out much of the fluid in the fleshy stems. This both reduces their volume and prevents their excess liquid from diluting the soup.
The leafy parts are used to keep the XLBs from sticking to the steamer tray. When you steam dumplings they tend stick to the tray, usually cheese cloth or parchment paper is used to act as a barrier. By using the leafy parts of the cabbage as this barrier you do not have to risk tearing open your XLB when you remove it from the tray—an edible solution that you just leave attached to the dumpling.
Karl’s Xiao Long Bao (The Filling)
4-6 leaves napa cabbage, white parts only, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 lb. course ground pork, room temperature
2 Tbs. hot water
¼ tsp. baking soda
3 green onions, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. xaio xing rice wine
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. white pepper
4 oz. tiny shrimp, whole
1. Four hours before dinner, trim the napa cabbage leaves.
Tip: Cut each leaf crosswise about a third of the way down. Divide this leafy part in half lengthwise and put it in a bowl of cool water to keep it fresh. Reserve this for later when you assemble the dumplings.
Note: Four hours is just an estimate. It takes time to make the filling and dough, but the real labor is in rolling out the wrappers and filling them.
2. Cut the white parts of the cabbage into a fine—⅛ inch—dice.
3. Put the diced cabbage in a small bowl and sprinkle the salt over it.
Note: You want about ¾ of a cup of the diced white parts before you salt them. After being salted and drained this will reduce to about a third of a cup. You will need more of the leafy parts than the white parts—my solution for the extra cabbage was to make a side salad to go with the meal.
4. Toss the cabbage to distribute the salt and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
Tip: Re-toss the cabbage every five minutes or so to redistribute the brine solution.
5. Put the cabbage in a large mixing bowl and add the pork.
Note: The Asian market I go to has two grades of ground pork. The finely ground pork is just what you would find in any supermarket. They also have a coarsely ground pork with easily identifiable small chunks of pork. I prefer to use this when making pork tacos and jiaozi for the extra texture it provides.
6. Mix the hot water and baking soda.
Tip: The baking soda raises the pH of the meat and allows it to retain more liquid as it cooks.
7. Mix the hot water solution into the meat.
Tip: The warm water softens the fat in the meat, making it easier to mix in the other ingredients.
8. Stir in the green onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, xaio xing, sesame oil, sugar, and white pepper into the meat.
Tip: Be a little rough here. You want to break down the meat a little bit, so that it sticks together as it cooks. You also want all of the little vegetables bits evenly distributed though out the mixture.
9. Fold in the tiny shrimp and the jellied soup bits.
Tip: Here you want to be a little gentile, so that you do not mash up the shrimp.
10. Cover the meat mixture and let it rest in the refrigerator for half an hour to firm up.