Char siu bao, har gow, and siu mai make up the dim sum trifecta. Of the three, siu mai clearly takes the bronze. It’s the third wheel, the ugly stepsister, the also ran. Char siu bao has snow white, tender sweet bread surrounding morsels of sweet and savory pork; you can buy one on Clement street and enjoy out of hand the steaming hot treat on a foggy day. Har gow elicits delight; when the little steamer is uncovered to reveal delicate pink-orange shrimp shining through the translucent skin, your mouth starts to water.
And siu mai? It’s kind of wrinkled. Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes gummy. And it’s never as flavorful as the other two. But, just like many underrated characters (think ugly duckling, third daughters, Neville Longbottom) Siu Mai can become the star of your dumpling adventure.
Siu mai, are, of course, the easiest dumplings of all to make and shape. It turns out you need to put MORE filling than you think, because the filling needs to come all the way to the top or (a) it looks funny, like a bad floppy hat, and (b) the excess floppy skin can have an ‘uncooked’ feel to it, a little tough. So be generous, and overstuff.
A note about making vegan siu mai: So far I’ve made 3 different versions. Unlike wrapped dumplings, these little guys need to stand up on their own and not disintegrate into a puddle when you cook them. Twice I used mashed potato and/or carrot as the ‘substantive glue’ to keep them standing up. Once I used sticky rice. All three times they looked and tasted good but the texture was a bit too soft and lacked toothful substance. Next time I will add water chestnuts (which I don’t like much because they have no flavor). Suggestions welcome here.
- Siu Mai: One half pound each of super lean and regular ground pork,. A slug of oyster sauce. 2 tbsp fish sauce. 1Diced onion, salted and squeezed dry (since I didn’t have a shallot). 2 tsp each minced ginger and garlic. This was a successful and tasty filling. I would make it again. Marlon’s favorite.
- Vegan siu mai: half a diced onion, minced ginger and garlic, 3 peeled and diced small Asian eggplant. Sauté for a long time until wilted and dry. I chunked a carrot and potato till simmered till tender, then mashed and mixed together. Seasoned with Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce by Soy Vay. This was a flavorful filling, and the siu mai did not disintegrate when steamed. However the texture was too soft, like eating mashed potato inside the siu mai skin. Need to fix the texture problem.
- 2nd attempt at Vegan siu mai: potato and carrot mash, mixed with caramelized onions and chopped spinach. Now really, this was a PITA. I washed, then chopped and salted the spinach and squeezed out the water. Then sautéed it with the carmelized onions to try and evaporate the remaining moisture. STILL TOO WET. I used SO MANY paper towels to soak up extra moisture. I seasoned with Indian spices–cumin, coriander, turmeric, pepper, along with soy sauce They were really pretty, but the amount of filling made less than 2 steamers full. The taste was good, still felt like mash in a wrapper. Both Stacy and Jenn liked the eggplant ones better.
To wrap: use purchased round Siu Mai wrappers, available at your friendly neighborhood Asian grocery. Using a little ice cream scoop, scoop a generous tablespoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Gather the sides up around the filling, and using your left thumb and forefinger, make an “o” like “okay” around the waist of the siu mai, cinching it in to give it a nice slightly svelte hourglass shape, and press the dumpling on the counter so that the bottom is nice and flat. Then use the back of the scoop to press the filling down, making the top flat. You can decorate the top with a little grated carrot (I use my microplane), if you like. Svelte Siu Mai. You heard it here first.
To steam, fill the bottom of whatever pan you are using with 2 inches of water, and either lightly oil the upper rack/steaming tray, or line with parchment paper (cut to fit and poke a whole bunch of holes in the paper to allow the steam to come through). Steam over boiling water for 10 minutes; they can be kept nice and hot until ready to serve by leaving them over the hot water (turn down to sim or even off). Don’t forget a nice dipping sauce.
I am a big fan of using the bamboo steamer to cook these PURELY for the aesthetic value; they are so pretty in the steamer, and there’s great ‘wow’ when you lift the lid off at the table. I love my 2 decker steamer, I think it’s about 11 inches so you can actually seriously make enough. Those little ones are cutesy pie but a little impractical imho. Unless you are opening a restaurant.
note how these below (1st attempt) are understuffed.