Posted in Technique

The Soup Dumpling Secret

Soup Dumplings 01

If you have ever tried any of the Chinese delicacies generally known as ‘soup-dumplings’ or their (often) larger, and well-known cousins, Xiaolongbao, you have probably enjoyed the way that the steaming, liquid content squirts in your mouth when you bite into them. Quite possibly, it also occurred to you to wonder how on earth the cook gets the delicious broth into the dumplings in the first place…

Not long ago, when I featured the technique for making a Basic Chinese Pork Stock, I hinted at this ancient Chinese secret. If you haven’t guessed the answer yet, read on… 

Soup Dumplings 02

Here are the ‘makings’ for a typical soup dumpling filling… In the bowl, I have a mixture of ground pork, chopped scallion, minced ginger and a little salt and pepper. Alongside that, there is a helping of a good pork stock that is so rich with leached dissolved protein that it has formed a stiff gel. Some of this has been chopped into cubes for incorporation into the meat mixture. Thus, as you may now have guessed, the secret to getting the ‘soup’ into soup-dumplings is to do so with broth that is in a solid form when cool…

By the way, while it is traditional to use a slow-cooked broth t enriched with the protein from bones and skin, you can also produce a similar effect by jellying a simpler broth using gelatin or agar-agar. I’ve not actually done it that way myself but I rather suspect that that is the way it is done in a lot of restaurants and in commercially produced dumplings.

Soup Dumplings 03

Here is the meat filling mixed with little cubes of stock. You can add more or less depending on how ‘soupy’ you want your dumplings.

Soup Dumplings 04

The traditional soup-dumpling shape is made with very much the same way as the common ‘jiaozi’ fold (illustrated in more detail here) except that you continue pleating the dough all the way around the filling and then twist it closed.

Soup Dumplings 05

The secret to EATING soup-dumplings is to slide them onto a deep spoon and then puncture one side of the skin so that you can slurp the soup as it comes out… You need to be careful doing this as the broth can be super-hot when it squirts into your mouth! After that, you can eat the remaining skin and filling, dipping it into a sauce if you like. I’ve not experienced it myself, but I gather that some places specializing in really large, Shanghai style soup dumplings will provide straws with each order so you can use it to suck the soup from inside!

Soup Dumplings 06

Here is a plate I finished off myself. I spooned a little chili oil and soy sauce over top of each before eating them. If you look closely, you can see that the dumpling at the 9’oclock position has ripped, spilling its soup into the bowl. It happens sometimes… they still taste great!


6 thoughts on “The Soup Dumpling Secret

  1. Hi John, I made this once some years ago and concluded that I needed more practice. Your dumplings look better than mine did.
    What gels your stock is actually gelatin (not protein) dissolved from the bones. That is actually how store-bought gelatin is made, by boiling pork bones. Simply put, the bones provide the gelatin (and thus richness and gelling) and meat scraps provide proteins (and thus flavor).

    1. Actually, I had always thought of gelatin as a simple, single protein… I had to go look it up but it turns out it is a mix of proteins and polypeptides formed by the hydrolysis of the protein collagen. Collagen is present in skin, bones and connective tissue. It must be super abundant in skin because the ‘jelly-est’ stock seems to come from pork with the rind still attached. Funnily enough… one of my correspondents who is Chinese always calls the jelling agent ‘collagen’ rather than gelatin … either way, you are correct that this component adds no flavor.

  2. Just beautiful! Really! This is always my favorite of Dim Sum because a truly good one is a delicacy and to be savored. I have to travel to the Bay Area/San Francisco to get my fix. You inspire me, John! Who knew collagen could taste sooooo good!

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