It's no secret that I love dumplings. I recently purchased a gorgeous cookbook (Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch) focusing completely on dim sum, from dumplings to veggies, pancakes to sweets. It uses lovely illustrations by the author herself in place of photographs, and actually makes the book seem like more of a personal journal of family recipes as opposed to an overly processed cookbook that has obviously been handed down through many levels of publishing hierarchy before finally turning up in bookstores. I can't explain it, but it just seems almost like Ellen Leong Blonder speaks directly to me through her recipes, diagrams, and exquisitely painted renditions of tasty dim sum staples. It also gives a lovely glimpse into the world of Asian teas to pair perfectly in this traditional "tea lunch" experience. Anyone who knows me knows that I take cookbook selecting very seriously. I own over 100 but each and every one that I have purchased myself has been analyzed for hours (ie me reviewing it and many similar books in the comfort of my neighborhood bookstore) before I've selected the chosen few. I'm a perfectionist in every aspect of life, and picking cookbooks is definitely no exception :)
With that said, I made dim sum for the very first time yesterday! It was no easy feat. Partway through, I actually considered giving up and just ordering Chinese food, my mouth was drooling and the dumplings just wouldn't form themselves fast enough to satisfy me. Instead of choosing to simply "make dumplings" I decided to "make dim sum" which is entirely another thing. I selected three different dumpling recipes to make as well as another dim sum staple: scallion pancakes. Between making three different fillings, doughs for all four, and finally assembling each and every product by hand--rolling out the tiny blobs of dough, filling them, shaping them into ugly masses that I was somewhat ashamed to serve, being the perfectionist I am--I was grateful to have my sister manning the stove and cooking them off as I prepped them. Otherwise we would have never eaten! I think the dumplings seemed less ugly once they were cooked, although some of the steamed ones stuck to the steamer. I probably should have lightly oiled it since I wasn't using the oiled-cake-pan-method Blonder mentioned in the book.
As soon as dumplings were cooked off, we kept them warm in a 200 degree oven (even the steamed ones as there were so many and we needed to cook them in batches). As the cook, I ate last, frying up the last of the scallion pancakes in a now-abandoned kitchen while my sister and brother-in-law enjoyed hot dumplings in front of the tv. My plate of dim sum was more room temperature than anything. The few just-cooked dumplings I tried were amazing, but as the heat escaped, some of the flavor seemed to as well. My reheated dumplings today were reminiscent of the first ones I tried, but with yesterday's hunger came a desperation to eat regardless of the temperature of the food, and yet they managed to satisfy as only food that is the result of hours of slaving can manage to do.
I made pork potstickers first... I found that the cabbage in the filling didn't really wilt as it was supposed to and remained in pretty big pieces which made it hard to fill such tiny dumplings. Next time I might chop the cabbage more than shred/slice it, but otherwise, the flavors were good with notes of spicy ginger bursting in your mouth as you bite into it. I adapted the three-mushroom steamed dumplings and made it with two mushrooms instead, using fresh shiitakes and creminis. I also couldn't find wheat starch so I used flour dough instead. These dumplings were tasty, but a few stuck to the steamer, and they tasted MUCH better hot than room temperature. My pork and shrimp siu mai were perhaps the easiest and tastiest. Forming these dumplings were a lot easier than mastering the "potsticker pleat" if you will. Also the filling had great texture, with chunks of shrimp and diced water chestnuts giving it a surprising balance of crunch against the ground pork. The scallion pancakes were my finale, and I rushed through them and forgot to lightly salt them before closing them up, but they still tasted fine, especially with the dipping sauce. I also deliberately left out the shortening. I'm against using hydrogenated fats and this recipe will not change that fact.
All in all, I think my dim sum experience was a success! It took hours longer than I expected, but with careful planning next time, and prepping parts in advance, I think my next foray into the dum sum arts will be even better. I may even try and enjoy each dim sum dish as a separate course in order to enjoy them all hot as soon as they're cooked... prep them all and then cook off each one, and actually eat it while the next one cooks. Doesn't sound like a bad plan. I have loads of filling left over for the three dumplings I made (that's my one complaint about the recipes, they make a lot more filling than seems required for the amount of dough specified), so I froze the fillings and will use them next time I want to cook off some dim sum. It will certainly save a lot of work!
*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review. I purchased the book myself. My opinions are always my own.