Growing up in a middle-class family, extravagant vacations weren’t on our agenda. Instead, my parents and I found our special bonding moments by frequenting the movies and casual restaurants. One cherished tradition we shared was indulging in dim sum together on Saturday mornings. Among the variety of dim sum, shrimp dumplings were always a must-order for us. I’ve spent countless hours honing and perfecting this shrimp dumpling recipe, and I’m thrilled to share it with you. With some helpful tips along the way, I aim to spare you the same pitfalls I encountered during recipe development. Now, you can have that authentic dim sum taste right at home, all at a fraction of the cost.
What are crystal shrimp dumplings?
Crystal shrimp dumplings (ha gow, har gow, xia jiao, há cảo) distinguish themselves from standard dumplings that typically feature opaque, off-white wrappers. What makes them truly unique is their distinctive wrapper. Initially white in appearance, these wrappers transform into a translucent, see-through texture after steaming. This dish originates from Guangdong in China, known for its Cantonese cuisine. Authentic shrimp dumplings are composed of whole shrimp but it is also common to find shrimp dumplings containing chopped shrimp. I prefer to rough chop the shrimp in my recipe which mixes better with the seasonings to enhance the flavor.
How do crystal shrimp dumplings taste?
Crystal shrimp dumplings are known for their savory taste and chewy texture. Their filling contains the delicate, natural sweetness of the shrimp, which is then harmonized with seasonings. These dumplings are traditionally served plain but you may also dip it in soy sauce or sweet soy sauce. Since my palate loves sweet and savory foods, I prefer pairing this dish with sweet soy sauce.
Why this works
There are many recipes for shrimp dumplings that exist, each featuring unique formulations for the wrapper. Throughout my recipe development process, I experimented with various combinations and ratios of starches, including wheat starch, corn starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch.
What I discovered was that each dough mixture resulted in different textures, some proving easier to work with during shaping than others. However, after extensive testing, I determined that the combination of wheat starch and potato starch in my recipe offered exceptional performance both during the shaping process and after steaming. This particular blend produced wrappers that maintained their integrity and structure beautifully, making it the ideal choice for creating perfect shrimp dumplings.
Which ingredients do I need to make crystal shrimp dumplings?
You will require two batches of ingredients. Crystal wrappers are made from a blend of wheat starch and potato starch (or cornstarch and tapioca starch), contributing to their transparency and chewy texture. You may purchase these ingredients from the flour or starch section section of your Chinese grocery store.
The fundamental filling of a shrimp dumpling comprises fresh shrimp, bamboo shoots, lard, toasted sesame oil, and white pepper powder. Fresh, succulent shrimp, must be first peeled and deveined. They then need to be minced to achieve a finely textured, juicy filling. Key flavors that contribute to the authenticity of this dish include white pepper and toasted sesame oil.
Given that shrimp is a lean protein, you have the option to include bamboo shoots in the filling. Bamboo shoots elevate the overall texture of the shrimp filling by adding moisture. You can easily find bamboo shoots in the canned goods section of your local Chinese grocery store. They are available in either julienned strips or as whole shoots for your convenience.
What is wheat starch?
Wheat starch looks like a fine white powder that comes from grains of wheat. It is a common ingredient in dim sum. Wheat starch is different from wheat flour, as it contains mainly starch and very little protein. This is why it appears different from all-purpose flour, which typically has an off-white color and may contain specks of wheat bran or germ. You may purchase wheat starch from the flour or starch section of your Chinese grocery store.
Can crystal shrimp dumplings be stored for later?
Crystal shrimp dumplings are an excellent recipe to make ahead of time. Unlike most recipes, the texture and appearance actually looks more beautiful after freezing and steaming. To freeze these dumplings, you can conveniently store them in a freezer-friendly zip-lock bag once they’re shaped. However, it’s crucial to ensure they freeze without being squished to maintain their appearance.
What type of steamer do I need?
There are several types of steamers that can be used to cook food. Additionally, there are makeshift options that can be easily created at home when a dedicated steamer is not available. In previous recipe videos, I have used a pan that does come with a convenient steamer basket. While it may seem like a great all-in-one solution, it’s important to consider some significant drawbacks when using this pan for steaming.
One of the primary concerns is the difficulty in gauging water levels within the pan. This limitation poses a real risk of overheating, potentially resulting in burnt food and, ultimately, permanent staining of the pan. To ensure your cooking experience is hassle-free and your cookware remains pristine, I highly recommend exploring some alternative options:
- Steamer Inserts: These fit into most pots and pans, making them a versatile choice for steaming various dishes. They are affordable, easy to use, and easy to maintain.
- Bamboo Steamer: If you have ever dined at a dim sum restaurant, you have most likely seen this before. It is made with bamboo trays with a lid on top that can be layered and stacked with more trays. The steam rises from the boiling water in the bottom pot and cooks the buns placed in the trays above.
- Metal Steamer Insert: A metal steamer insert is a kitchen tool made of stainless steel, designed to fit inside a pot, pan, or rice cooker. It’s used for steaming food, like vegetables. The insert has small holes to allow steam through, can be used for various foods, and is easy to clean.
- Tiered Metal Steamer Pot: Similar to bamboo steamers, metal tiered steamers consist of stacked metal trays with a lid. They work in the same way as bamboo steamers but offer the advantage of being more durable and easier to clean.Tiered metal steamer pots, while not space-saving due to their bulkiness, are exceptionally durable and can last a lifetime.
- Improvised Steamer: If you don’t have a dedicated steamer, you can create an improvised steamer using a large pot with a tight-fitting lid and a heatproof wire rack or a few heatproof bowls. Place a small amount of water in the pot, set the heatproof rack or dishes above the water level, and cover the pot with the lid.
- Limited space: The improvised steamer setup may have limited space, making it challenging to steam larger quantities of food at once.
- Inconsistent results: Without precise control over the steaming process, you may experience inconsistency in the texture and doneness of your food.
- Limited capacity: The size of the steamer insert may limit the quantity of food you can steam at once, especially for larger gatherings or meals.
Why isn’t my dough smooth?
When shaping the dough ball for the wrapper, you might observe excess flour or clumps of flour and water. It’s essential not to incorporate these remnants back into the dough, as they may have become too dry to blend seamlessly. Attempting to mix them in can result in uneven distribution and create irregularities in your wrappers, potentially affecting both their final presentation and taste.
Why does my dough keep breaking?
If the wrappers tear or break while shaping, the dough may be too dry. The ideal dough should exhibit a smooth, white, and supple appearance. It should feel adequately hydrated, avoiding dryness, yet not overly wet to the point where it sags. Another indication that the dough may be too wet is when the pleats fail to hold their shape and instead meld back into the wrapper.
Crystal Shrimp Dumplings (har gow, xia jiao)
- 1 lb shrimp peeled, deveined
- 1/4 can bamboo shoots drained, minced (optional)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp finely ground white pepper
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp lard
- 2 cups wheat starch
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- A little over 1 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup neutral oil for shaping
- Filling | Place the drained bamboo shoots onto a cutting board. Using two chef knives, finely mince the shrimp in a chopping motion. Transfer into a bowl.Place the peeled and deveined shrimp in a pile onto a cutting board. Slice the shrimp into smaller pieces. Using two chef knives, finely mince the shrimp by chopping them until they are finely ground. Add it to the bowl with the bamboo.To the bowl of bamboo and shrimp, add in the cornstarch, sugar, salt, white pepper powder, sesame oil, and lard into a bowl. Mix evenly, seal the bowl, and refrigerate. While the filling is marinating, start preparing the dough.
- Dough | Boil water. Mix wheat starch and potato starch in a large bowl. Pour hot water into the mixture and stir until it becomes clumpy. Then, using your hands, gently squeeze and knead the mixture just until it forms a dough ball. To avoid an uneven texture, be sure not to mix in any leftover crumbles. The ideal dough should exhibit a smooth, white, and supple appearance. It should feel adequately hydrated, yet not overly wet to the point where it sags.Place the dough onto the counter. With one hand, anchor the bottom of the dough ball while lifting the top half with your other hand. Use your palm to gently fold the dough in half towards you. Once folded, apply firm pressure with the heel of your hands, pushing the folded dough away from you. Now, rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the folding and pushing process. Continue kneading for 5 minutes.
- Wrappers | Fold a paper towel square into a small square and soak it in oil.This oiled paper towel will prevent the dough from sticking.Divide into portions. Shape the dough into a cylinder. Brush the dough cylinder with oil to keep it moist. Divide the oiled dough cylinder into 20 18 gram portions.Oil the counter where you'll be working and one side of a cleaver or bench scraper. Place one of the dough portions on the oiled counter. Using the oiled side of the cleaver or bench scraper, apply medium-firm pressure to the front half of the tool and smear the dough in an arc motion, flattening it. Rotate and repeat until you get a 3-inch 1mm thick circle.Aim for a uniform thickness of about 1mm (which is very thin). Repeat this process for each of the 20 dough portions, ensuring that they are all of the same size and thickness.
- Fill | Take one of your prepared dough wrappers. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a wrapper. With one hand, gently lift and push the edges of the wrapper towards the center, folding them over the filling. Continue this process until you have created 10-12 pleats around the filling. Gently pinch together the top edges of the wrapper that are now pleated, forming a "C" shape. Be careful not to pinch too much of the wrapper together at the top, as this could lead to breakage or a closed dumpling.If the top of the shrimp dumpling is a little long, you can go in with a scissor to trim off the top. Pinch with your fingers and reshape as needed.
- Steam | Soak the bamboo steamer in cold water before use if needed. Fill a steamer with an appropriate amount of water, ensuring it won't touch the dumplings when boiling.Line your steamer with parchment paper. Place the har gow dumplings in the steamer, making sure to leave about 1 inch of space between each dumpling. Depending on the size of your steamer, you may need to cook the dumplings in batches of 3 or 4. Be sure to only steam as much as you will eat because once steamed, they need to be consumed immediately.Cover the steamer with its lid. Steam the dumplings for approximately 10 minutes or 12 minutes if previously frozen. They should become translucent and appear slightly translucent when done.Serve them hot with a side of sweet soy sauce for dipping.If you've tried this recipe, please let me know what you think in the comments below! Your feedback is greatly appreciated and it helps me improve my recipes for future cooking adventures. And if you enjoyed it, don't forget to give it a thumbs up or share it with your friends! You can help my channel by tagging @vocabularyoffood in your cooks. ۶(◠ 。◠)۶
* When shaping the dumplings, ensure your nails are trimmed to prevent any breakage.
* Shrimp is lean. For juicy dumplings, I add bamboo and lard into the filling.