How to pleat and steam shu mai (steamed pork dumplings)
The steamed pork dumpling that we call siomai in the Philippines comes from a traditional Chinese dimsum dish. It is ground pork wrapped in dough, steamed and served with a dipping sauce. In the English-speaking world, the spelling varies — shumai, shaomai, shui mai, shu mai, sui mai, shui mei, siu mai, shao mai, or siew mai — although they all refer to the same thing.
The mixture for the filling varies as well. Some include pork and black mushrooms while others include finely chopped cabbage. In the Philippines, we use a mixture of ground pork and shrimps along with finely chopped vegetables.
Question: What’s the difference between siomai and wonton? Answer: Wonton is wrapped in wonton skins and dropped into hot broth. Siomai is served straight from the steamer — in fact, often, in the steamer basket itself.
The confusion lies in the fact that, in the Philippines, siomai is often wrapped is wonton skins too but served as a steamed dish rather than as a soup. I used to until lately. If you go to authentic Chinese restaurants, however, siomai is wrapped in such a way that the top of the filling is exposed. A round, often thicker, wrapper — sold as “dumpling wrapper” in supermarkets — is used to enfold the filling.
For the recipe for the dumpling filling, click here. This is a “how to” entry.
Mix the filling.
Separate the dumpling wrappers. Roll about a tablespoonful of the filling into a ball and place at the center of a dumpling wrapper.
Wet the edges of the wrapper with water.
Lift the edge, press it into the filling and pleat. I do this by placing the dumpling on one hand and using the other to pleat the wrapper, moving the dumpling clockwise, little by little, to create more pleats until a neat little parcel is formed and the filling is completely enclosed in the wrapper. Just repeat the process for the rest for the wrappers and filling.
Now, the steaming part.
I use a bamboo steamer because the porous bamboo prevents condensation from falling back into the dumplings and, thus, preventing them from getting soggy.
Question: How do I prevent the dumplings from sticking to the steamer?
There are three options. One is to line the steamer with banana leaves. Another is to line them with non-stick (baking) paper. For best results, poke holes through the paper to avoid moisture build-up.
The third option is to use scrap vegetables. Lettuce, bok choy, whatever you’ve got. I saw this technique used by a street hawker in a Beijing episode of some food TV show (I forget which).
Whichever option you choose, just arrange the dumplings in the steamer basket and steam over briskly boiling water.
Depending on the size of your dumplings, they should be done anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.