China’s Wuhan cuisine | Xiaolongtangbao

The aroma lingering from a windowless hallway in Thomas and Nell Lafferre Hall never matches what you’d expect walking toward the bathroom. It’s particularly strong at midday – salty, grainy, steamy… and completely mouthwatering.

It’s lunchtime, and the same graduate researcher has heated his lunch. I never knew which student had the delicious smelling food, so appealing that it’s juxtaposition near a main floor bathroom can only be described as inappropriately confusing.

Last week, I finally figured out which student possessed the scent.

“I always smell your lunch, and it smells absolutely delicious,” I say.

The lone Chinese man looks up from his computer and smiles. Then he stands. “Thank you. My wife cooks it.”

‘What part of China is she from?” I ask, hoping I haven’t just put my foot in my mouth assuming she, too, is Chinese.

“Hubei province. It’s in Central China.”

Centralized cuisine

There is usually an arguable amount of authenticity in the Chinese food restaurants found in the U.S. American Chinese cuisine has evolved so much from its origins that it has its own Wikipedia page. It’s also developed regional nuances.

Authentic Chinese cuisine is also known for the variety of regional forms. Hubei province is a landlocked region of China, through which flows the Yangtze River. Because of this mix of land and water resources, the area became known locally as the “land of rice and fish.”1  The province also is known for three types of regional cuisine: Wuhan, Huangzhou and Jingzhou.

Huangzhou is saltier and uses more oil to prepare.

Jingzhou uses a lot of fresh fish and steam to prepare.

Wuhan, named for the provinces capital is renowned for its soups and noodle dishes. It is the inspiration for this week’s dish.

Xiaolongtangbao

Gif of rolling a ball of dough
For a larger dumpling, roll dough into a ball roughly the size of a golf ball.

Makes 10-20 servings per 3:1 dough ratio (see below)

This dish is a variation of the Shanghai-region’s Xiaolongbao, which is a steamed (usually filled) bun. Wuhan’s variant adds a soupier inside, tang (literally “soup”) more true to the region. My 4-year-old niece started calling this “dump rolls.”

Ingredients

Dumplings follow a 3:1 flour-to-water ratio. Three cups flour and one cup warm water yields approximately 10-20 dumplings, depending on size.

  • 3 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1 pound cooked 84% lean/16% fat ground pork
  • 1/2 head uncooked green cabbage, medium head
  • 4 medium uncooked scallion(s), roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp ginger root, grated
  • 1 Tbsp table wine, For cooking (like Sherry)
  • 1 Tbsp soy bean paste
  • 5 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp white pepper (use less to reduce spiciness – this stuff is like napalm)
  • Soup gelatin cubes (enough for 2 per dumpling)

Instructions

  1. For dumpling skins: Pour warm water into the flour, quickly stir with your hand. Mix and knead into a soft dough about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside and rest for 20 minutes.

  2. Dust flour on work surface. Roll a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball into a circle of about a 3-5 inch diameter and make the edges a little thinner than the center.

  3. For filling: In a bowl, mix pork, ginger, wine, soy bean paste, sesame oil and white pepper well and put it in the fridge for an hour. Mix all vegetables in a separate bowl. Add veggies to meat mixture when you are ready to wrap dumpling.

  4. Take a dumpling skin, spoon some dumpling filling into it and add two cubes of soup gelatin.

  5. Gather one edge of the dumpling skin and start pleating all the way around (approx. 15~18 pleats), twisting at the end to seal.

  6. Place the wrapped dumplings in the bamboo steamer and steam for 8 minutes at high heat.

References

  1. http://www.eatingwell.com/food_news_origins/food_travel/the_cuisine_of_wuhan_china_recipes_from_the_land_of_rice_and_fish?page=3

Update Feb. 17, 2016: My sister made these last night without the soup gelatin. She said while the dumplings weren’t too bad, they were missing a lot of flavor without them. (I knew I wouldn’t be able to skirt around those!)

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