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Authentic Vietnamese recipes from the Motherland

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Ha Cao)

To eat dim sum is to eat leisurely. You savor the yummy bite-sized portions of Cantonese food while sipping hot tea in between each bite. I love everything that is Dim Sum, and one of my favorite dim sum dishes is Há Cảo (or Har Gow in Cantonese).

What is Há Cảo?

Ha Cao is a traditional Cantonese shrimp dumpling. It is prepared with a filling of coarsely chopped shrimp, a bit of pork fat (yep, that's where all the flavor and moisture come from!) and bamboo shoots. The shrimp filling is lightly seasoned with ground pepper, salt, sugar, sesame oil and Shaoxing cooking wine. Some variations include oyster sauce, minced garlic and ginger.

 Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings  (Har Gow/Ha Cao) 

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Ha Cao) 

The filling is placed on a thin and delicate wrapper made from a blend of wheat/rice flour and tapioca starch. The wrapper is folded over the filling, then sealed with the finest craftsmanship of multiple tiny pleats. Once the dumplings are prepared, they go into a bamboo steamer to cook for about 6 minutes until the wrapper becomes translucent. You can actually see the pink shrimp through the wrapper once the dumplings are steamed.

 Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings  (Har Gow/Há Cảo) 

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Há Cảo) 

 Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings  (Har Gow/Há Cảo) 

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Há Cảo) 

If you ever tried making Ha Cao at home, you probably had problems with getting the dough to be the right elasticity. It needs to malleable enough to be rolled and stretched. My dough always turns out either too dry that it ends up cracking or too wet, making handling very difficult. Recipes aren't too helpful because no matter how many times I repeat my steps,  the ratio of ingredients seem to change each time. So word of caution, when it comes to the dough for the Ha Cao, add ingredients a little at a time and do it more by feel than by recipe. Adjust if necessary. Too wet? Add more flour. Too dry? Add more oil and/or water.

 Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings  (Har Gow/Ha Cao)  dipped in a soy and chili sauce

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Ha Cao) dipped in a soy and chili sauce

These delicate shrimp dumplings can be eaten on their own without the use of any dipping sauce. But if you like a little more flavor and kick, dip them in a mixture of soy sauce and chili sauce, both are usually readily available on the table for your mixing pleasure at a dim sum restaurant.

 Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings  (Har Gow/Ha Cao) 

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow/Ha Cao) 

Dim Sum Shrimp Dumpling Recipe (Har Gow/Ha Cao)

Ingredients

Shrimp Filling

  • 500 grams prawns
  • 50 grams bamboo shoot (rinse thoroughly and squeeze out excess water)
  • 50 grams pork fat (optional but highly recommended; mince finely into paste)
  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 tablespoon corn starch

Dough

  • 50 grams wheat starch
  • 50 grams tapioca starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 160 grams boiling water (240 mL or about 2/3 cups)

Instructions

  1. Coarsely chop shrimp and bamboo and transfer both to a medium-sized bowl. Add pork fat. Season with oyster sauce, sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, Shaoxing cooking wine and corn starch.
  2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together wheat starch, tapioca starch and salt. With a hook attachment, add boiling water a little at a time and kneed until the dough comes together. Add oil until you get a soft ball that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
  3. Roll the dough into a thin log and cut out pieces of 10-12 g each. Keep the dough covered at all times to prevent drying.
  4. To make the dumplings, apply oil to the back side of a knife. Use the backside of that knife to flatten the dough into a circle, with one side slightly thicker than the other. The thicker side will be the base of the filling. The other side will be the delicate pleated folds. Place filling off-center on the thicker base. Fold the thinner side over and make pleats to seal.
  5. Oil the base of the steamer to prevent dumplings from sticking. You can also place each dumpling on a small piece of wax paper. Steam for 6 minutes over high heat. Serve immediately with a soy and chili sauce.

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)

When I feel like torturing the neighbors, I take out the grill and cook up Nem Nướng, Vietnamese grilled pork sausage. I waft the aroma of this tasty Vietnamese sausage into their yard. That is what you get for taking my parking!

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nướng)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nướng)

For those who enjoy this tasty Vietnamese sausage and would like to quickly make it at home, you can find premade Nem Nuong in the frozen aisle of many Asian supermarkets. They are already seasoned. All you have to do is put them on sewers or roll them into balls. You can grill them up as intended. You can also bake or steam them. The premade Nem Nuong tastes exactly like the restaurant version. The only downside to using premade Nem Nuong is not knowing exactly what's in the pork, which can be scary to some people. Of course, buying premade Nem Nuong is not why you are here, right? Keep reading, my friend!

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nuong). Please don't steal my pictures. Yes, I'm looking at you Vietnam tour sites!

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong). Please don't steal my pictures. Yes, I'm looking at you Vietnam tour sites!

If you want a little bit more control over the seasoning, you can make Nem Nuong from scratch. Nem Nuong is all about texture. That texture comes from a high amount of fat (Yep. This is why it tastes so good!) and grinding the pork into a paste. To get that perfect texture, select ground pork with at least 20% fat. I believe the highest is 30%. Then be flirtatious as possible and ask the butcher if they can run it through the grinder again. If they refuse (which is usually the case), stare down at them while slowly walking away without blinking. Good news for you is that you can still achieve the pork paste by putting the ground pork in a food processor. Grind it for a few minutes until you get a sticky homogeneous mixture.

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nướng)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nướng)

My mother-in-law, who is bestie with her butcher and who fears mystery meats in premade ground pork, prefers to get a slab of fatty pork shoulder/butt and then have her butcher friend grind it up twice. But she doesn't stop there. She also gets pork fat, free of charge, of which she cuts up into tiny cubes and adds them to the freshly ground ground pork. It's really all about that pork fat to get that perfect texture in Nem Nuong. For those who are also besties with the butcher, it is 1-part fatty pork shoulder/butt to 1/4-part pork fat.

(I also checked in with my mom on how she prepares Nem Nuong to which she replied that I shouldn't ask such ridiculousness because she's a vegetarian for a full year now and I should know better. Gotta love mom!)

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nướng)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nướng)

Almost every Nem Nuong recipe you look up online has baking powder. The use of the baking powder allows the meat to puff up. This makes it appear more voluminous when it's served immediately in restaurants. However, if you make a large batch of Nem Nuong and you use baking powder, any leftover Nem Nuong will look wrinkly and deflated, which is what happened to a few of my test batches. I would recommend skipping the baking powder if you are making this at home.

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nuong)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)

To get the right flavor in Nem Nuong, I use a bit of Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder. Not only does the curing powder provide the signature pink color (from the added dye and sodium nitrite) but it also provides that unique cured flavor.

I had many times tried to make Nem Nuong without the use of Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder.  The reason I avoided it for the longest time was because of the preservatives, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Both additives had been under fire on whether they cause cancer in humans. However, after doing some research, I wouldn't worry too much about its use. One, it's been approved by the FDA and its use in cured meats is very minimal. Two, these additives are also found in hot dogs, sandwich meat, bacon, and naturally in many vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and celery. So unless you are avoiding all these foods, I wouldn't worry.

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage  (Nem Nuong)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)

According to the package instructions, you can use the curing powder as the only seasoning in the meat to get the Nem Nuong flavor. You can also add minced garlic, if preferred. However, I'm not one to use only one ingredient for a marinade, especially one that is a possible human carcinogen in high concentration (can't be too safe!). So for my Nem Nuong recipe, I like to use a bit of the curing powder (much less than the package instructions) in addition to fish sauce, sugar, garlic... and unfortunately another highly controversial ingredient, MSG.

Nem Nướng is served in a variety of ways. For the lazies, you can have them with steamed white rice and a side of fresh or pickled vegetables. At the restaurants, you can have Nem Nướng  wrapped in rice paper (Nem Nướng Cuốn) with a side of the signature orange Nem Nướng dipping sauce. You can also have Nem Nướng with rice noodles (Bún Nem Nướng). In a Vietnamese deli, you can have it in a sandwich (Bánh Mì Nem Nướng). However you have it, it's a classic dish that will surely give you a unique taste of Vietnam. It's not the healthiest of meats, but it sure is damn delicoius. 

 Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nướng)

Ingredients

Serves 5-7

  • 2 lbs ground pork with at least 20% fat (have the butcher ground the pork twice or chop in a food processor until you get a smooth paste)
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (available in the spice section in Asian supermarkets)
  • 3 tablespoons Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder  
  • 1 teaspoon MSG

Instructions

  1. To the ground pork, add sugar, fish sauce, garlic, roasted rice powder, curing powder and MSG. Mix well.
  2. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge for best results.
  3. Oil up your hands with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Add the marinated ground pork to skewers or roll them into balls.
  4. Grill or bake for 15-20 minutes.