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.
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.
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.
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 Dumpling Recipe (Har Gow/Ha Cao)
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.