Who invented Har Gow (shrimp dumpling)?
Ninety years ago, the proprietor of 怡珍茶樓 (Yee Zhen tea house) at the Five Phoenix Village 五鳳鄉 in Guangzhou created Har Gow (shrimp dumpling). He combined the shrimps, bamboo shoot, and pork fat together, and make a dumpling with the rice flour pastry. He named this delicacy as the Five Phoenix dumpling.
Later, other chefs improvised the wrapper by using wheat starch to form a thinner and more delicate dumpling skin. This delicacy has fast become famous in Guangzhou due to its unique presentation and flavor.
Ninety years later, it has evolved into one of the most recognizable Cantonese dim sum, Har Gow.
In this article, I will show you how to make Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) from scratch. It only involved some basic ingredients and can be done easily at home.
The Yam Cha culture
Har Gow is an old-school traditional Cantonese Dim Sum serving steaming hot during ‘Yam Cha”, the time-honored Cantonese version of breakfast tea. The chef usually showcases his culinary craftsmanship by creating multiple pleats on the Har Gow. The Dim Sum lady will load the Har Gow on the trolley and skillfully trundle through the narrow gaps between the marble tables and wooden chairs in a small shop.
Har Gow is the transliteration of the Chinese term 蝦餃, means shrimp dumpling. Along with Shumai and Char Siu Bao, they form the triumvirate of the world famous Cantonese Dim Sum. Har Gow is by far the most artistry one, with the bright pink chunks of fresh shrimps veiled thought the thin, stretchy, chewy, delicate and translucent wrapper.
Shrimp dumpling is the most recognizable Cantonese dim sum. It has a crystal clear, translucent and chewy skin with either chopped or whole shrimp encased in it. It is a bite size delicacy much like sushi. You will experience the shrimp juice oozes out when you take a bite at the best shrimp dumpling.
The key ingredients are shrimps, pork fat and bamboo shoot, with the modern trends shift to only used fresh whole shrimps, which is more flavorful more crunchy.
Dim Sum master chefs can artistically fold eight to thirteen pleats imprinted on its wrapper. This masterful delicacy is called the king of Har Gow or crystal-skinned shrimp dumpling.
This true staple of Cantonese tradition looks simple, but many people are hesitating to make it at home due to the technique involved. What you need is some practice how to pleat the dumplings, although the presentation does not affect the taste of Har Gow.
Step by step guide to make the best Har Gow
1. What are the best ingredients for the wrapper?
There is no consensus of the wrapper’s formula. Most of the recipes include wheat starch, corn starch or tapioca starch and oil. I have done a series of tests to find out the best ratio of wheat starch, tapioca starch. The ratios are based on the recipe by the well-known food bloggers and renown Dim Sum master chef.
The criterion is to have a shrimp dumpling wrapper that is translucent, stretchable and be able into roll it to an ultra thin layer.
The result showed that recipe number 2 yield the best result. The Har Gow skin is elastic, stretchable, able to roll out thinly without breakage. The amount of water is just sufficient which make it pliable and easy to wrap the filling.
You can adjust the amount of the ingredients in my recipe if the skin turns out to be less desirable. The result varies by the quality of the wheat starch, the use of potato starch or corn starch.
Tips and suggestions:
- Reduce the amount of cornstarch/tapioca starch/potato starch if the skin is too chewy.
- Adjust the amount of the boiling water if necessary until it is not too wet and easy to roll out. You may not need to change the quantity of the water in most cases, but sometimes the quality of the wheat starch differs, and adjustment may require.
- Add a small amount of oil (either vegetable oil or lard) to the dough to make it softer and stretchable.
2. How to prepare the wrapper dough for the best result
Mix the wheat starch, tapioca starch and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and stir the flour and boiling water vigorously until it forms a sticky dough. Then add a small amount of oil, and knead it until it is smooth, pliable and homogeneous.
Anyone who knows how to make bread will understand this process. However, there are a few points you want to take note to ensure it turns out perfectly:
Tips and suggestions:
- You must use boiling water when making the dough.
- The amount of water should be sufficient to form a soft, malleable dough. If the dough cracks when you roll it out, it means you need to increase the quantity of water. (More information about this in the following sections).
- I used vegetable oil for my recipe, but you can use lard as a substitute.
3. The optimum amount of water for the dough
There is one problem that you may encounter when making the shrimp dumpling wrapper for the first time. You will find that the boiling water required varied significantly from one recipe to another. For example, chef 孙志强 use only half of the amount of boiling water compare to the total amount of starch, while blogger Wantanmian uses much more water than other chefs.
Why is such as significant disparity of the quantity?
It is likely due to different quality of the wheat starch. Experience Dim Sum chefs develop ‘hand-feel”, means they will be able to know whether the dough is moist enough by touching and kneading it.
Since this types of ‘feel” can only develop through experience, the following guideline is useful to anyone new to making the shrimp dumpling wrapper:
Tips and suggestions:
The dough is too dry if:
- The dough cracks at the side when you roll it into a circle.
- Hard to roll it to paper thin.
- It tears when you wrap the filling half way.
The dough is too wet if:
- It is sticky.
Either way, you can add a small amount of wheat starch to the dough if it is too wet, or add some boiling water if it is too dry. After that, knead it again until it is smooth and even.
Let the dough relax for five minutes before cutting it into small pieces.
4. How to roll out the wrapper
In my opinion, the way of spreading the dough to paper thin with the back of the Chinese cleaver is more efficient than by the rolling pin. You need some practice, but you will never use the rolling pin anymore once you master the technique.
Here are the steps:
- Roll the dough into a long cylinder. Cut them into about 12g to 15g each. (You may want to start with 15g first, as it is easy to fold the large than the small one.)
- Keep the dough balls in a container with a cover or leave it in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out.
- Apply some oil with a brush to the side of the knife that you use to press and spread the dough into a thin round layer. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the knife. You can apply more oil to the knife (and the surface of the dough) if the dough sticks to the knife as you drag and spread the dough into a thin layer. Oil work much better than applying flour and is the standard practice by the chefs.
- Roll out the dough to a round shape, And one-half should be thinner than the other. The thicker side is the base of the dumpling, and the other side is for making delicate folds that review the shrimps inside the dumplings.
If you find that this is too difficult, you can use the rolling pin the roll out the dumpling wrapper, just like making pastry. I think many people who made pastry before will find that it is easier to do it with the rolling pin.
5. How to fold the dumpling
There is no fixed method to fold the dumpling. An easy way for one person may turn out to be difficult for the others.
I use simple methods to pleat the dumpling in the video. Wrapping the dumpling is the tricky part to making shrimp dumplings for most people.
Here is the method:
Hold the dumpling skin in your hand and place the filling off center, slightly towards the thicker side of the dumpling. Pleat the dumpling by pushing the dumpling skin with the index finger of one hand and press to secure the pleat with the index finger of another hand. (Ahh! It ‘s hard to explain so, please watch the video 🙂 ).
Tips to wrap the Har Gow
The following points are applicable regardless how do you want to fold it.
- Place the filling slightly off center and closer to the thicker part of the dumpling skin. This placing of the filling allows more area of the wrapper for pleating.
- Bigger dumpling is easy to make than the small one.
- Create a loose cavity to hold the filling to avoid the skin from tearing due to the expansion of the shrimp during steaming.
6. The best ingredients for the dumpling filling
The main ingredients for the filling consist of shrimps, bamboo shoot, and pork fat. The seasoning consists of oil, ground white pepper, sesame oil, salt, and sugar. Some recipe includes a small amount of oyster sauce, minced garlic, and chopped ginger.
I prefer to keep the seasoning light and simple and let the flavor of the shrimps shines.
My recipe consists of coarsely chopped shrimps plus a whole shrimp, and bamboo shoots. I have omitted the pork fat for the healthy reason.
Here are the steps:
- Marinade the shrimp in a baking soda solution for twenty minutes is the secret to getting plump shrimp. Baking soda (some chefs use lye water) increase the pH of the shrimps and help to retain the moisture as it cooks. You may just use salt to marinate the shrimp as in this recipe if you do not think plump shrimp is important. You will get the same taste an flavor by omitting this step.
- Marinate the shrimp with salt will make it more crunchy.
- If you like to include some pork fat into the recipe (I just happy with shrimps and bamboo shoots), cut the pork fat blanch it in boiling water briefly until it is just cooked. Transfer it to cold water and soak it until it returns to room temperature. This simple treatment of pork fat can make it less greasy.
- You can double up the quantity of bamboo shoots if you want to omit the pork fat.
- Keep the filling in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before proceed to wrapping. Cold filling is easier to wrap into the wrapper.
7. How to steam the shrimp dumplings
Here are the steps:
- Steam for six minutes over high heat, lid on.
- You can place the shrimp dumpling directly in the bamboo steamer or by lining it with a piece of baking paper or cheesecloth. Apply some oil to prevent it from sticking. The dumplings are quite sticky after steaming and can stick onto the unoiled surface.
- Shrimp dumplings are best to serve while it is still hot, immediately after steaming. That is why Dim Sum stores will steam the shrimp dumplings upon order.
- Deep freeze the shrimp dumplings if you do not intend to steam it immediately. You can steam the frozen shrimp dumplings just like the fresh one, but steam for an extra minute to ensure it cooks through.
Watch this video
Step by step shrimp dumpling recipe (7.46 minutes)
Cantonese Shrimp Dumpling Recipe
- Mix the wheat starch, tapioca starch and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Add the boiling water into the mixing bowl. Stir the mixture vigorously until it looks like snowflakes.
- Add the oil.
- Knead the dough until soft and pliable.
- Cover it and let it relax for 5 minutes.
- Put it on a work surface and roll it into long strips.
- Cut dough into small portions, 15-20g each.
- Roll out the dough, wrap the shrimp filling with the wrapper.
- Clean and devein the shrimps. Marinate with salt for 5 minutes and wash thoroughly under running water.
- Chop the shrimp coarsely.
- Chop the bamboo shoots into small pieces.
- Mix the shrimps, bamboo shoots, and the seasoning together until it become sticky.
- Place the dumplings in the bamboo steamer.
- Steam for 6 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
The weight for the shrimp in the recipe weight around 300 g of shrimp meat.
You may also need the following items for this recipe:
1. Har Gow (Dim Sum Shrimp Dumplings)
2. Food of China Paperback – May 1, 2009 by Kay Halsey (Author)
3. Har Gow (Chinese Shrimp Dumplings) Recipe
4. Dim Sum Classics: How to Make Crystal Skin Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)
7. 蝦餃之王 蜘蛛肚彈牙爆汁
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