My fellow food blogger and amazing ceramic artist, Peter, made some little Asian dumplings the other day and blogged about them so convincingly that I was inspired. I had just scored a brand new bamboo steamer at the garage sale to benefit the Sailfish, our local youth swim program, and voilà! here was inspiration for using it.
I lined the baskets with parchment paper as he recommended, went online to look up a bunch of recipes, none of which I copied but all of which I learned from, then went to the grocery store for supplies of Asian-style ingredients and wonton wrappers.
I made two kinds - pork shu-mai with ground pork, ginger, mustard, chili sauce, sesame oil, green onion and green peas (the rest of Chilebrown's peas), plus shrimp dim sum with ground shrimp, celery, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil, topped with green onion.
Stuffing the little wrappers was actually fun - about a heaping teaspoon of filling went into each wrapper, then I folded the wonton skin up partially around the filling, lightly crimped them and topped with the green stuff. They looked so pretty going in that I took a picture at that point. I put some broccoli florets and another veggie (can't recall) in the top basket to round out the meal and set the steamer over boiling water.
Within minutes, the steam had worked its way up through the baskets and was pouring out of the top. The recipes recommended 10 minutes for the steaming, so I timed it exactly and pulled it off on the dot.
I wish I could say it was a huge success, but it was surely a learning experience.
First of all, I didn't crimp tightly enough - the wrappers unwound in the steam and opened like little flowers. Sadly, they also stuck to each other, so removing them destroyed the pretty look. Next time, serious crimping and bigger spaces between each dumpling.
Second, 10 minutes is about 6 minutes too long for such small foods. Like many Asian dishes, the time consuming part is the construction - cooking is very quick. I should have remembered that maxim.
The pork dumplings could have been used for racquet balls and the shrimp ones actually squeaked between our teeth, they were so rubbery. The flavors might have been good but the textures were so badly overcooked that flavors were kinda lost. We used some extra soy sauce to give them some moisture, but it didn't really help all that much. Even the broccoli on the top layer (where, ostensibly, the temperature is cooler) was army green rather than kelly green, as it should have been.
So, back to the drawing boards! The whole experiment was a kick and I'll definitely use the steamer again for such meals, after a suitable period of mourning and further online instruction in the use of bamboo steamers.