Xiao Long Bao, which literally means ‘little steamer bao’ (and I explained elsewhere that bao means parcel), is an all time favourite of a lot of bao connoisseur. These little parcels are bite size, steam-cooked and a fantastic starter to wow anyone that you are dining with.
Xiao Long Bao came to its real fame due to the Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung. The last time I dined at the Din Tai Fung at the base of Taipei 101 Dua Lipa and her entourage came walking in to feast on the various xiao long bao.
What’s really special about Xiao Long Bao is the delicious ‘hot soup’ that each little parcel contains. This is the result of some 4-hour long simmering in the process of making the stock jelly that is then mixed into the pork filling. So don’t mistaken and think the fillings of all pork baos are the same.
Then there’s the pastry.
The pastry is wafer thin – it has to be thin but not breaking during the process of folding the pleats and cooking. You think it sounds like a good challenge? It is! And this skill takes time to build.
The good news is that cooking them to perfection is probably the easiest part of all. Use bamboo steamers if you have them, or stainless steel vegetable steamers work just as well. Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the base of the steamer and make lots of small holes to let the steam through during steaming. If you have muslin, this would give an even better result.
Xiao Long Baos are traditionally served in the layers of bamboo steamers that they are cooked in – they look cool and keep the xiao long baos hot and moist. If you are hosting a special occasion, this will definitely wow your guests. If you are cooking them in stainless steel steamers, carefully transfer them onto a plate that is bedded with some lettuce leaves (see my picture here) so that the xiao long baos won’t be stuck to the plate. Take care not to break the pastry because you definitely want to keep the hot soup inside.
Finally, I have mentioned ‘hot soup’ a couple of times. It’s temperature hot, not spicy hot. And do take care not to burn your mouth when taking a bite. Place one in a soup spoon and enjoy. Seriously, they are one of my favourite starters and such a treat. Enjoy!