Xiao Long Bao, which literally means ‘little steamer bao’, is an all time favourite of a lot of bao connoisseur. These little parcels are just a little bigger than a bite size, steam-cooked and a fantastic starter.
Xiao Long Bao came to its real fame due to the Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung. What’s really special about them is the delicious broth that each little parcel contains. This is the result of some 2-hour long simmering in the process of making the stock jelly that is then mixed into the pork filling. So the filling is very different to the big pork baos.
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. Does it sound like a challenge? It is! And this skill takes time to acquire.
The good news is that cooking them to perfection is probably the easiest part of all. Use bamboo steamers if you have them, or else stainless steel vegetable steamers work just as well. If you are using a stainless steel steamer, you will need to put a kitchen towel over the top tier and under the lid to prevent water dripping down on the xiao long bao during cooking. Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the base of the steamer and cut out lots of small holes to let the steam through during cooking. If you have muslin, this would give an even better result.
Xiao Long Baos are traditionally served in layers of bamboo steamers that they are cooked in – they look cool and keep the xiao long baos hot and moist. Bamboo naturally retains moisture well. 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 picture below) 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 broth inside.
Do take care not to burn your mouth when taking a bite, as the broth is hot. Place one in a soup spoon to retain the broth. They are one of my favourite starters. Enjoy!