Har Gao (Shrimp dumplings), the epitome of dimsum artistry

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If you have ever been to a dimsum/yumcha brunch with “real” Chinese people (fyi I am referring to the ones that can hold chopsticks properly and order a full meal in Mandarin/Cantonese), or if you know anything at all about the art of dimsum… you would understand how monumental it is that I, me, made hargao, HARGAO! in a family kitchen, in Saudi Arabia of all places. And if you still don’t see what the big deal is, allow me to explain…

The famous Har Gao or shrimp dumplings, are simple yet elegant bundles of fresh, perfectly cooked prawns wrapped in a delicate, translucent skin and steamed to perfection. Like many dishes in Chinese cuisine, the making of hargao is an art passed down through generations, and when done properly, it is equally pleasing to the sense of sight as well as taste.  It’s quality is one of the benchmarks of the worthiness of any dimsum restaurant, as well as the judge of a dimsum chef’s skills. As Wikipedia describes it,

  • “Traditionally, ha gow should have at least seven and preferably ten or more pleats imprinted on its wrapper. The skin must be thin and translucent, yet be sturdy enough not to break when picked up with chopsticks. It must not stick to the paper, container or the other ha gow in the basket. The shrimp must be cooked well, but not overcooked. The amount of meat should be generous, yet not so much that it cannot be eaten in one bite.”

Har Gao is only like my all time favourite dimsum dish. While most people go for the typical meaty suimai or the sweet egg tarts or the filling BBQ pork buns, my dimsum feast is not complete without the white and pink bundles of steamy goodness. So it is only natural on a sunny Friday after having given a sushi making lesson for 4 hours and while staring at the some nice leftover prawns in the fridge, I decide to attempt making hargao while the bf naps on the couch so he can wake up to fresh, homemade shrimp dumplings and be totally amazed.

My initial search for a hargao recipe turned out disheartening since most recipes call for the elusive wheat starch or 澄粉, a byproduct of extracting gluten from wheat flour. It is commonly used in Cantonese dimsum and pastry items but difficult to procure outside specialty stores and I wouldn’t even dream about finding it in the middle of the Arabian peninsula (that being said, I didn’t really try to look very hard but you wouldn’t either if you were stuck in a city where everything shuts down on a Friday and oh, right, you are not allowed to drive). However, once the idea was in my head, I had to make hargao this afternoon. Luckily a little bit more research revealed that corn starch and tapioca starch, which I have plenty of, can be a substitute by just tweaking the proportions a little.

So by combining a few recipes online, here is what I used to make 18 pieces of Har Gao:

Ingredients;

Filling (12g per dumpling):
1 slice of ginger, thinly minced
1 shiitake mushroom, soaked and thinly minced
12 medium shrimps (220g), shelled and devined, pre-marinate in 1tsp cooking wine and 1tsp salt

Filling Seasoning:
1/2 tsp salt
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of white pepper
1/2 tsp chicken stock powder
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil

Wrapper (12g per dumpling):
85 grams corn starch
25 grams tapioca flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp oil
110 ml boiling water

Method:

Making the filling

1. Soak the shiitake in hot water in a French press to keep it submerged. Leave it over night or as least for a couple hours until fully rehydrated. Squeeze out the water and mince the mushroom finely. Shell and devine the shrimps. Cut each shrimp into 4-5 pieces. Then mince briefly with your knife. Cover the shrimps with plastic wrap and pound with a tenderizer or the back of a cleaver for about a minute.

2. Mix the shrimps with the mushroom and ginger in a bowl in one direction for about a minute. Add the seasonings 1~4, mix for another minute, add corn starch, mix, then add sesame oil. Place the filling in the fridge for about an hour.

Making the wrapper

1. Weigh the corn starch and tapioca starch in a bowl. Add salt and oil and mix well. Make a hole in the middle of the starch and add all the boiling water at once. Mix until the water is absorbed and no powder is visible. Let sit until cool enough to handle (but still warm).

2. Knead briefly with your hands until smooth but not too dry. Adjust with a little bit of corn starch if too sticky, a little bit of water (1tsp at a time) if too dry. Place in bowl and cover with a wet towel and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. Shape the dough in to a long strip, cut into 18 pieces (12g each). Keep the rest covered while working on one piece. Roll the ball out into a 2mm thick circle 10cm in diameter. The dough should be smooth and pliable.

4. Hold the wrapper in one hand, put one spoonful of filling in the middle (12g), and start making pleats on one side until the wrapper forms a pocket. When the pleats are half way around the circle (the same width as the remaining edge), seal the wrapper by pressing the pleated side and the smooth side together. Pinch the two sides until the top forms a U shape, but do not stretch the wrapper as it will break. Cover the finished dumpling with a wet towel and continue with the rest.

Steaming the dumplings:

1. Fill a steamer with about an inch of water and let it come to a boil. Line the steamer with wax paper brushed with some oil. Place the dumplings in the steamer without touching each other (I did 6 at a time in 3 batches).

2. Steam for 6 minutes at medium heat.

3. Serve while hot with Sriracha or X.O. sauce.

Sources:

My awesome friend/kitchen goddess Mandy gives you the lowdown on shrimp dumplings and other culinary delights, no filter required.

http://www.ladyandpups.com/2013/09/09/insights-to-your-shrimp-dumplings-eng/

This lady has a huge repertoire of Youtube videos on making traditional Chinese food. All her videos have English subtitles and clear ingredient list.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mBD2i7cZdM

This is only in Chinese, the page gives a detailed explanation on the difference in starch content between wheat, corn, potato, and tapioca starches and how to calculate the conversion:

http://homeeconomics.pixnet.net/blog/post/66280297

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2 thoughts on “Har Gao (Shrimp dumplings), the epitome of dimsum artistry

  1. Pingback: Being nostalgic with ShuMai and Pearl Meatballs | Sand and lemon mint

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