Lots of pig going on right now...
I became intrigued at the Cooks Illustrated recipe for shu-mai a month ago. When trying to gain experience with a technique or dish to use as a springboard for later projects, the CI recipes are usually great starting points. They offer full explanations to back up the thinking and even tell you why certain attempts did not meet success. The shu-mai recipe seemed like good logic except for 2 things... the removal of the fat (I mean c'mon!) and removal of MSG. Now, I don't go around throwing MSG into everything I cook, and we don't even keep it in the house, but... I won't hesitate to eat it when used very moderately and it serves an obvious valuable purpose... umami. I ended up using a substitute ingredient, but more on that later.
Once again, it's great having a Chinese translator when searching for authentic recipes. True, just because it's written in Mandarin does not guarantee authenticity... it could be from the Chinese version of Yelp of some other equally lame site. It does, however, double the range of possible recipes.
After getting Ming interested in the project, she pulled together 2 recipes that she felt would be good tries.
This batch ended up being pretty much an all pork deal. A few extra seasonings added in, but mainly focusing on a ratio of pork goodness. We used 200g belly, 600g leg meat (no good translation was provided for me as to whether this meant the hind quarter or shank... I went with the shank because it also came with the next necessary ingredient...), 100g pork skin (boiled for 90 minutes then cooled). These 3 parts went into the food grinder with the small die.
Once ground, the meat was mixed with 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1.5 tsp white pepper powder, 1 Tbsp mirin, 1 tsp koji aji, and about 4 or 5 green onions chopped. This is all mixed together with the hook attachment until fully mixed.
A word on the koji aji... this is my MSG substitute. It is made by Ajinomoto (who are also one of the largest producers of MSG) and it is an umami-enhancing ingredient created through fermentation and other processes they keep secret. Actually, it's not umami, but kokumi. Unlike MSG, koji aji tastes ok on its own. It immediately gives the sensation of that over the top snack chip type of kick your ass flavor boost. Well, that's the best way to describe it. I don't go around throwing it into everything, but used strategically it is a great tool.
The meat mix should be portioned out into balls about 22g each yielding about 3 dozen dumplings.
Wet the edge around a round wonton or dumpling wrapper then place the meat wad in the middle and start crimping and squeezing. There's no real way to describe how to do this. You just got to do it. After about 2 dozen, you'll have an idea on what works for you.
We debated on what shape is actually better here. My preference was far a tapered top, but Ming said this wasn't the true shu-mai shape and it should actually be more cylindrical with a wider opened top. Of course, we ended up making them her way.
The end results were pretty good. These were of the juiciest shu-mai I've ever eaten. That's all due to the fat, of course. One thing that I will incorporate in the future is the addition of a little cornstarch. This was part of the Cooks Illustrated recipe. Our skins did not adhere to the meat fully, and I'm wondering if the cornstarch will help with that. Will the cornstarch be detrimental to the juiciness? Another factor could be that we used dumpling wrappers instead of wontons. The CI recipe also added gelatin, but it was obviously not necessary here since we had the real deal... pig skin. Next time.
When buying the belly and shank for this project, we were left with some excess. The belly was bagged with a marinade and cooked sous-vide for 12 hours then crisped on the grill... served with ice cold soba noodles in Korean sauce. The shanks and their remaining meat were rolled on the grill for a while and smoked then boiled with ginger and green onion. The skin was boiled in this broth for 90 minutes for future use.
This was a good run, and my next try will probably be a devation with some interesting American flavors added. I won't tell you what they are now, though.