Our recent trip to London raised our expectations for dim sum, and definitely reinforced our desire to explore more of the higher ends of Chinese dining. At Yauatcha Soho, where we enjoyed both lunch and dinner dim sum, we were introduced to venison puffs, lobster dumplings with caviar and cheung fun with crunchy tofu skin. We enjoyed the restaurant’s aquarium-bordered, sparkly-lit subterranean dining area, with its hip music and hipper waiters. However A. Wong., an equally-Michelin-starred but less bedazzled establishment, is the place that really captured our hearts—and led us to a somewhat laborious but very rewarding way to make pork cracklings.
We were introduced to the cracklings at our initial A. Wong lunch, after Michelle couldn’t get a dinner reservation online. The Chengu street tofu, sweet and sour rib with toasted sesame, crispy wontons with sweet chili jam as well as the pork and shrimp siu mai made us pronounce A. Wong the best dim sum we’d ever had. Perhaps emboldened by his pomegranate seed-studded cocktail, Steve approached the reception stand and asked for any available dinner reservation, which he scored. We thought things couldn’t get better than the dim sum. We were wrong.
The “Taste of China” tasting menu not only featured more of the best dim sum we’ve ever eaten, but also was maybe the best tasting menu we’ve ever experienced, with over two hours of exceptional flavors, accompanied by paired wine and stories from solicitous staff. Shanghai steamed dumplings. Yunnan seared beef with mint. More Chengdu street tofu and, happily, more siu mai with cracklings. It was entertaining, delicious, and left us satiated, not stuffed.
We returned home with a desire to recreate at least a part of our experience. Michelle found a used A. Wong The Cookbook online. When it arrived we found several dishes we’d eaten. Some were beyond our abilities (crispy foie gras with air-dried sausage and pomelo, for example) but we were sure we could handle pork and shrimp dumplings, especially since our butcher had a nice skin-on local pork belly.
The shrimp and pork fillings were fairly simple to make, but Steve ended up using his usual dumpling pasta recipe after trying A. Wong’s boiling water technique and ending up with wet, gloppy dough. The most challenging part was preparing the skin for cracklings. It involved carefully separating the skin from the belly (tips: use a very sharp knife and try to have a flat piece with no folds), then a few hours of simmering followed by a lengthy period of dehydrating. Deep-fried, the skin shards turned delightfully crisp and bubbly, providing a lovely counterpoint to the smooth steamed dumplings.
Taking the time to make the cracklings made us appreciate our A. Wong experience even more. Should we return to London, we can’t help but think we’ll have at least one more meal there no matter how little time we have to spend in the city. Until then, we’ll have these cracklings, which we must confess are delicious with or without the siu mai.
SIU MAI (Pork and Shrimp Dumplings) WITH PORK CRACKLING
(adapted from A. Wong The Cookbook)
Add a piece of pork belly skin to boiling water in a large pan. The size doesn’t matter. We used a piece about 6″ x 8″. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-1/2 hours until soft. Let cool in liquid, then drain. Scrape off any areas of flesh and excess fat, so that it is of uniform thickness, being careful not to rip the skin.
Lay the boiled skin in a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 140° F for about 10 hours, until dried out enough that you can crack off a corner. Cut the dried skin into approximately 1/2″ x 3/4″ rectangles.
Heat several inches of vegetable oil in a small pan to 350° F. Fry several of the skin pieces at a time until puffed up. Drain on a rack.
- 9 oz. peeled raw shrimp
- 2 TB lard
- 1 TB sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp. potato starch
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- 1/3 c. water, steeped with crushed scallion and ginger and drained
Mix ingredients together in a food processor. Process with off and on action until mixed together but shrimp is not completely pulverized.
Remove mixture from processor and place in a bowl.
- 3 oz. ground pork belly
- 1 tsp. light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp. sherry
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of sugar
- Pinch of white pepper
- A few drops of Maggi seasoning (optional)
- 2-1/2 TB water
Mix all ingredients together. Then mix with the shrimp mixture and refrigerate.
- 1-1/3 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 c. cold water
Put flour and salt into bowl of an electric mixer and toss to combine. Add the egg and water. Use the paddle attachment until mixed. Then, switch to the kneading hook and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and springy.
Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes, wrapped in wax paper or plastic wrap.
Cut dough in half. Roll out half by hand with a rolling pin on a floured surface or (much easier) with a pasta machine. The sheet should be quite thin. Cut out circles with a 2-1/2″ round cookie cutter.
Keep remaining half of dough covered until first batch of dumplings is made, to keep from drying out. Then repeat rolling process.
Place a slightly rounded teaspoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper. Pull the sides of the wrapper up around the filling. Lightly squeeze the center between your thumb and index finger to make a “waist” on the “cup.” Flatten top of filling with a finger or a knife. Flatten bottom of the dumpling with your thumb and/or by moving back and forth on a hard, lightly-floured surface.
Place dumplings on a baking sheet and freeze for about 15 minutes to firm up.
Steam for 6-7 minutes.
Serve dumplings with pork cracklings, finely chopped Sichuan pickle and XO sauce.