Depths of delicate flavors, textures, and colors make these steamed shrimp dumplings a richly satisfying treat. And when paired with a hot, sweet, smoky, and slightly tart dipping sauce, they’re ideal for a rather special light-ish lunch or supper.
These generous, two-bite delights are so good they rightfully deserve to be enjoyed as the main attraction — rather than as an appetizing starter.
And why do they justify that top billing? Well, it takes some stern, self-denying willpower to limit yourself to only a pair of them. Really relishing six or seven of these steamed shrimp dumplings is so much more enjoyable. And a perfectly acceptable pleasure it is too.
Purely in terms of numbers, these dumplings are a bit like oysters. If you love those beauties, then you’ll know that a dozen fresh, plump ones make an exceptional meal, especially with some fine bread and butter alongside.
Different attitudes to time
In the cooking that I grew up with and is still most familiar to me — let’s call it Western cooking — short prep times are typically followed by longer cooking times. As a broad rule of thumb, that split is completely reversed in Oriental cooking — preparation times are longer and cooking times are short.
In his excellent guide book, Foolproof Chinese Cookery, (affiliate link folks) Ken Hom explains that this difference is partly due to a historical lack of cheap, readily available cooking fuel across most of China. So, fast cooking became the norm, and care was taken to ensure food was prepared in ways that best suited that type of cooking.
Years ago, when I first began to attempt Chinese food, it took a while for this simple logic to sink in. I’m glad it did. I eventually realized that if something only takes a few minutes to cook, then it’s just dandy to spend far more time preparing it. Especially when the result is as fabulous as these dumplings.
The wonder of steaming
Har Gow — shrimp dumplings — are a famous feature of Cantonese cuisine, and one of the most popular types of many, many small delicacies collectively called dim sum.
Traditionally, Har Gow are steamed, as opposed to being fried or poached — or fried-and-poached. Steaming makes perfect sense because it keeps the flavor-focus right where it should be — on the shrimp filling. And because steaming is such a physically gentle way of cooking, it means the filling for each dumpling can be enfolded within an ultra-thin, almost transparent, pastry wrapping.
Dumpling folding — it can be easy…or tricky
Our steamed shrimp dumplings recipe follows the easy route. And I mean very easy. Three folds, some firm pinching, done. There are many other ways to do this, and, with Har Gow especially, the most artful forms of dumpling folding look like prize-winning works of high-skill origami.
For me, the most important thing is that the gorgeous filling is completely sealed within its little wrapper– and will stay that way as it steams. I aim for neatness and making them all look pretty much alike. And that is surprisingly easy. It really is.
The fiery dipping sauce
This is a powerful, striking contrast to the delicate flavors of our Har Gow. But it’s a contrast that works marvelously well. Chili, garlic, mirin, soy, and vinegar are mixed with a little sugar to create a rich explosion of stand-out flavors. The sauce by no means overpowers the dumplings, but actually does the opposite — it highlights their layers of tastes.
And a little goes a long, long way — this one’s hot. I used fresh, red Bird’s Eye chilies (a.k.a. Thai peppers) that were seriously fiery. But the Har Gow just lapped up the dipping sauce. And, thankfully, I wasn’t having to restrict myself to a just a pair of them. Six — ok, maybe it was seven — were right on the money for a great lunchtime treat.
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings With Fiery Dipping Sauce
For the shrimp filling
- 1 pound raw shrimp roughly chopped into 1/8-inch dice (*see notes)
- 3 spring onions or scallions, finely chopped – the nice, crisply firm green parts, and all the white
- 2 tablespoons bamboo shoots very finely chopped. I used the canned variety, and they’re just dandy when well rinsed and drained.
- 1 tablespoon ginger fresh and finely grated
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
For the dipping sauce
- 4 red Bird’s Eye chilies finely chopped, seeds and all
- 1 clove garlic peeled and thoroughly mashed
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons mirin
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 3 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon water
For the dumpling wrappers
- 1 package dumpling wrappers or wonton skins, ** see notes
For the shrimp filling
- In a good size mixing bowl thoroughly stir together all the ingredients except the diced shrimp. You want to make sure the sugar and salt become fully dissolved into the mix.
- When that’s done, carefully – and I mean carefully – stir in the shrimp so that it just gets barely coated with all the other ingredients. You want the shrimp to stay diced, and not get stirred so much that it all turns to mush. Good. Filling ready.
For the dipping sauce
- Thoroughly stir all the ingredients into a pretty, microwave-proof serving bowl.
- Heat the sauce on high in the microwave for 1 minute. Why heat the sauce? Well, it’s a great way to pull out the flavors of the chili and garlic in particular, and also encourage all the other ingredients to blend together nicely.
- Stir again thoroughly to really make sure the sugar has all dissolved. Sauce done.
Making the dumplings
- You should be able to fill each dumpling wrapper with about 2 heaped teaspoons of the shrimp filling. I was using square wrappers, so made slightly squarish dumplings.
- Spoon the filling diagonally across the wrapper’s centre so it forms an oval shape that’s higher in the middle than at its ends. You want the ends of the oval shape to extend to within about a 1/3 of inch of the wrapper’s two opposite corners. The middle of the oval heap needs to stay about 3/4 of an inch from the other two corners. Good.
- Now use a little water on your fingertip to slightly wet a ¼-inch all around the wrapper’s outside edges.
- Pull two of the sides together so that they meet over the top of the filling at its highest central point, and pinch them firmly together. You’ll now have a tringle shape with the filling in the middle, and two ends of the wrapper still open.
- Fold one open end up to meet the top of the triangular parcel and pinch it shut. Now spoon a little more of the filling into the open end. Nearly done.
- Now close the other end so it matches its opposite number, and pinch it shut at the top of the dumpling.
- It should now look like an almost square dumpling with sides that rise up to join at the top. Grand. Repeat the process until you’ve used all the shrimp filling.
Steaming the dumplings
- A 12-inch, bamboo steamer with three trays and a lid is grand for this, but a steel steamer works just as well. The important thing is to line the steaming trays with some lightly oiled, greaseproof paper. Lightly oiled is really important – it makes sure that the dumplings don’t stick to the paper as they steam. I used a little plain coconut oil for this, just enough to give the paper a glistening coating on its upper surface.
- I cut out some rounds of greaseproof paper slightly smaller than the trays’ insides, and then used a sharp-pointed knife to carefully pierce a dozen or so ¼-inch slits all over the paper as it sat in its tray. This bit of effort matters because it will allow the steam to flow up and around the dumplings as they cook.
- Space the dumplings across each lined tray with a good inch between each dumpling – they do swell slightly as they steam, and you don’t want them expanding into one another and sticking together.
- When the water in your steamer is at a good boil, add the dumplings and cover the steamer. Make sure the water stays at the boil and let the dumplings steam for 6 minutes. That’s it – dumplings done.
- Serve at once with the dipping sauce alongside so folks can help themselves.