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by Alison Wonderland Tucker
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mise-en-placeYesterday afternoon, I was lost in a meditative moment of nothingness while pleating dumpling skins around mound of shrimp filling.  A gentle fall breeze had been blowing through my kitchen window, transforming the room from a sweaty summer dungeon to an autumn playpen.

A podcast of This American Life was playing in the background and it would drop in and out of my consciousness as I prepped my food for the day.  My fingers danced through my mise en place bowls, filled with carefully prepped components of the dish I was focused on.  It all came together in perfect harmony, with me paying very little attention.

Do you want to know a secret?  Cooking is the easiest thing I do.  I don’t mean that in a nasty “Pah ha, I’m so awesome at my job” kind of way.  I just mean that, once I’ve made it to the actual cooking part of my job, I know that my mind (body, soul) knows what to do.  By the time I’ve arrived in the kitchen, I have spent hours working with the client to specify the preferred regional cuisine, protein specific, dietarily proactive meal of their dreams and formulated a procedure and plan to carry out said dream meal. 

I’ve scribbled notes in margins of cookbooks, bookmarked websites online, written and rewritten shopping and prep lists.  I’ve been to stores when the doors first open for the day, trying to avoid lingering browsers or worse -the families with two shopping carts and children (often on razor scooters in the store – what???).  I’ve flirted with butchers and fish mongers (a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do) to get the best cuts and deals.  I’ve scheduled servers and bartenders.  I’ve drawn out timelines of the dream scenarios for set up, course service, breakdowns, and cleanup.  By the time I get to the kitchen, most of the tough stuff is done.  I welcome the quiet moments of chopping and measuring.

shrimpshumaiNot that I’m complaining about all that either.  I love the ying/ yang of my job. Both sides of my brain need to be ready for action when I’m working. My connection with cooking has always felt private and personal, though the performer in me wants to show it all off.  Christ, I have a lot of personalities.  I guess I’m lucky I’ve found a career for all of them.

Anyway, I was making Shrimp Shumai for a new client and I was thinking “Shrimp Shumai are really fantastic.  They’re relatively cheap, not bad for you as many oft-served fried Asian apps are, and they’re kind of fun to make.  I think these might be blog worthy.”  See that?  I’m always thinking of you.

For those of you out there who do not (yet) have the finances to hire a private chef or caterer, I highly recommend these for your next party.  I know that many people buy frozen shumai but I think that you’ll see the little additional time making them from scratch is well worth it.  

The difference is monumental.  And actually, you can make and then freeze your own shumai, saving time and stress on party day.  I promise, homemade shumai are really impressive, totally addictive and not that much effort.  I always add a few star anise to the steaming water for additional aromatic flavor (and it makes your kitchen smell nice too).

Shrimp Shumai

Makes about 40

  • 1/3 cup water chestnuts
  • ¼ cup chives
  • 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable (not olive) oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 package round shumai wrappers (or wonton skins)
  • 2 or 3 star anise

By Food Processor:

  1. In a food processor, pulse water chestnuts and chives for a second or two to chop lightly.  Add the shrimp and pulse a few more times to chop but not liquefy the shrimp.  Put into bowl.
  2. Add ginger, sesame oil, vegetable oil, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, and soy sauce into bowl with shrimp and mix well.
  3. Place a bowl of water next to your work surface.  Place shumai wrapper on work surface and paint some water around the edge of the wrapper with your fingertip.  Place about a tablespoon of the shrimp mixture in the center and gently fold the skin sides up around the filling, pleating as you go.  Don’t stress too much about the way they look.  I think everyone makes slightly different shumai- some folded up completely around the filling, some open like a flower, some tied with a chive at the top.  It all tastes the same, so see what makes you happy and go for it.
  4. Fill a large pan or wok with about 1-2 inches of water and star anise and bring to a boil.  Line a steamer basket or bamboo steamer with parchment and place into the pan.  Place the shumai on top of the parchment about 1 inch apart, cover, and cook for about 6-8 minutes.  Serve with dipping sauce.

By Hand:

  1. Finely chop water chestnuts and chives.
  2. Chop shrimp into small pieces and mix with water chestnuts and chives in a bowl.
  3. Add ginger, sesame oil, vegetable oil, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, and soy sauce into bowl with shrimp and mix well.
  4. Place a bowl of water next to your work surface.  Place shumai wrapper on work surface and paint some water around the edge of the wrapper with your fingertip.  Place about a tablespoon of the shrimp mixture in the center and gently fold the skin sides up around the filling, pleating as you go.  Don’t stress too much about the way they look.  I think everyone makes slightly different shumai- some folded up completely around the filling, some open like a flower, some tied with a chive at the top.  It all tastes the same, so see what makes you happy and go for it.
  5. Fill a large pan or wok with about 1-2 inches of water and star anise and bring to a boil.  Line a steamer basket or bamboo steamer with parchment and place into the pan.  Place the shumai on top of the parchment about 1 inch apart, cover, and cook for about 6-8 minutes.  Serve with dipping sauce.
If you are steaming shumai that you have made and then frozen, take out of the freezer 20 minutes before steaming.

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot sesame oil or chili oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chives, chopped
  1. Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix.

 

Alison Wonderland Tucker is a chef and caterer who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her love of food and life as a chef on her blog A Wonderland of Words.  

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