November 29, 2022

Sui Mai - Chinese Steamed Dumpling 燒賣

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We're getting serious about dim sum 點心!  What is dim sum?  It's the Cantonese version of tapas, small servings of savoury or sweet bite-sized delicacies, enjoyed with cups of fragrant tea during the ritual of morning tea, known as 'yum cha 飲茶'.

The sui mai 燒賣 is one of the most iconic of these Chinese dim sum treats.  It's certainly one of the most visually distinctive with its yellow skin and orange sprinkles on top.  Also a crowd favorite, so popular in fact that it has popped out of the dim sum restaurants and into a new life as a street food.  It's widely available at corner stores and convenience stores.  Sui mai has become the snack du jour!

These street level sui mai are quite delicious of course but they are very simplified forms of the original sui mai dim sum.  Today we’re going to make the traditional sui mai 燒賣 as served in the dim sum teahouses:  savory juicy morsels of pork and shrimp wrapped in a delicate skin and topped with that classic bit of orange roe.

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Most of the sui mai recipes you see these days are simply stuffed with pork and a bit of fresh shrimp.  That's pretty yummsy, however, traditional sui mai actually has two parts, a bottom filling and a top filling, giving this little morsel a delightfully complex taste and texture.  

The bottom filling starts with emulsifying the ground pork.  Emulsifying is the process of getting the fat and the meat of the pork to combine enough that they become as one and thus do not separate when cooked.  Properly emulsified meat also holds liquid better, thus giving you a juicer sui mai.  

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The trick to emulsifying meat is to stir slowly in one direction.  The other trick is to use ice!  Um, probably better to use crushed ice, it took forever for my darn ice cubes to melt!  Keeping the meat cold will prevent the fat from separating and counteract any heat created by the mixing process.

Stir, stir, stir til the ice is incorporated into the paste.  We did it by hand but a stand mixer can be used as well, just keep the stirring slow so as to keep any heat created by mixing as low as possible.

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The meat is now emulsified.  See how the meat and the fat are melded together?  It's gonna be pretty sticky too but that just what it needs to be.

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Time to toss in the sui mai pork paste seasonings: sugar, dash white pepper, fragrant sesame oil and dried flounder fish powder.  Let me tell you a bit about that last unusual seasoning.  Dried flounder fish powder 大地魚粉 is made from ground up dried flounder fish.  

This incredibly fragrant fish powder is traditionally used to add  incredible umami oomph to wonton soup.  If you've every had really good wonton soup and wondered what the heck made it so delicious, well, you're looking at it.

Look for this powder at your asian grocery store, or if in HK, at your local wet market.  You can also buy the whole dried fish and grind it to powder yourself.  (Or get it online here.)

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Besides the pork, the sui mai bottom filling only has two other ingredients:  juicy bites of fresh shrimp and small chewy morsel bits of reconstituted Chinese dried shitake mushroom.  Flavor and texture contrast.

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Just fold in these last two ingredients and your juicy bottom filling is done.  This is how the bottom paste should look when it's done.  Luscious bits of shrimp and nubs of mushrooms peeking out of a thick paste.  And it's smelling so fragrant!  

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Now it’s time to make the top filling of the sui mai.  The top filling of the sui mai is completely made from shrimp, creating a tender yet chewy sea sweet contrast to the bottom filling of juicy savory pork.   You will just need fresh shrimp ( I like to use frozen whiteleg shrimp) and some seasonings.

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It's easy to make the paste, just blitz the shrimp and seasonings and starch until a thick, bouncy, sticky paste is formed.  Ta-da!  Just like that your shrimp paste is ready to use.  This is my personal favorite part of the sui mai.

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Both fillings are now done and it’s time to wrap!  The siu mai uses a distinctive yellow tinted flour dough wrapper.  These can be found at stores that sell fresh noodle products.  Look for such stores at your local wet market.  

You can use either round or square wrappers.  If you use square ones just cut off the corners.  Or leave the corners on, they kinda look cute.

You can also make your own sui mai wrappers like we did (homemade sui mai wrappers here).  It’s easy to do, just takes a bit of time and a pasta machine.  I love busting out my pasta machine!

Don’t substitute with thick dumpling wrappers, those won’t work, you don't want to end up with a sui mai that's mostly wrapper.  Get the thin wrappers so that your sui mai will have a thin delicate skin that will not over power the yummiliciously meaty morsel inside.

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To wrap the sui mai first scoop a scoop of bottom pork filling onto the wrapper.  Then top that with a pat of the top shrimp filling. Bring the wrapper up and around the filling to achieve a cylindrical shape.  

It helps achieve the proper shape if you hold as per above photo. Turn and tuck filling down and in, repeat, until the sui mai is sealed.  The dumpling seal is achieved by making sure the sticky shrimp top paste completely covers the bottom filling and adheres to the wrapper all around.

See our detailed post on how to wrap a perfect siu mai, tips and tricks, the problems we encountered and how we fixed them.

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The final touch is to add a tiny scoop of fish roe (or the traditional crab roe) to the top.  You can also use a bit of finely diced carrot.  

Once wrapped you can freeze any sui mai that you’re not gonna eat right away.  For the ones you want to gobble up right away, line steamer with parchment paper, place sui mai in and steam away. 

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Sui mai after steaming

In a very short time your sui mai will be ready.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  No wonder they’ve become so iconic cuz they really are a visual treat.  As for the taste?  Wowzer, I kinda can’t believe I made these cuz they taste so amazing!!  

More Dim Sum adventures coming up soon at The Hong Kong Cookery, so stay tuned!

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See the different layers in the traditional sui mai?

Siu Mai Dim Sum Recipe 燒賣
(adapted from Dim Sum in Hong Kong by Leung Wai Shan)
(makes 32 pieces)  Prep time: 20 mins  Wrap time: 15 mins  Cook time: 15 mins


    Bottom Filling:
   Top Filling:
  • 5 1/2 oz fresh shrimp, 154g
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp potato starch
  • 1/8 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 1/4 tsp sugar


Make the Bottom Filling:  Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for several hours until soft.  Slice off and discard the stem.  Finely dice the mushroom caps.

Peel shell and remove intestine of shrimp if any.  Separate to two piles, one 13 oz (375g) pile and one 5 1/2 oz (154g) pile.  Reserve the smaller pile for the top filling.  Take the larger 13 oz pile and chop each shrimp into 1/2 inch long pieces.

Add salt and cold water and potato starch to minced pork.  Stir slowly in one direction only until thick paste is formed.  You can also use a mixer to do this, just keep the setting at lowest speed to minimize heat from mixing process.

Once a rough paste is formed, add in ice cubes and continue stirring until ice melted and incorporated with the paste.  The meat and the fat should be incorporated into one thick, sticky cohesive paste.

Add in diced mushroom, sugar, white pepper, sesame oil and dried fish powder and stir until evenly mixed.  Fold in chopped shrimp.

Make the Top Filling:  Take the 5 1/2 oz (154g) pile of shrimp and add it to a food processor along with the salt and the potato starch.  Blitz at high speed until a thick very sticky paste is formed.  Add in sesame oil, sugar and blitz a couple secs to mix.

Wrap the Siu Mai:  Scoop 1 rounded tbsp of bottom filling onto the middle of one sui mai wrapper.  Place 1 tsp top filling over bottom filling.  The amounts might have to be adjusted to the size of your wrapper.  The ratio of bottom filling to top filling should be 4:1.

Bring the wrapper up around the sui mai filling, forming a round cylinder shape while leaving the top open.  Press down on the filling with a slim spatula, turn a bit and repeat.  Shape the sui mai to make sure there are no air pockets and that the top filling covers the bottom filling completely.  

Importantly, be sure to seal the sui mai by making sure the sticky top filling is pressed firmly to the wrapper all around.   Make sure the sui mai is balanced on a flat bottom.

Repeat for the rest of the fillings and wrapper.  To finish, scoop a bit of roe into the center of each sui mai, pressing lightly down on the roe to secure.

At this point you can freeze any sui mai you want for future sui mai snack attacks.  Just set future sui mai onto a tray and stick in freezer until they are hard enough to hold its own shape.  At this point the sui mai can be tossed into a ziplock bag to finish the freeze.  

For immediate eating of sui mai, prepare a steamer lined with parchment paper.  Place sui mai into steamer, not touching.  Steam over low heat for 15 mins.  

Eat sui mai when hot and delicious.  Enjoy!