Pretty much everyone who walks through the door at Nom Wah orders the har gow—the shrimp dumplings. They’re like the pastrami sandwich at Katz’s. Shrimp dumplings are the quintessential measure of dim sum. When it comes to har gow, a restaurant’s caliber is judged on how thin the dumpling wrapper is and how many folds join the wrapper together. The more folds, the higher the quality of the kitchen and the more dexterous the dumpling maker. Dumpling folds are like thread counts in suits but better, because dumplings are more delicious than suits.
Back in the day, we used to make all our dumplings by hand. We’d get eight, ten, even twelve pleats into each dumpling. But it was a laborious process. Making dumplings is traditionally a two-person operation. You have the person who rolls out the dough using the side of a cleaver to press it paper-thin and the person who spoons the filling in and folds. The two work in tandem and fast, since once the dough is rolled out it quickly dries and becomes brittle. We started off that way, but we do crazy volume these days, so a few years ago I dropped 50 Gs on a fancy automatic dumpling-wrapping machine. Now our pleats are molded. Some might call that cheating; I call it innovation.
For most of our dumplings, I recommend buying premade wrappers, but har gow is different. The wrappers are so delicate and thin that we haven’t been able to find a better solution than making the wrappers from scratch. The trick to achieving the crystal skin is using scalding hot water, which allows the starches to dissolve nearly completely.
How to steam: Steaming is perhaps what sets dim sum apart from all other dumpling- loving kitchens of the world. We steam everything at Nom Wah in an industrial Vulcan steamer. At home, I recommend steaming in a wok. Steaming times vary depending on the density and size of what you are steaming. But the general setup to steam in a wok is as follows.
Fill the wok with enough water to come up to the lower rim of the steamer but not so much the waterline is above the food bed. Line the bottom of the steamer with paper or a lotus leaf or something so that the fiddly bits won’t fall through the cracks. (If steaming dumplings or bao, you won’t need to line the steamer.) Place whatever needs steaming in the basket, leaving ample room between items. Bring water to boil and steam for the desired duration. If you need more water—water tends to evaporate—add boiling, not cold, water so as not to stop the steaming.
If you do want to DIY it, just use a plate in a pot. All you need is tinfoil and a plate that fits in your pot. Fill a pot with 1/2 an inch of water. Then make a sort of tripod out of tinfoil by forming three golf ball–sized balls and placing them in the bottom of the pot, making sure their tops rest above the water- line. Rest the plate on the tinfoil, cover, and steam. This method is especially useful when making rice rolls, in which you’ll be using a cake pan instead of the plate. You can put anything in the steamer as long as it isn’t so small that it would tumble through the holes into the roiling waters below.
From The Nom Wah Cookbook by Wilson Tang with Joshua David Stein. Copyright 2020 Wilson Tang. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. —Food52
- Prep time 3 hours
- Cook time 6 minutes
- makes 20 dumplings
raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry, roughly chopped
ground white pepper
toasted sesame oil
wheat starch (or potato starch)
cornstarch (or tapioca starch)
lard (or a neutral oil)
1 1/4 cups
- Make the filling: Mix all the filling ingredients in a large bowl, stirring in one direction for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture starts to look and feel sticky. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour while you prepare the dough.
- Make the dough: Sift the wheat starch (or potato starch) and cornstarch (or tapioca starch) into a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, bring the to a boil over medium-high heat and slowly pour it into the starch mixture, stirring rapidly with chopsticks. Add the lard (or neutral oil) and continue to stir with chopsticks until a loose dough ball forms. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean counter or work surface. Knead the dough by hand for a couple of minutes, until the dough has formed a smooth ball and feels uniform and elastic.
- Roll the dough into a cylinder about 3 inches thick and 1 1/2 to 2 feet long and divide it into 20 equal pieces. Form the pieces into balls. Working quickly and using your hand, flatten each ball into circles about 3 inches in diameter. Cover the dough pieces with a damp paper towel as you make them.
- Dampen a towel under which to keep the rest of the dumpling wrappers while you work. Prepare a parchment-lined baking sheet on which to store the already prepared dumplings. Place 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each dumpling wrapper. Fold the dumpling into a half-moon shape. Hold the dumpling, seam-side up, between your thumb and index finger. Use the index finger and thumb of your other hand to pinch a section of the dumpling edge and pull it toward the web of the holding hand to make a small pleat. Repeat around the edge of the dumpling until you have between 6 and 8 pleats. (Dumplings can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.)
- Set up a steamer following the instructions in the headnote. Working in batches, add the dumplings to the steamer and steam for 6 minutes, until dumpling skin is glossy. Serve immediately.