What a beautiful afternoon it was at Zi Yean Restaurant, with Chef Fok dressed to the nines in his signature chef's white, with his name embroidered proudly over his left chest. The room was filled, almost to maximum occupancy, all eager homemakers hoping to learn a thing or two from the highly-appraised Chef. The highlight of today's class were the Xiao Long Bao skin making and Cat Ear's noodles, and everyone was almost clamouring to get to the front row, not wanting to miss out on any detail or valuable advice given.
Chef Fok started by using our Blue Jacket Bread Flour to make the Xiao Long Bao skin. Xiao Long Baos are these meat dumplings, wrapped with a very thin flour-based skin and traditionally steamed in small bamboo baskets (hence the name literally means small basket dumplings). After steaming, the sweet juices from the meat is expelled, trapped inside the dumpling, making it more of a soup dumpling and far more delectable than other standard meat dumplings. While it seems simple in theory - dump some meat into a bao skin, steam and enjoy - Chef Fok assures us that its normal not to get it right the first time, or even up to the first 10 times. Qualified chefs in 5 star restaurants train for many months, years even, just to perfect the skill of making the dough for the skin and the proper method used to wrap the dumplings.
The perfect Xiao Long Bao comes down to 2 basic factors - the meat filling and the skin, and the class focused solely on the skin-making. What makes a good Xiao Long Bao skin is how thin the skin can be, such that it wouldnt be too thick and tough, as well as to have a touch of elasticity to it to add a bounce to the texture of the skin. However, if the skin is too thin, the soup might leak and the bao is wasted. On the other hand, the elasticity of the dough is highly dependent on the type of flour used, of which the generic brands cannot achieve such standards. This is why Chef Fok recommends Blue Jacket Bread Flour because not only is the protein content high enough to ensure that the dough has a bouncy feel to it, but also the flour grade is excellent, allowing for stretching and kneading of the dough without breaking or disintegrating midway.
A quick tip that Chef Fok gave for this is to put less filling inside the bao because it may be too heavy (especially with the soup inside after steaming) and might seep through the skin if not done properly. He recommends that for at least the first few times, put less meat and focus more on the skin making and wrapping and once more experienced then should you experiment with adding more meat.
Next on our menu was the Cat Ear's noodle. One of the students pointed out that it seemed like it was the Chinese version of a seashell shaped pasta - and I must agree that it does. This was a rather simple one, starting with a dough made from Blue Jacket All-Purpose Flour. However, Chef Fok made a few changes, one of which was he added salt water as opposed to plain water to the flour. For the Cat Ear's noodles (more like Cat Ear's pasta) the objective is to make it more firm, giving it more mouth-feel, instead of something thin and soft. The usage of salt water actually removes some elasticity from the dough, making it firmer. On the other hand, when making Xiao Long Baos, since the objective is to keep it thin and slightly bouncy, plain water is used instead.
Chef made the dough and kneaded it, then rolled it to form a long, thin strip of dough, with the cross-sectional area around the size of a 10 cent coin. He then cut it into small knobs of dough, and used his thumb to press and slide the dough bits, forming the shape of our Cat Ear's noodle. For the full explanation and video, check out our Instagram post! Afterwards, he made two soup bases, one chicken stock with fresh mushroom an Chinese celery and another spicy Sichuan Mala base to be served with the noodle.