Shao-Mai Dumplings


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes about 30 dumplings, enough to serve


    as an hors d’oeuvre .

Appears in

These light yet meaty mouthfuls are to south China what pot stickers and jyao-dz are to north China—the standard way of pairing meat with pasta in a fun-to-eat miniature dumpling. Shao-mai means literally “to bake and to sell,” but why steamed dumplings should be called “baked” is beyond my researches. Regardless, these little dumplings with their fluted edges and slightly peppery pork filling are better to eat than to ponder.

  • Shao-mai fillings differ from area to area and from one dim sum tea house to another. My filling is more textured and spiced than most. The minced pork is littered with water chestnuts and crowned with tiny diced carrots, and there is enough ginger and black pepper to betray my north Chinese tastes. To complete the betrayal, I dab the dumplings with a garlic-soy dip—heresy in the south, but glorious on the tongue.
  • Of all Chinese dumplings, these are perhaps the easiest to make. The filling may be mixed in a food processor, and the wrapper requires no special pleating or sealing. Because they are steamed and need no attention while cooking, shao-mai make perfect hors d’oeuvres while you’re readying other dishes.
  • The filling may be made a day in advance, and the dumplings shaped several hours before steaming.

Read more
finished shao-mai dumpling, complete with empire waist and carrot crown, ready to be steamed


  • about 30 shao-mai wrappers, 3 inches in diameter and no more than 1/32-inch thin, freshly bought from a Chinese noodle factory, stamped from thin won ton wrappers with a 3-inch cutter, or homemade

For the filling

  • 6–8 large water chestnuts, fresh best
  • walnut-size nuggets fresh ginger
  • 1 hefty or 2 thin whole scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 pound ground pork butt
  • 2 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To garnish

  • about 5 tablespoons tiny fresh carrot cubes, cut ⅛-inch square Garlic-Soy Dip


Making the filling

Peel fresh water chestnuts. Blanch canned water chesnuts in plain boiling water for 15 seconds, then drain and rush under cold water until chilled. Chop the water chestnuts by hand to a neat, peppercorn-size dice.

Mince the ginger and scallion in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, scraping down as necessary until fine. Distribute the pork around the blade, add the remaining filling ingredients, then process with on-off turns to blend. Do not overprocess to a paste. (If you have a small capacity work bowl, divide the filling ingredients in half and process in two batches.) Scrape the mixture into a bowl, then stir in the water chestnuts by hand.

Alternatively, mince the ginger and scallion finely by hand, and combine with the remaining ingredients and the water chestnuts, stirring in one direction until well blended. Throw the mixture lightly against the side of the bowl 6 or 7 times to compact it.

The filling may be sealed airtight with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface, and refrigerated several hours or overnight before using.

Shaping the dumplings

Arrange the filling, the wrappers, a saucer with the carrots, and a tablespoon side by side on your work surface. Keep the wrappers covered as you work, lest they dry out. Line a baking sheet with silicon (no-stick) parchment paper if you are working in advance. Or, if you will be steaming the dumplings immediately, oil the rack of a bamboo steamer or the surface of a heatproof plate at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your steamer with an even film of sesame oil, so the dumplings will not stick once steamed.

Fill and shape the dumplings one by one. Place 1 scant tablespoon filling in the center of the wrapper. Bring the wrapper up around the filling, as described above in TECHNIQUE NOTES, so it has a “waist.” Then, turn the dumpling over and gently press the meat to the carrots so a crown of the tiny cubes will adhere to the top. Do not press so hard that the dumpling loses its waist, or it will collapse when steamed.

Put the finished dumplings on the baking sheet or steaming rack or plate, spacing them 1 inch apart.

The finished dumplings may be refrigerated on the parchment-lined sheet for several hours, sealed loosely but airtight. Bring to room temperature before steaming.

Steaming the dumplings

(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)

Bring the water in the steaming vessel to a gushing boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a steady steam. (Too furious a steam will encourage the dumplings to collapse.) Add the dumplings to the steamer, cover, and steam 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the steam subside several minutes before slowly lifting the lid and removing the dumplings.

Dribble the top of each dumpling with ⅛–¼ teaspoon Garlic-Soy Dip. Serve immediately, directly from a bamboo steamer or transfer gently by hand to a heated serving platter. In my house this is finger food, meant to be popped into the mouth with only a cocktail napkin needed.

Leftover dumplings may be resteamed until hot, or are tasty snack food at room temperature.