Al Dente: Chicken Dim Sum

The most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten was Dim Sum. It was at Harrod’s, in London, in December 2011. Marguerite and I went there because when you go to London for the first time, Harrod’s is a pretty good idea and like so many other people, we fell victim to the building’s insidious design. You see Harrod’s?

Is a tesseract.

Seriously, the place is like Hogwarts with cash tills. Beautiful, ornate cash tills with brass buttons, run by people who’s family held moneyboxes for the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Maybe. Anyway the point is that Harrods is huge, multi-layered and carefully, precisely designed to funnel you through as many of the shops in there as possible. In the space of two hours, or perhaps, a week, we saw a toy shop, a DVD store, a group of terrified, partially feral Austrian tourists with huge beards, an actual honest to God HMV and the smallest, most padded leather wall gun room I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was utterly weird.

And so obviously by the time we got to the bottom floor and the food hall we were pretty hungry. And Marguerite being a citizen of California and therefore, of the Eastern world slightly more than the Western, suggested we try Dim Sum. We did, it was delicious, lots of steamed buns with subtly flavored meat fillings, all of which I have no doubt felt inferior at not being allowed to be the side of Kobe beef on the butcher’s counter nearby that cost slightly more than my rent for three months.

Eight buns, about the size of my palm. Remember that.

Eight.

Palm.

£54

To be fair we had water as well, and, to be fair, the water was REALLY good, but let’s face it for 54 pounds the water pretty much should have given us both a neck rub and bought us a taxi home. It was particularly hilarious as, living on the West Coast, Marguerite’s used to Dim Sum places being small, cheap, family restaurants. She kept the receipt and, when we ate at Dim Sum places in Fremont in the summer, which we did more than once, it never ceased to amaze us. The meal, for both of us, never topped about 30 bucks, which is about 15 pounds or, how much I would have had to pay to breathe three feet nearer to that Kobe beef. Completely bizarre.

It was also, it must be said, just a little bit rock and roll.

Especially as Dim Sum is both really easy and MASSIVE fun. So today, here, we’re making Chicken Dim Sum! Victor! Usual Suspects! See to it!

So, once again we’re singing from the hymn sheets of St Jamie of Oliver and the ingredients you’re looking at are:

-Flour

-Creamed Coconut

-Chicken fillets

-Mushrooms

-Hoi Sin sauce

-Rice Wine vinegar

-Soy sauce

-Cucumber

Now, let’s talk about the stuff that WON’T be happening. St Jamie recommends toasting some sesame seeds, sorting out some pickled ginger, scattering red chillies over the top, steaming some stem broccoli to go along with the mushrooms and generally rolling the whole thing in coriander and then going and playing basketball for half an hour.

Those last two may have been an exaggeration.

What ISN’T, however, is that we don’t have any sesame seeds (Nor does Nottingham apparently), red chillies, pickled ginger and all that malarkey. So, like the slogan says, you get what you get, so don’t get upset.

Onwards! To steaming!

This is a block of cream of coconut. It doesn’t taste like Bounty Bar. It doesn’t even taste like much other than slightly coconutty soap. Trust me I tried.

So here’s what you do. You put that in a bowl, drop 300 ml or so of warm water on the top of it and immersion blend it like your capacity to have coconut milk depends on it. Remember that noise last week? The one that sounds like you’re doing horrible things to a remote control aeroplane that is NOT okay with it? That noise is back. Blend it down until it’s a slightly thicker than water mixture and then go measure out 500g of self raising flour.

Which we didn’t have.

Which is not actually a problem. You see you can make flour self raising flour really easy. Measure it out in cups and for every cup of it you have, add one teaspoon baking powder and one quarter teaspoon salt. Then, whisk it all together and boom, instant self raising flour.

So, 500g of that, and 300 ml of the coconut milk and a new toy. In this case, a hand mixer. The good news is you’re no longer murdering that small plane. The better news is this is FUN and it coagulates really quickly and even better? The dough isn’t sticky at all. Now I’m a sucker at the best of times for non-sticky dough because it’s so much easier to work with (On the Kitchen Asshole Hierarchy, sticky dough sits directly underneath brown rice) and it’s even more welcome with a new recipe. Plus there’s something magical about seeing the ingredients change from two things in a bowl, to well, this:

Then comes the really really fun part. Because what you’re doing is making buns and whilst glonking them off the dough mother with an icecream scoop sounds fun, there’s a much funner way to do it. Flour a surface, and drop the dough on it, then roll it out into a cylinder. Actually, rolling it out doesn’t work. What works much better? Is just use your hands. Yes, I am aware that this means you’re effectively strangling the dough (A bit) but trust me it does work. Think of it as a long tube of delicious, edible toothpaste. That you then slice into eight. It’s not a good metaphor I know, but it does work. Roll each one in your hands and then drop them into either a muffin cup or, if you’re lucky, a silicone bakeware muffin cup. These are completely durable, near enough indestructible and crucially, squishy. Because trust me, when you have these guys ready to go, you’re going to need them to be squishy.

Cut a slit in the top of each bun, as I did there and then put them in a steamer. This is, again, really easy to do. We have a pot with a steamer you just drop onto the top. Bamboo steamers work too an I’d imagine putting a tray of boiling water in the oven, the buns on the next shelf up and letting nature take its course would work too. What I did, was put about three quarters of a kettle of boiling water in the pan, squish the buns into the steamer, put the lid on and leave it.

Next up, fun with poultry. Chop the chicken into 1 cm long strips, or, if you’re me, hack at it and eventually just throw it in the pan muttering about how it’s clearly been talking to the brown rice. Then, Jamie recommends steaming some sprouting broccoli and mushrooms. Which I’m sure is lovely, but as I don’t have them, I chopped some mushrooms and dropped them in the pan with the chicken and three tablespoons of Hoi Sin sauce. Never had Hoi Sin before? It’s great, like a mildly hot, brown ketchup. Which apparently causes images to blur.

Next up, pickle. This is incredibly easy; just drop a tablespoon of rice wine and soysauce in the bottom of a bowl and slice up a cucumber. I used a vegetable peeler for this because it produces wafair theen strips. Not all of them will be complete. Or neat. Or make it to the bowl, but that’s fine, because what does will taste great. The clean, watery cucumber and the vinegar really complement one another and the red chillies of St Jamie would go really well here too. Plus this is really fast. Ribbon the cucumber, drop some of it, wash it, nearly ribbon your finger, eat some in frustration, finish it off then pour the rice wine vinegar and soy in, stir it round and you’re done.


See? Walk in the park. The delicious park made of cucumber and seasonings. Hey is the squash done yet?

Nope. What about the buns?

Yes! And they get BIG in the steaming process too. When I made this, I was actually a little bit ahead of schedule. Didn’t matter a jot. These huge pillowy coconut grenades will sit quite happily until you’re ready for them. Think of them as dumplings, just without the capacity for large scale property damage that Paddington’s dumplings pioneered.

Serve the chicken, then the buns and then, take the ‘how much does it look like the book?’ picture. Victor?

There you go. That’s actually pretty close, everything’s even the same colour! The only major differences are the things I didn’t have the ingredients for.

Things I Learned:

-Pickle is very fun and easy to make.

-Missing ingredients can be worked around.

-Less sauce actually makes for tastier food. Again because it was on slightly longer than normal, the sauce was almost completely absorbed.

-Steamed buns aren’t just hilarious, they’re also both delicious and tasty.

-I want to make more kinds of Dim Sum.

-Taking pictures from a slight distance works wonders.

So there you go, Chicken Dim Sum, simple, fun, tasty and about a thousand percent cheaper than Harrods. Although we could do with a faux Egyptian escalator, it’d really brighten up the place.

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