Monday, March 19, 2012

Taiwanese Beef Patties, Breaded Shrimp Balls, Stuffed Tofu Puffs and Pot Stickers

I need to explain something before I begin. The amount of Mandarin I can understand and communicate is less than a two-year old child. And Jimmy’s mom (who I’ll refer to ask JM for the rest of the article) doesn’t speak much English either.

Sometime back around mid-October...

JM came over for a visit during the month. We were sitting at my grandma's dining table after dinner, having a chat over some hot tea. I could only understand because there were translators (parents) at the table. The conversation switched to my trip to Taiwan in 2010.

While flipping through my pictures (the link will redirect you to my Flickr set of the trip) from my trip to Asia, JM noticed that I had more photos of food than everything else. She said that she was actually formally trained and certified as a cook/chef (I’m not totally sure because the translations were confusing) back in Taiwan. JM, like Mom, said that she knew how to make dumplings and a few other snacks from scratch. She had asked me what I liked to eat, so I was telling her my love for dumplings, noodles, soup and dim sum. She spoke at a quicker pace and kept firing questions my way. Apparently she had said that she wanted to cook for us and she had asked me what I wanted to eat.  What did I just do?

JM really wanted to flex her cooking skills and teach me how to make Chinese hamburgers (niu rou xian bing), they're more like flaky beef patty snacks than the hamburgers, and pot stickers (guotie). I thought she asked me what I wanted to eat when I visited Taiwan... Time to roll up the sleeves.





The following afternoon, JM took over the kitchen and delegated tasks after we picked up some groceries. Ground pork, shrimp, garlic and green onions were minced together first.




To that, fish paste, hon dashi granules, tofu, ginger, breadcrumbs, egg whites, cornstarch, soy sauce, and white pepper were mixed into the mince. JM explained that she was going to use the mince in a variety of different ways.




First up, she demonstrated how to make the large breaded shrimp balls. The super sticky mince was made into a few uniform balls, but then she handed me the reins. Let’s just say that they’re rustic. These would be deep fried in peanut oil.

While I was working on the breaded shrimp balls, JM began making the dough for the pot stickers and beef patties. The way she worked in the kitchen was quite different from our family’s relaxed approach. It’s probably because she was formally trained. For example, she used a wooden spoon to pull it together instead of mixing the dough with her hands. Mom was right beside JM every step of the way, learning and watching with curiosity.


When the dough was put in a warm oven to rise, JM took out some tofu puffs and began stuffing them with the shrimp mince. These looked very familiar. I recognized these from seeing these eaten by fellow food bloggers. I’ve actually never had these during dim sum. The shrimp paste was topped with sesame seeds. These would be steamed.



The last use of the mince was in the form of rolled bean curd sheets (aka tofu skins) with the help of a slurry of cornstarch. These rolls are frequently seen during dim sum. JM said that we could either steam or deep-fry them.


A pot of miso soup, made with the white shiro miso paste, hon dashi, ginger, green onions and tofu sat warm on the stove for whoever wanted soup. Before someone accidently boiled the soup and made it bitter, the soup tasted pretty good. The addition of the hon dashi gave the soup a deeper and rounder taste to the soup.






JM switched her attention to the yeast dough, which had been rising in the warm toaster oven. She was happy with it and started to make the different components for the Chinese hamburgers (or flaky beef patties). She set aside about half of the dough for the pot stickers.

In a mixing bowl, she mixed flour and vegetable oil together until it turned into something like moist sand. This was crutial to making the dough flaky. On a disc of dough, JM added the oily flour, pressed it down, rolled the disc into a log, then twisting the log into a spiral before flattening the spiral of dough.


One of the rolled dough was too large so it was cut in half. Check out all the layers! JM said that if we wanted to make green onion pancakes (aka scallion pancakes), we could just add green onions before the last rolling, twisting, and flattening.





As Mom and Lucy took over the tricky task of creating those, JM made the beef patty filling by mixing ground beef, garlic, green onions, ginger, oyster sauce, and white pepper. Then the discs of flaky pastry were wrapped around the mince beef. Apparently these are known as Chinese hamburgers. Each of the round pastries were about the size of your palm. Just as all of the beef mince and flaky pastry were used up, JM just finished everything by making two large layered patties (niu ruo bing) instead of making a bunch of smaller ones.



JM showed Dad how to fry the patties and breaded shrimp balls on medium heat, as the stuffed tofu and some rice rolls were steaming. The low heat meant that the bread crumbs practically turned translucent from absorbing all the oil.

While snacking on a breaded shrimp ball, Henry's eyes began to water and he began to complain that it was spicy. We all thought he was crazy because JM didn't add any much pepper at all. Then after a second batch was fried up, we saw chunks of garlic when the shrimp balls were cut up. Can you see the large chunks of garlic? Yikes…


This was a slice of one of the two large layered patties. It was very juicy, which made some of the pastries soggy. The filling was garlicky and was a bit salty, similar to Jimmy’s beef patties. So these patties were his inspiration for the beef patties.



As for the small round niu rou xian bing, here it is, in all of it's glory. Cutting into them was a bad mistake. All of the precious juices leaked out.


Steamed store bought rice rolls were served hot with a mix of soy, hoisin, chili sauce, and sugar.



JM had made another pork filling earlier and took it out. She showed us how to make the dumplings before she left to check the stove. Lucy and I continued to wrap them. Meat cannoli anyone?

As we wrapped and other people cleaned, we all continued to snack on the stuffed and rolled tofu, as well as the beef patties.


After the third round of beef patties, JM showed Dad how to cook the pot stickers properly. On medium heat, the pan was drizzled with enough oil to coat the bottom. She let the oil heat up for a minute and then added the pot stickers.

She covered the pan with the lid and let it cook for a minute. Then she poured a slurry of flour and water into the pan and then covered the pan again to let the dumplings steam. The point of mixing the slurry of flour and water was not only to steam the dumplings, but the flour would crisp up and form a crisp lace. This was the second part of the fry-steam-fry method. The photo above was taken before the slurry was added.



As the last bits of water evaporated, JM stood over the pan and made sure the bottoms crisped up again – without burning. The pot stickers were served hot with a side of a dipping sauce made of chili bean sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, and a bit of peanut oil. The crisped up lace weren't as pretty as I've seen on other blogs. That's fine, we can always master that at a later time.

I really think that the fry-steam-fry method is the best way to cook pot stickers. We've tried boiling dumplings then crisping them up, but it just didn't work as well. I'll explain the fry-steam-fry method in more detail in another post.

We ended up cooking throughout the afternoon and evening. It was quite the experience. Not only did I learn to make all these dishes, but it was also neat to see Mom so eager to pick up everything. To Lucy and my amusement, Mom was school a few times by JM. Pretty impressive stuff.

We left the greasy-smelling kitchen with full bellies at the end of the night.


  1. This looks so amazing! I really appreciate your step by step process in this. It's quite helpful.

    I also have more food photos than anything else. It's super cool how your family/friends teach you all these recipes. I bet that dining table conversation that day was pretty memorable :)

    1. That conversation before the intense cooking lessons was great! Like I mentioned, my parents didn't translate what JM had said very well. The cooking marathon started sometime in the early afternoon and didn't finish until 8ish. Crazy!


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