Pros: Authentic; delicious; straightforward and easy; helpful photos
Cons: Some measurement oddities; hard-to-find ingredients
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 1/4/2004
I adore Chinese dim sum–the wonderful spread of tiny appetizer-foods, wrapped parcels, steamed buns, fried things… It’s such a delight to the senses. And it always seemed like one of those things that was really difficult to make at home, until my husband and I found a handful of dim sum cookbooks and discovered that a lot of this stuff is really quite easy (well, to be fair, easy if you like to cook and spend time in the kitchen).
“Chinese Dim Sum” is probably one of the two most “authentic” of the cookbooks we’ve gotten. The recipes are written in both Chinese and English (side-by-side), and many use ingredients that I have no idea how to find (leaf lard?). I can’t read Chinese, but I’d assume that if anything the recipes would be more accurate in Chinese, since they’re likely to have been translated from the Chinese into English. This book was put together by master chef Chang Hung-Chin and the Wei-Chuan Cooking School, and the copyright is held by the Wei-Chuan Cultural-Educational Foundation.
Style and Function
The recipes are generally short, and laid out very simply. Instructions are brief and numbered, and often accompanied by attractive and helpful photos that show various steps of the processes involved.
You’ll also find gorgeous photos of various finished recipes, showcasing ways in which you can make these dishes remarkably attractive and elegant.
Measurements and Ingredients
I occasionally had some difficulties with measurements. For example, in the recipe for red bean paste buns, some items are listed in tablespoons or teaspoons in the English version, but the yeast was given in grams. This was particularly tough in this case since, although we have a very good kitchen scale, it measures in 5-gram increments, so we had to guess a lot when it came to measuring out 11 grams of yeast. Most items are given in both grams and ounces, but many kitchen scales can’t measure, for example, 1/3 of an ounce. (Luckily ours can do ounces or grams, so we could generally use the grams version–although again, 37.5 grams of sugar was a bit of a guessing game since we could only measure in 5-gram increments.) In other words, you’re best off if you have a very accurate kitchen scale, or at least enough experience in the kitchen to feel comfortable approximating a bit.
We were able to find some of the more unusual ingredients at our grocery store, and a handful more online (such as red bean paste). There are a number, however, that I think you just won’t be able to find unless you live near a Chinese grocery. I’d never before heard of wintermelon candy or leaf lard, for example, and I’ve only heard of net lard through watching Iron Chef.
When it comes down to it, though, these are some absolutely fantastic recipes. Every single one we’ve made has been delicious, delightful, and several other exclamatory adjectives besides. It’s been years since I had the single red bean paste bun that left me desperately wanting to find a way to have more, and finally we satisfied that craving. The red bean paste buns we made were every bit as good as I remembered, if not more so. The coconut buns were stunning as well, and the pork-filled pastries were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. (And as if that weren’t enough, their method of making the pastry dough is actually surprisingly simple and non-difficult compared to some that I’ve tried.)
You’ll find recipes for sweet sesame buns, silver thread rolls (these have an intriguing filling made from minced fat pork, sugar, and vanilla), pearl rolls, shrimp buns, roast pork buns, fried curry rolls, four color steamed dumplings, crab siu mai, emerald fish dumplings, silver ingot pastries, lotus seed pastries, butter cream pastries, mandarin duck pastry, Cantonese white radish cake, coconut balls, peanut mochi, seaweed chicken roll-ups, shrimp toast, eight treasure taro paste, shrimp wontons, sago in coconut milk, stuffed bananas, and many more.
In other words, if you’re willing to search around a bit for ingredients (or have the right sort of store nearby) and you’re interested in trying some truly delightful dim sum, I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are fabulous, and with a very sensitive kitchen scale the last few reservations I have would melt away.