As you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of dim sum. Not just the small little dumplings stacked high in billowing steamers and other savoury delights, but it’s the dim sum experience as a whole. Getting to the restaurant at prime time when the lady on a loud speaker is calling out table numbers in more than the Quebec standard languages as people clammer to the front to try and sneak their way in is just part of the weekend brunch routine. If you’re new to the dim sum scene and aren’t sure of what to order, I have a section of the blog dedicated to the meal – Dim Sum for Dummies, where I profile some of the less common dishes. It’s a work in progress, as I’m always adding to it – there are hundreds of different items! We are not always fortunate enough to head down to Chinatown or get to a restaurant that serves dim sum and will ultimately have to rely on the frozen counterparts. I realize this I took it upon myself to take on the responsibility to test different kinds of FROZEN dim sum.
The comparison test was super scientific and elaborate; I tested the two most popular dim sum dumplings – the har gow (shrimp dumpling) and shu mai (pork and dumpling) – of three major frozen categories: non-Chinese brand frozen dim sum (President’s Choice), Chinese frozen brand, and fresh dim sum from a restaurant that I froze myself.
I started with the frozen Chinese brand har gow and shu mai. I didn’t chose one brand in particular more than I picked what was available in the frozen section of my local Asian market.
Neither package came with reheating or cooking instructions, so I went by instinct… I called my mother. She asked me why the hell I was eating frozen dim sum. I explained to her what I was doing and after a futile attempt of trying to wrap her head around the idea of eating frozen dim sum, she told me steam them 8-10 mins.
At first glance the dumplings looked alright except the har gow – the white shrimp dumpling – the wrappers split. I noticed this even when they were still frozen and I attribute this to the way in which they were packaged – loose in a bag. The shu mai on the other hand were packaged in a tray with individual pockets which ultimately helped them hold their shape and structural integrity.
Despite the rippy skins, the har gow has distinguishable pieces of shrimp in it packed in what I would guess is a shrimp/fish paste as binder and filler. The shu mai was the same, however smaller specks of shrimp were peppered in the paste-like filler. The har gow were a bit fishy and ultimately tasted frozen.
President’s Choice brand frozen dim sum. This package comes with shrimp shu mai, shrimp har gow and chicken dumplings, fully cooked and ready to heat. The box had both microwave an steaming heating instructions.
The dumplings are packaged in a tray with separated compartments so their cooties don’t mix.
Off the bat, they were significantly smaller than the Chinese frozen brands.
I guess it can go without saying that the the President’s Choice brand held their shape the best and probably looked the prettiest – most uniformed and consistent.
The savoury insides of the dumplings were more of a whipped filling – similar preparation to a Chinese steamed meatball. Although toothsome, what made up for it’s lack of texture was the taste. It had more ingredients to it than the har gow and shu mai I was used to. The shu mai (above right) included carrots, green onions, where as a traditional recipe calls for pork, shrimp and shitake mushrooms. The har gow on the other hand saw the saw shiitake mushrooms as part of its filling; perhaps they got their filling bins mixed up or they’re on the verge of some cross cultural dim sum recipe revolution. In either case, both were tasty with an inherent sweetness (even the chicken one that I’m not reviewing,) and not fishy. The PC brad came with it’s own sesame soy dipping sauce; but I prefer my dim sum the traditional way… hot sauce and hot mustard.
Finally, restaurant frozen dim sum. There aren’t any restaurants who sell their own line of frozen dim sum dumplings, so what I normally do is when I’m smashing food into my face at my favourite spot, before I leave I will get a couple of orders to go to freeze at home. Separated on a lightly oiled baking sheet, I leave them to freeze and keep them in a zipper bag. This usually lasts a while and comes in handy for dim sum related emergencies.
The size of the har gows and shu mai are restaurant standard (obviously,) so this controlled test was basically to see how they would hold up and taste after being frozen.
Straight from the steamer, without exaggeration, if I didn’t tell you, you’d probably never know they were frozen. The wrappers held up to the freezing and the jostling around in the bag being thrown around the freezer.
After 10 mins of steaming, the har gow and shu mai were completely heated through and the filling, moist. Common for restaurant har gows, the filling was predominately shrimp filled with pork fat and shrimp blended binder and small strips of bamboo, the shu mai, large pieces of shrimp with pork and shitake mushrooms. The taste was on par with it’s fresh pre-frozen state. Each of them looked a little bit different from each other and that’s because they’re all hand made and the love is palatable.
With each variety with it’s own pro and con, I can say that the best option would be to freeze restaurant fresh dim sum dumplings. Like I said before, I understand that that may not always be a possibility to some people, but I can highly advise that this would be the best practice opposed to buying the retail frozen variety. The Chinese brand frozen har gow and shu mai area good choice if you’re looking to get a lot of one specific kind – the shrimp dumpling has about 35 to a bag, however, the quality takes a back seat to quantity as most of the wrappers can be visibly cracked and broken in the bag. Like I said before, the shu mai tasted frozen and were fishy – of three Asian markets this was the ONLY brand that I could find that were shrimp har how, and not shrimp the pot sticker species.
The President’s Choice brand frozen dim sum is a great alternative if you want a three choice variety, dumplings that are intact when you take them out of the packaging and simple heating directions. Albeit they not be the most “authentic” tasting of the three I tried, it is definitely something one would pick up out of convenience or for a slow ease into the world of Chinese dim sum for an uninitiated western palate.
Let me know in the comments where you like to go for dim sum!