Mama Liaw's Xian Bing
I grew up in the Joy Luck Club.
On Friday evenings in Sugar Land, Texas, five Asian-American families gathered at my house for great food, community, and marathon mahjong. They brought folding tables and chairs to transform my living room into a gambling den, complete with oolong tea, snacks, and a week's worth of gossip. As the adults gambled past midnight, the kids stayed up watching movies, Saturday Night Live, and played hide-and-go-seek. My fondest childhood memories were filled with good friends and good food.
Each family had a signature dish. Auntie Cheng melted hearts with her beef noodle soup. Teacher Hua made soulful pork stew with mushrooms and bamboo. I would always overstuff myself with Auntie Chang’s famous potato salad. My mother had a repertoire of dishes, and my hands down favorite was her Xian Bing - sort of like a Chinese hot pocket. It combined the salty crispness of pan-fried scallion pancakes with the savory filling of delicate soup dumplings. As it turns out, this was one of my mom's favorite dishes, too!
Growing up in Taiwan, my mom’s family ate at restaurants that specialized in Xian Bing. This dish was a treat because beef was expensive. When my parents immigrated to Texas in the ‘70s, my mother was shocked at the abundance of affordable American beef. She found a recipe for Xian Bing and perfected it over the years. And because it was a rare dish to find in America, everyone was very happy when she served it at Friday Suppers.
1. Making the Dough
- 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup very warm water (80°F)
Place 2 cups flour in large bowl.
Slowly mix in the warm water in a thin stream until the mixture creates little flakes. Once you see the flakes, hand knead the dough until it forms a ball.
Cover and set aside
Pro-Tip: Cold Water vs. Hot Water
Cold water dough creates a sturdy and chewy texture and is often used in making scallion pancakes or dumplings. Hot water creates a soft and supple texture and is preferred for steaming dumplings.
Here, we use 80°F water to get the best of both worlds and get a chewy suppleness for the meat pockets.
2. Prep the Flavors
- 1 stalk Green Onion
- 4 coins Ginger
- 1 medium Onion
- Finely mince the green onion and ginger.
- Set aside in a large bowl.
- Finely dice the onions or use a food processor and do eight pulses until the onions are finely chopped. Set aside in a different bowl.
3. Prep the Meat
- 1 lb Ground Beef - 80% Lean
- 1 Tbsp Oyster Sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Pepper
- Add the ground beef, minced green onion, minced ginger, oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix them together until they are well combined.
- Crack the egg into the mixture and stir in a constant circular motion until the proteins, fat, and water begin to emulsify.
- Add the onions and fold into mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.
Pro-Tip: Onion Juice
Onions release liquid when mixed with the meat. It is best to add onions last to avoid a soggy meat mixture. As the meat pocket cooks, the onions will soften and melt to create a delicious, savory and lightly sweet soup locked inside the pocket.
4. Roll the Dough
- 1 wooden dowel
CUT THE DOUGH
Cut the dough in half on a floured surface and set aside one half, covered in a dry towel.
Begin kneading the other half a few times until it gets soft, about 10 seconds.
Roll the dough into a long log, 1-inch gauge using the palms of your hands.
Divide the rope into 1 1/8 inch pieces using a knife or pastry cutter. Each piece should resemble a large marshmallow.
Create small flat discs by flattening the marshmallow shaped dough with the palm of your hand.
Set aside pieces.
ROLL THE DOUGH
Lightly flour the wooden dowel.
Grip the 2 o’clock end of the disc and position your wooden dowel perpendicular to the 6 o’clock position. This is your starting position.
Rock the wooden dowel by rolling up towards the middle of the disc, and stopping before meeting the middle.
During the peak of the roll-up, reposition your grip to 12 o'clock. Roll-down and then turn the disc so your grip is back to the starting position.
Continue this rocking motion until you have a round pancake with evenly thin edges, and about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. Set aside.
Repeat on remaining pieces. If needed, pat with more flour so nothing sticks.
5. Make the Meat Pocket
Now for the fun part - making the pocket.
- Pick up one of the rolled out discs, and hold it in the palm of your hand.
- Scoop in about 4-5 Tbsp of the meat mixture in the middle of the disc.
- Use your thumb and fingers to make a small pleat, and crimp.
- Repeat until all edges of the disc are crimped together, creating a bun-like shape.
- Flip the pocket on a floured surface, seam side down.
- Press gently with your palm to flatten and shape into a circular pie. The pockets are now ready for pan-frying.
Pro-Tip: Folds and Pleats
Mama Liaw can get 30 folds into the seam and it took years of practice to commit this action to muscle memory.
6. Fry the Pockets
- Set burner to medium/medium low heat, and add 2 tbsp oil to a 12-inch non-stick pan.
- Add the pockets to the pan. You should be able to fit 5 pockets on the pan.
- Cover with lid and pan-fry for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and flip the pockets, then pan-fry for an additional 3 minutes, uncovered.
- Remove and cool on a plate or drying rack.
- Repeat for remaining pockets.
7. Enjoy the Xian Bing
- Serve the pockets with any of your favorite dipping sauces. Growing up, I ate this with soy sauce with chili garlic sauce. My taste buds have since changed, and now prefer rice vinegar with ginger.
- Use caution when taking the first bite, as soup may spray everywhere! Like a soup dumpling, you will want to have a spoon handy to catch the juices.