Since mom has never made these before, I had to rely on my interpretation of the English translation of a Ba Wan recipe in one of my Taiwanese cookbooks. With instructions like "take a dish to paint oil on, and put skin paste on the dish, then add filling in, cover with paste," that in itself was a near-insurmountable task. But, I muddled through the ingredients and the steps and, after trial and error, came up with what I think is a a pretty decent version of Ba Wan.
I must say that the filling was a cinch, but the skin was the tricky part. Without clear recipe instructions, I tried to handle the gooey, floury mess while it was still hot and it was not a pretty picture. After steaming the Ba Wans, the skins still looked gooey, not delicately translucent like they should be. Then, when I tried to invert/remove the Ba Wans, the skins clung stubbornly onto the sides of the glass bowls they were in and wouldn't come out in one piece. Dammit! What a bummer...So, I took them out of the steamer and just left them on the counter while I regained my composure. Then, lo and behold, about 20 minutes later, my hungry hubby went over to help himself and said, hey - these guys are coming right out of their bowls. Hallelujah! Thanks to Gil's insatiable appetite, it all became clear - you need to let that gooey mixture for the skins cool down to a lukewarm temperature before handling and making the meatballs, and you also have to let the Ba Wans themselves cool a bit (10-20 minutes) after they come out of the steamer so that they'll unmold properly. All's well that ends well...The skins were still not as translucent as I like them to be, but maybe next time I'll increase the ratio of potato starchto rice flour.
This recipe makes about twelve 4" Ba Wans.
1 lb. ground pork (you can also use pork loin, thinly shredded)
8 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water, stemmed & coarsely chopped
3 tbsp. fried shallots
1 1/2 cups bamboo shoots, diced
5 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. white pepper
14 tsp. five-spice powder
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup water + 1 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup rice flour
7 cups water
1 1/3 cup sweet potato starch
1 1/3 cup cornstarch
Sauce (Hai Shian Jiang)*:
1 cup of the reserved rice flour-water mixture
4 tbsp. ketchup
3 tbsp. hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Sriracha chili sauce (or use your fav Asian chili sauce)
*Place all sauce ingredients into a saucepan, stir well with a whisk over medium heat. Bring to a boil. When thickened, turn off heat and remove to a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
1. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add fried shallots and cook for several seconds until fragrant. Add pork and cook until no longer pink. Add the chopped bamboo shoots and shiitakes and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients and cook for about 1 minute until flavors are blended. Stir in cornstarch slurry (1/4 cup water+1 tsp. cornstarch), turn off heat and set aside.
2. With a wire whisk, stir together 1 cup of rice flour and 7 cups of water in a large bowl until smooth and thoroughly combined (no lumps left). Pour into a medium stock pot over medium high heat; bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens to a paste-like consistency, turn off heat, then remove pan from heat.
3. In a small bowl, stir together 1 1/3 cups of sweet potato starch and 1 1/3 cups of cornstarch. Mix well. Add to the hot rice flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon and/or whisk until thoroughly combined. Try to get as many of the lumps out as you can, but the potato starch is naturally 'lumpy' so don't worry if it's not perfectly smooth. Let the mixture cool about 15-20 minutes before using.
4. Using your fingers, oil twelve 4" bowls (I use glass or pyrex heatproof bowls) generously with vegetable oil (this keeps the skins from sticking).
5. Place 1 heaping spoon of the rice flour dough mixture on the bottom of each bowl and spread thinly about 1/3 of the way up the bowl. Top with a generous 2 tbsp. of the meat filling, then top with more of the dough mixture to cover. The dough is pretty sticky, so just use a spoon and your fingers (dipped in a bit of water or oil) to spread it out evenly over the top. Make sure the dough is sealed properly around the top & bottom edges. It's ok if the top has more dough because when served, the meatball will actually be inverted onto a plate so that the thin bottom layer will end up being on top.
6. Place Ba Wans in a steamer over high heat and steam 10-15 minutes. Remove from steamer and let cool 15-20 minutes (they will stick to the sides of the glass bowls if they're too hot). Once slightly cooled, invert the Ba Wans onto individual serving plates or bowls. Serve with Hai Shian sauce & freshly chopped cilantro.