January 13, 2014
By the time I led the group of tourists up the dark staircase to the second floor above the only hardware store in Chinatown, I knew that I would be dealing with the usual mixture of personalities. There would be the woman that complained about the “dirty” surroundings. There would be the man that had to have a Diet Coke immediately after sitting down. There would be the person holding one chopstick in each hand, bouncing them up‑and‑down to some hidden rhythm on the table. There would be the young couple more interested in each other than the food. There would be a group of people genuinely curious about the dim sum lunch they were about to eat.
During much of the 1980s, I led tours of Chinatown in San Francisco for the Chinese Culture Foundation. Some of the tours were designated as history tours and others as culinary tours. Since my interest was in both areas, my version of the two tours was essentially the same except the culinary tour included a dim sum lunch.
In those days, there was only a handful of restaurants serving dim sum in Chinatown. Louie’s Restaurant wasn’t necessarily the best, but the owners were willing to reserve a table or two for our motley groups and to put up with the various idiosyncrasies that the tourists displayed. I had the task of dealing with the ignorance, and at times, racism of my charges.
One dim sum dish that was rarely on the menu—the meal was always preordered by the tour coordinator to minimize expense—was one that in some places was called White Flower Dumpling in Green Pepper. Although not the most expensive item on the menu, it wasn’t particularly inexpensive either. One way to guarantee myself an unlimited supply of this dish was to learn how to prepare it. I found the recipe on page 72 in a then recent cookbook by Jinx Morgan called Recipes From San Francisco’s Great Chinese Restaurants. Whenever I’ve prepared dim sum over the years since I stopped leading tours, I’ve always included this dish in my menu. When I started making amuse‑bouche dishes a couple of years back, I knew that sooner or later I would modify this dish to fit my amuse‑bouche mold. Recently, when I was in Hawaii stuffing some bitter melon given to me by my mother‑in‑law’s next‑door neighbor, I knew it was time to stuff some peppers back home.
For this version, rather than coat squares of green bell pepper with the shrimp mixture, I fill open‑ended tubes of smaller peppers. I use various varieties of peppers in different colors. Red peppers look best, but are not available year round. I select peppers, no matter which color or variety, that can be cut into bite‑size tubes. Most long chili peppers, when sized appropriately will work. Also, rather than pan‑fry the peppers, I steam them because I can do this according to time without having to tend the pot.
For the shrimp paste, I peel, devein, and grind raw shrimp. The output from the grinder is then stirred with a rubber spatula until paste‑like. Shrimp paste can also be purchased at some Chinese markets, but I prefer to prepare my own.
100 g (31⁄2 oz)
finely ground white pepper
30 ml (1 T)
capelin roe [optional]
1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the peppers and capelin roe in a bowl. Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Chill in the refrigerator until needed.
2. Cut the peppers into 2.5 cm (1‑in) long pieces. Using a small knife or scissors, remove all the seeds and pith from the tubes.
3. Using a pastry tube fitted with an appropriate‑size tip, stuff each pepper piece with the shrimp mixture. Smooth off both ends with a small palette knife. Leave the bottom flush and flat and the top flush and slightly rounded.
4. At this point, the stuffed peppers can be refrigerated or frozen until service.
5. Preheat a steamer. Steam the stuffed peppers until cooked through, about 10 minutes for refrigerated peppers and 12 minutes for frozen peppers.
6. Drain the peppers on absorbent paper, and serve with a small dab of capelin roe.
Yield: about 12 servings, depending on size.