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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chinese Dumplings 101

Dumpling (饺子)is a northern Chinese dish that used to be eaten only on special occasions. I remember watching my maternal grandmother making them as a kid. She's very skilled at rolling out the skin and usually it takes two to three people wrapping to keep up with her rolling. I was always eager to help, but as a four-year old I didn't have full control of my digits so my dumplings were flat because I couldn't master the skills to make the pleats in the skin. Without the right pleats the dumplings don't have a base shaped like a half moon, which means they can't stand up. Needless to say, I could never roll out a dumpling skin the right way either.

Then years later, I don't remember exactly when, but I think we were already in the States by then, I discovered that I was able to roll out the skin AND wrap a dumpling exactly the same way my grandmother did. My brain had apparently somehow stored away and processed the necessary dumpling-making information and enabled me to put it into practice with my now much more dexterous hands.

My grandmother never had a recipe for making the wrapper dough. She simply poured some flour into a bowl, and added water as she stirred and kneaded with her hand. I used to do that, with varying results, until one day I decided that I needed to standardize things, and life became so much easier after that.

The main difference between store-bought and homemade wrappers are the texture, just like dried packaged pasta vs homemade pasta. When using store bought wrappers, you need to wet the edges with water so the wrapper can stick together. You don't need to do this with homemade wrappers because they're softer. While store bought wrappers are uniform in thickness, homemade ones are thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges so that when you close the dumplings the skin is the same thickness all over.

You can make dumplings with store bought wrapper/skin with good results. In fact, all the Japanese dumplings are made with machine made wrappers. In Japan, dumplings are often pan-fried instead of boiled, and I have grown to love the pan frying way of cooking dumplings after living in Japan. Our favourite dumpling house used to be a stroll from our house, so on weekends we would sometimes take a walk down Omotesando and line up for some dumplings and cucumber salad. I learned how to fry the dumplings by watching the staff while eating at the counter.

Now, let's make some dumplings!

For the dough:
480g All Purpose/ Plain flour
300ml warm water

Add all the flour into a KitchenAid mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook.
Turn the mixer on to the lowest speed and pour the water in while the dough hook turns, like this:

Stop the mixer and scrape down the dry flour into the middle a few times, but do NOT add any more water, even though the dough may look dry.

Keep scraping the dry flour into the bottom of the dough and increase speed one notch, until you get this:


When the dough pulls together into a ball you can dump it all out and knead a few times with your hands and shape it into a ball. Invert the mixer bowl and cover the dough for at least 30 minutes. I usually make the filling during this time.

I used a filling recipe adapted from Harumi's Japanese Cooking for these dumplings.

For about 48 dumplings:

100g cabbage
100g nappa cabbage
1/2 tsp salt
100g Chinese chives
200g ground pork
2 tbsp lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 tsp Maggie chicken stock concentrate
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
15g ginger, finely chopped
50g spring onions, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
white or black pepper to taste
(for vegetarian version, substitute the pork with 150g of extra firm tofu and ten shiitake mushroom soaked and chopped)

  1. Finely chop two types of cabbage in food processor, season with ½ tsp salt and set aside in a strainer.
  2. Finely chop Chinese chives and set aside
  3. In a large bowl, combine pork and lard/shortening by hand.  Add the chicken stock, sesame oil, cooking wine, garlic, ginger and spring onions.  Mix together, then add the chives.
  4. Place a handful of cabbage in a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Add to the meat mixture.  Continue until all the cabbage is added
Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Once the fillings is made, you're ready to make the dumplings.

1. Divide the dough into four parts. Take out one part while keeping the rest under the mixer bowl so it doesn't dry out.
2. Roll this portion of dough out into a sausage shape about 3/4 inch thick.
3. Use a pastry cutter to cut the dough into pieces about 1 inch long

4. Roll one piece into a ball and flatten into a disc.
5. Use a rolling pin to roll from the edge into the center of the disc, then rotate the disc a little, roll again from edge to center.

6. Keep rotating and rolling, until you have a round piece of skin that is thinner around the edges and thicker in the middle. You'll see later that it's ok if the skin is not completely round, because when you wrap the dumpling it will stretch

7. Prepare a tray by dusting it with a layer of corn starch. This prevents the dumplings from sticking to the tray.

8. Take a piece of dumpling wrapper and place a ball of filling in the middle. Fold the wrapper in half and pinch the middle, now you have a semi-circle. Hold the dumpling with your left hand and use the thumb and forfinger of your right hand, squeeze together the right half of the semi-circle. Next, hold the dumpling with your right hand and pinch the left half of the dumpling with your left thumb and forefinger.

Here it is again, start to finish (please excuse the piece of chive stuck to the wrapper):
 9. Stand the dumplings in the prepared tray, until ready to cook. If not cooking immediately, cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge if room is warm. (Dumplings can be frozen by placing the tray into the freezer. Wait until the dumplings have hardened, then you can place them in  a Ziploc bag. But do not place into bags directly while still soft, or they will stick together into a big lump)
10. Heat up a heavy frying pan,  pour some oil into it (enough to cover the bottom in one thin layer). Once oil is hot, but not smoking, place dumplings into pan in a circular pattern. Cook and shake the pan periodically until bottom of dumplings are golden.
11. Pour water into pan so that bottom 1/3 of the dumplings are covered in water. Cover pan with a lid (glass is best so you can see what's going on), and let it steam. Once dumpling skin look semi-transparent, remove lid and let the rest of the water evaporate.

12. Turn off heat. Place a plate onto the dumplings and flip the pan over so dumplings are now upside down, showing off the golden and crispy bottom.

Et Voila!