Every time I see Jill Chen’s photos from China, and specifically her dumpling photos, I get a hunger pang deep in my belly. After a little coercion, Jill agreed to share her adventure and her favorite dumpling recipe, made by her very own Mom. I can’t wait to replicate these at home. -Maggie
The whole family traveled to China in March and the quest for “Jiaozi,” authentic Chinese dumplings, was at the top of our to-do list. Yes, we are very lucky that my Mom makes them for us at least once a week at home, but we wanted to try the real deal.
What were we thinking?
We sampled dumplings at every opportunity, from upscale restaurants to market street vendors and back alley home kitchens. And it was all very good. My extra 10 pounds gained is proof of that.
But you wanna know what? With each taste, we were a little disappointed. The best dumplings were very truly made by my Mom right here at home.
For the filling you will need a pound of lean ground pork, a pound of frozen shrimp, and a medium/large nappa cabbage.
Finely hand chop the cabbage (or pulse in a food processor being careful not to over pulse and end up with puréed cabbage). Put in a colander set in the sink or a bowl, and mix in a 1/2 tablespoon of salt and let stand 10 minutes. This will draw out the juice from the cabbage. Squeeze out the excess liquid and add the cabbage to a large mixing bowl with rest of the filling ingredients. Mix with hands until well combined. Refrigerate this mixture while you make your dumpling wraps.
To make the dough, take a large bowl and add 2-1/2 cups water to 5 cups of flour. The ratio is always 1:2, but it’s better to have a slightly wetter dough that you can add flour to if you find it too sticky. Use chopsticks or a spatula to mix until you get a shaggy dough. Dump onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Let it rest 10 minutes.
Take a quarter of the dough (work with a bit at a time, and cover the rest with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out) and roll out to a big long snake shape, about an 1″ in diameter. Cut the dough into approximately 3/4″ thick pieces. Generously dust one piece with flour and flatten into little discs with the palm of your hand. Use a rolling pin, and with a back and forth motion, roll along outside edge, turning dough as you go. The idea is to have a thinner edge all around and thicker middle to support the filling. While this is time consuming, it’s well-worth it if you want a hearty, chewy skin. If this rolling method is too challenging, just roll each piece flat throughout.
Don’t have the patience or time for all this? Don’t worry. Store-bought wraps are fine too. It all ends up in your stomach just the same, so do your best.
Brush the excess flour from the surface to be sealed and spread some filling on top. Get as much in as you comfortably can, but do not over fill so that it bulges out. You want a clean seal of the edges without pieces of meat filling in between. Especially important if you plan to boil the dumplings; the water will leak in and dilute the flavor.
Pinch the middle firmly together, and make a pleat towards the center from each side across the top, making a crescent shaped dumpling. Make sure all edges are tight and well sealed all around. If you are using store-bought wraps, you will need to run a wet finger (have a small bowl of water handy) along half the edge to seal together. Fresh dough does not need water.
Place them on a floured tray and freeze. Once frozen, store in a large Ziploc bag. You can pan fry or boil from frozen, or cook it from fresh.
To pan fry, you need a large non-stick frying pan with lid for steaming. Drizzle some vegetable oil and arrange your dumplings like sardines, it’s okay that they touch. Over high heat, let it sizzle for a minute or two, then add water so the level is about one third the way up the side of the dumplings. Cover and let it steam on high heat.
Keep an eye on the pan so it doesn’t completely dry out and burn the bottom of its precious cargo. Depending on whether the dumplings were frozen or extra large (please don’t make them too humongous), you may need to add a little bit more water and keep steaming. It should be done when the dough on the top looks cooked. Take the lid off the pan, letting the rest of the water cook off and the bottoms of each dumpling crisp on the pan. Watch closely so they don’t burn! This takes only a few minutes. Check underneath with a spatula for golden brownness and remove immediately from heat.
Serve with bottom side up so that the skin stays crispy. Dip in your favorite dipping sauce or eat the traditional way with Chinese soy vinegar and garlic chili sauce. Caution: Watch out for the hot soup that squirts out on the first bite!
Authentic Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi)
Recipe from my mother, Edith Chen
Makes about 80 dumplings
- 1 Napa medium/large cabbage, chopped to yield approximately 10 cups (once you add 1/2 tablespoon salt to wilt cabbage, the yield will be approximately 4-1/2 cups)
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- 1 pound raw chopped shrimp (optional)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1-1/2 tablespoon light soya sauce
- 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 Packages of store-bought Dumpling Wraps, or make your own.
Homemade Dumplings Wraps
Makes about 80 wraps
- 5 cups flour
- 2-1/2 cups luke warm water
If the gods and the stars align, you will have just enough wrap and filling. If you don’t, then do what we do: make an omelet with the extra filling, or use the extra dough to make Chinese scallion pancakes.
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