Celebrate Chinese New Year at Home: Classic Chinese Dumplings

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The earliest foods that I remember are nearly all Chinese. Though my father is American, my mother was born in Taiwan, and as she is the cook of the two, I had rice and butter instead of toast, stir fried cabbage instead of broccoli, and five spice pork instead of roast beef. The flavors that pull me back into those hazy, sunny memories of childhood are soy sauce, sesame oil, heady ginger… and dumplings. The irresistible pillowy shell, the textured, salty filling – it’s magic, and the best way to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year is about a new beginning, sure, but it’s really about reconnecting with and honoring your family. You light incense for ancestors and celebrate the people around you by cooking up a storm and eating through the night, together. Dumplings really embody that togetherness, because they can (and should) be made by multiple people. More hands = more dumplings, and that’s good for everyone.

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Whenever my Taiwanese grandmother visits, we make dumplings. My family crowds around the table, elbows bumping, to fill and pinch the little packets shut. Let me tell you, they taste about a thousand times better than from any package or restaurant.

The process may seem complicated, but after you’ve made dumplings once, the mystery is gone, and you’ll find yourself searching for reasons to gather up friends, sit down, and make dumplings for hours. You can also experiment with different vegetables and proteins in the filling once you’re confident, though my mother and grandmother will always say: pork is best!

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We’re resurrecting Jill Chen’s recipe for dumplings, as it’s just as perfect today as it was when originally posted. She searched all of China for dumplings, and decided her mother’s homemade ones were still the best – this is her coveted recipe.

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Authentic Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Recipe from Jill Chen’s mother, Edith Chen

If the gods and the stars align, you will have just enough wraps 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.

Ingredients:

For the Dumplings
  • 1 medium/large (about 10 cups chopped) Napa cabbage
  • 1/2 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon light soya sauce
  • 2 packages of store-bought or homemade (recipe below) dumpling wraps
  • Peanut oil, for the pan
  • Water, for steaming
For the Homemade Dumplings Wraps
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Directions:

Make the dumpling filling
  1. Finely chop the cabbage (or pulse in a food processor but don't over pulse and end up with puréed cabbage).
  2. Put in a colander set in the sink or a bowl, and mix in 1/2 tablespoon salt and let stand 10 minutes. This will draw out the juice from the cabbage. Squeeze out the excess liquid. The cabbage will wilt, yielding about 4 1/2 cups.
  3. Add the cabbage to a large mixing bowl with the pork, shrimp, sesame oil, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, and soya sauce. Mix with hands until well combined. Refrigerate this mixture while you make your dumpling wraps.
Assemble & Cook the Dumplings
  1. Take one dumpling wrap and brush any excess flour from the surface to be sealed. Add a dollop of filling to the middle, as much as you comfortably can, but do not over-fill (you want a clean seal on the edges).
  2. Pinch two opposite edges of the wrapper together, and form 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. 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 before you pinch together. Fresh dough does not need water.
  3. Your dumplings are now ready to be cooked. (If you want to make them ahead, place the dumplings on a floured tray and freeze. Once frozen, store in a large Ziploc bag. You can pan fry or boil them frozen).
  4. To pan fry, heat a large non-stick frying pan with lid for steaming over medium-high heat on the stove. Drizzle some oil in the hot pan, and arrange your dumplings like sardines in the pan. Let the dumplings sizzle and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, then add water until the level is about 1/3 the way up the side of the dumplings. Cover and let steam on high heat.
  5. Keep an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t completely dry out and burn the bottom of its precious cargo. If the dumplings were frozen or extra large, you may need to add a little bit more water and keep steaming. The dumplings are done when the dough on the top looks cooked.
  6. Take the lid off the pan, letting the rest of the water boil off and making the bottoms of each dumpling crispy. This last step only takes a few minutes. Check underneath with a spatula for golden brownness, then remove immediately from heat.
  7. Serve with bottom sides 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.
Make the Homemade Dumplings Wraps
  1. In a large bowl, mix flour with water. 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.
  2. Take a quarter of the dough (work with a little bit at a time, and cover the rest with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out) and roll out into a big long snake shape, about an 1″ in diameter. Cut the dough snake into approximately 3/4-inch thick pieces.
  3. Generously dust each piece with flour and flatten into a little disc with the palm of your hand. Using a rolling pin, roll along the outside edge, turning the disc as you go. The idea is to have a thinner edge on the outside and a 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.
Photos taken and styled by Jill Chen.

Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic StudioFollow Maggie Battista on Instagram.

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