I love Chinese dumplings — like really really love them. From their crisp yet soft exterior to the meat-and-shrimp filled goodness inside, they are the perfect food. So it’s incredibly exciting to me that I recently learned how to make my own from scratch. And now that I know how easy they are to put together, I may never leave my house again. Even better, thanks to the dumpling party I attended last Saturday, I have a huge bag of these homemade goodies nestled in my freezer for whenever the dumpling mood hits.
Which is often, if you didn’t already figure that out.
My education in Chinese dumplings started last December, when DB and I decided to try our hand at making these little delights. We were high off the soaring success of our scallion pancakes and felt like we needed to strike while the Chinese food iron was hot. It was a good thing we were feeling confident because we intended to make everything (even the wrappers) from scratch.
I confess, I was a little apprehensive about the wrapper dough so we had some store-bought wonton skins just in case. Happily they turned out to be an unnecessary purchase. Just like Project Scallion Pancake, we nailed Operation Dumpling. Just look at these beauties:
Our dough was pliable, our folding skills were passable and our filling was fabulous. Once we fried up the first batch and tasted them, I was hit with a soy sauce-fueled wave of euphoria. It was a life-changing moment. Bonus: we even made enough that after cooking up a dozen or so for snacking purposes, we were each left with a couple of full freezer bags for later — great for late-night nibbling and last-minute dinners.
Once our respective freezer stocks dwindled, we agreed it was time for another cooking session to replenish our supplies. However, instead of the two of us sitting around for a couple of hours
painstakingly drunkenly folding dumplings, DB got the idea to invite more people over and have a full-on dumpling assembly line. We would bring assorted ingredients and at the end of the night — hopefully — we would all walk away with a full stomach and a goodie bag of dumplings to take home.
The first step in any dumpling party is to make the dough since it will need to rest for about 10-15 minutes. Unfortunately we had looked at so many recipes the first time around, that months later we couldn’t remember which one we had chosen. So we ended up doing about a 4:1 ratio of all-purpose flour to boiling water, which worked pretty well. Just pulse it in a food processor, turn it out, knead it a bit, roll it into a ball and let it rest under a damp cloth. We did three batches, using four cups of flour per batch. That is a hell of a lot of dumpling dough by the way, though in the end, we used almost all of it.
Now on to the fun stuff: the party started with four people and a table full of ingredients. We had four pounds of ground pork, a bag of shrimp, our liquids (soy sauce, sesame oil and sake), our dry ingredients (more flour, cornstarch and chili flake) along with a bounty of produce. We had combined a few different recipes to get our shopping list together: one head of Napa cabbage, a few carrots, a couple bunches of green onions, a lime, ginger and garlic. We started with the vegetable prep, getting everything peeled, chopped, shredded or minced.
Then, into a large bowl went the pork, roughly chopped shrimp and all of the veggies. A quick word about the shrimp. The first time we made the dumplings we used raw shrimp, which is what I’ve seen in most of the recipes around. But DB didn’t give his friend specifics on what kind to buy so she bought a bag of fully cooked ones. No matter — they worked just fine and actually it was nice not having to wonder if the shrimp were done when we got to frying them. And as a bonus, DB whipped up some cocktail sauce so we got to do some pre-dumpling snacking to keep our strength up.
Once the mixture was well combined, we seasoned it with a generous slosh of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil and a sprinkling of cornstarch and chili flake. Then we cooked up a sample patty so we could do a taste test. It was good, but need a little more zing. In went more soy along with some lime zest and juice, a liberal dousing of sake (why not?) and a lot more cornstarch. The cornstarch works as a binder with the ground pork and also helps the liquids form a more cohesive sauce inside the wrapper.
I wish I could tell you the ratios we used, but alas, nothing was measured — that would be too easy. This is what happen when DB and I cook together and for the most part, it tends to be successful. It just makes things hard to replicate.
Next up was to arrange our production line. Luckily, by this time, another dumpling worker showed up so we had five people. We assembled ourselves so we had one person portioning coins of dough, two people rolling them into rounds and two people working as stuffers and folders. The folders used a touch of water to seal the dough, and then the finished dumplings were placed on sheet trays sprinkled with flour.
*Hint: This website has the best instructions for working the dough and forming the dumplings. Also it’s just an awesome blog so check it out! And a little hint for freezing — place dumplings in a single layer with as little touching as possible so they don’t stick together. Then freeze the whole sheet tray as is (it’s good to have a full-sized freezer for this part!) so when you pack them in bags later, they stay separate.*
Once the filling is all used up (let me warn you, this can take a while), the frying begins. Get a pan hot — I prefer non-stick though a cast iron also worked — and pour in good amount of oil. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the dumplings until they are brown and crispy on the bottom. Then get a lid ready and prepare yourself. Dump in about half a cup of water and cover. This will steam the dumplings, finalizing the cooking process. Wait until the water is almost gone, then remove the lid and let the remaining water dissipate to dry the outside of the dumpling.
Remove from pan and dig in… oh, and be careful not to burn your tongue!