Recipe: chinese dumplings and potstickers
[warning: a long post]
Do you know what that one recipe was that started you on your cooking passion? I have cooked since I was a kid, but I didn’t get serious until I was a sophomore in college and I felt this cultural obligation to make dumplings from scratch to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Dumplings have lodged themselves in my head as my link to Chinese cooking and culture, but even better than that – mastering dumplings gave me the confidence to go forward and try other recipes and techniques.
for the pork filling
I posted Making Chinese Dumplings with Jen on my website several years ago (it now lives here). People have written asking about fillings, thanking me for my recipe, asking me to post more versions… The endeavor to make Chinese dumplings isn’t like pouring a can of soda – it’s quite involved and taking the photos adds considerably more time. Seeing as my days of free time may be near an end, I decided Making Chinese Dumplings with Jen could use an upgrade and an added variation. Besides, that old version was created in graduate school, a time of simultaneously happy and extremely bad, miserable, loathsome, angry, depressing, unhappy associations for me.
there is an ungodly amount of chopping involved
First off, the process for making the dumplings and the potstickers is the same until you actually cook them. You steam or boil the dumplings, you pan fry (mmmm, fry…) the potstickers. I ate enough dumplings in my childhood that I feel I need to make up for it with potstickers now. That’s not true – I’m a sucker for fried things. I generally make true dumplings on Chinese New Year because Mom and Grandma have scared me into thinking I’ll be poor if I don’t. Something about eating dumplings means money, tofu is luck, something else is health, and the list goes on. I play it safe and eat everything.
adding some sesame oil, soy sauce, and cornstarch to the mix
The biggest time sink in making dumplings (for me, anyway) is chopping everything into a mince. I don’t doubt people have tried and will continue to try using a food processor. I’ve done that before and I think it leads to inferior texture in your filling. A food processor is great at creating a purée or unevenly chopped pieces – but neither of those is what we want. Use a good, sharp knife and give yourself plenty of time.
pork filling is ready
I used to have dumplings every Sunday night as a kid – and without all the work! Mom, Dad, and Grandma whipped them up in an hour or two. It’s quite the production with the three master chefs going (all three are AMAZING cooks). Alas, I am so OCD that I don’t allow my two housemates to help me (Jeremy gets dish duty and no one wants Kaweah to help) and it takes about 3 hours to produce 100 dumplings if I’m not shooting the process. Anyway, the big treat was when my mom would make shrimp dumplings. They were so good. I tried to make some once without consulting her on the ingredients. Cocky me, I thought it was so simple to figure out. They burned and tasted not quite right. I called her while I examined the potsticker with disappointment. “You need to add pork!” Oh, I didn’t know you added pork meat. “You need to add at least as much pork as the shrimp – or more. Or else there isn’t enough fat and it won’t taste as good and will burn.” Mom to the rescue. I suppose if you steam or boil, then you don’t need to use pork – but Mom is right that the pork adds flavor (via fat) that the shrimp can’t do on its own.
shrimp dumplings require… shrimp!
peel and devein
in the mix: ground pork, green onions, shrimp, water chestnuts, ginger root
the shrimp filling
The dough is something I’ve cheated on. I use my Cuisinart with dough blade to mix the dough. My mom’s method is probably more authentic and consistent, but I suck at it. She mixes the flour and water with chopsticks. I know some people use wonton wrappers, but those have egg in the dough and they obviously aren’t as good as fresh homemade. I don’t use them, but I could see where making the dumpling skins could be daunting. I’m hoping my instructions will inspire others to make their own dough.
2 cups of flour for 1/2 pound of meat in the filling
pour in about 1/2 cup of water and pulse
the dough should be firm and silky to touch
To make the dough discs, I slice the lump into 4 strips and roll each strip into an even cylinder about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. I slice the strip into pieces about 3/4 inch thick, rotating the strip by 90 degrees after each slice. Then I press each slice into a circular disc. The more circular you can get the disc, the easier time you’ll have of rolling it out. I have to work quickly in Colorado because our air is generally so dry (today we are at 10% humidity) that the dough begins to harden and crack at the surface. I tend to cut a dozen and put the remaining dough under a damp kitchen towel while I work.
Once I have a flat, round disc of dough, I like to roll it out once to less than 1/4 inch thickness and then turn it 90 degrees and roll it out once to maintain the circular shape. The next step is where some fingers may get pinched, but with practice it goes very quickly. Pick up the the edge of the dough in one hand, and with the other hand, roll the rolling pin on the edge nearest to you, but not past the middle. Thin out the dough with a couple of rolls and then turn the disc 60 degrees and repeat until you’ve rolled out the whole thing to a larger and thinner circle. You want to leave the middle just slightly fatter than the edges. The disc should be between 3 and 4 inches in diameter.
roll it out the first time
rolling the final skin
The shape of your dumpling skin will determine how easily you can fold your dumplings and probably how pretty they turn out. I’ve taught several white people how to fold dumplings in person and some of them don’t quite make that connection between the dumpling skin that resembles the map-view of Italy and the dumpling that looks like that scene from Alien when the little critter bursts forth from Kane’s chest… yeah. Well, assuming you have a circular wrapper you plop enough filling in the center and allow about 1/2 inch of margin. Take your chopsticks (that’s what I use to handle the filling) and shape it into an oval on the dough. Fold the two ends of dough on the short axis of the filling together like a taco and pinch them tight at the top. From there, move about 1/4 of the way down from center and create a fold in the edge of the dough closest to you, fold it down and pinch it tight. You’re creating a pleat in the dough. Repeat this two or three more times – enough to leave a teardrop opening at the end.
it takes some practice to know not to over or under fill
pinch the top together
making a pleat
the teardrop at the end
I like to poke the end of the teardrop in and then pinch it shut. Now half of the dumpling is folded. Turn the dumpling around so the pleats are facing away from you and pleat toward the center on the same side as the pleats you just made. The whole thing should curve into a crescent form concave toward you. After the pleats are done and the other corner is pinched in, I go over the entire crest and pinch it tight because any openings will result in filling leaking out or other unsightly issues. The final dumpling should be a neat and pretty package.
closing the end
pleating the other side
the dumpling should resemble something like this
Making a hundred dumplings isn’t easy on the back. There is no way I can work the dough on my kitchen counters – they are too high. I work on my kitchen table because the height allows me to use my weight when rolling out the dough. Don’t forget to take a break and give your body a stretch. Let’s have a look at our faithful companion… She’s never far from the action in the kitchen.
I like to line my dumplings neatly on a large plate. I can typically fit all of the dumplings on a plate in one batch to cook in my large frying pan. Before I place a finished dumpling on the plate, I gently rub the base of the dumpling in a thin layer of flour on the work surface. It helps to prevent sticking to the plate (which can destroy a dumpling) when you need to quickly set them in the frying pan.
like little purses
a plateful ready for cooking
Frying potstickers is the more complex of the different ways to prepare dumplings. It’s quite simple though. I use a large non-stick frying pan with high sides and cover. First you pan fry the dumplings in a little bit of oil (a few tbsps) on medium high heat. When the bottoms get golden, ready yourself with the lid and in one swift move pour water into the pan (duck while everything spatters violently) and clap the lid on! I’ve made several messes over the years during this step. A measuring cup with a spout helps a lot and you have to dump the water in ALL AT ONCE. When the water boils off, remove the lid and reduce the heat to medium or medium low. This allows the potstickers to dry out and crisp up.
getting settled into the pan
bubbling hot after adding the water
shoot for a golden bottom
When the dumplings are done, you can scoop them out and serve them hot, or you can do a fancy move and flip them onto a plate upside down. The second trick doesn’t always feel like it will work for me. The pan is heavy and still very hot. I always worry that my plate is going to go flying and shatter on the floor amidst fallen potstickers that the dog would immediately dive into… But it seems to work alright and sometimes I don’t even have to rearrange them to look like they came out of the pan correctly.
serve bottoms up
Dipping sauces are a personal choice. I like to use soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil, red wine vinegar or black vinegar, and most of all a spicy chili garlic paste. You can add minced ginger, garlic, green onions, sugar, take your pick – or pick them all. If you don’t plan on eating all of the dumplings (I usually make a triple batch) you can successfully freeze them for a later date. Don’t cook them, but place them on a baking sheet so none of them are touching. Pop the sheet into the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes until the dumplings are no longer sticky or soft. Place the frozen dumplings in a freezer bag taking care not to squash them together and seal. Freeze for up to a couple of months. Cook the same way, although you may way to let them cook a little longer during the boiling water phase to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked. Easy peasy, right?
1 lb ground pork
4 large napa cabbage leaves, minced
3 stalks green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced (if dried – rehydrated and rinsed carefully)
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, minced
1/4 cup ginger root, minced
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp corn starch
1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb ground pork
3 stalks green onions, minced
1/4 cup ginger root, minced
1 cup water chestnuts, minced
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp corn starch
Note: you will want to double this for the amount of filling listed – I just tend to use leftover pork filling for soup meatballs. A single batch will yield about 40 dumplings depending on size.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
flour for worksurface
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional)
minced ginger (optional)
minced garlic (optional)
minced green onion (optional)
Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly (I mix by clean hand). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the dough, Method 1: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).
Make the dough, Method 2 (my mom’s instructions): In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch.
Both dough methods: Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side (see images above).
To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.
To steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of napa cabbage leaves or on a well-greased surface and steam for about 6 minutes.
To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.
To freeze: Assemble dumplings on a baking sheet so they are not touching. Freeze for 20-30 minutes until dumplings are no longer soft. Place in ziploc bag and freeze for up to a couple of months. Prepare per the above instructions, but allow extra time to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked.
To serve: Serve dumplings or potstickers hot with your choice of dipping sauce combinations.