Chinese cuisine would be incomplete without dumplings or jiaozi (餃子). If I had to think of only two words that would encompass the most Chinese dishes, I would have to say rice and dumplings. In the past, when someone who has never tried Chinese food asked for a pointer on what to eat, I usually recommend Chinese dumplings. They are a safe choice (that is, not overly exotic), there are so many varieties and ways to prepare them, and they are pleasant to receive at the dinner table.
Jiaozi are also one of the major foods eaten during Chinese New Year because they are shaped like the golden ingots that were used in Chinese history for money, so serving them is believed to bring prosperity. Families traditionally have dumplings for dinner on New Year’s Eve. This year 2012 will be the year of the Dragon on the lunar calendar, starting on January 23rd on the Gregorian (Western) calendar. So that means New Year’s Eve lands on a Sunday this year, which gives me plenty of time to prepare a feast for family and close friends at home since I don’t have to go to work on Sundays.
My favorite type of dumpling is the ones with juicy meat fillings wrapped in a thinner semi-translucent skin. For my first Chinese New Year dumplings recipe this year, I decided to make Cantonese style pork dumplings or gaau (the Cantonese pronunciation for 餃), which are standard dishes in dim sum. I wanted to make dough that would give me a semi-translucent finish after steaming and a filling with a familiar taste resembling the popular pot sticker (鍋貼).
The key to this tasty filling is my choice to use fresh juice from grated shallots and ginger. Then to top it off, I incorporated the saltiness from the shrimp roe, the savory nutty taste of Asian sesame oil, and a crunchy texture from the bamboo shoots. It is important that you use Chinese wheat flour, which is Tang flour (澄麵). Using Western style whole wheat flour will give different results ending in a tougher, denser skin that is too chewy.
The best thing about a making a Chinese dumplings recipe is that jiaozi can be eaten all year round during any meal of the day, and they can constitute one meal course, a starter, a side dish, or even the main course. My recipe yielded 33 dumplings from scratch. After wrapping the dumplings, they are best steamed and eaten right away when fresh. But if that’s too many pork dumplings, it is best to place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them right away after wrapping them. Once they have frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag with an airtight seal. I have to warn you, dumplings are hard work to make from scratch (especially working with the dough), and so I have a newfound appreciation for all the ladies I saw on my recent trip to Beijing who labor all day behind thick glass panes at the backs of Asian restaurants just making Chinese dumplings that sell for no more than 10 RMB a plate.
I have to admit, I was quite surprised at how well my dumplings from scratch turned out! The filling was juicy and tasteful with a homemade goodness, and a skin was soft and thin. And these are desirable features of good Chinese dumplings.
60 g winter bamboo shoots, which look like this for reference:
200 g fatty ground pork
400 g lean pork, minced
2 tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興酒)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp juice from shallots
2 1/2 tsp juice from fresh ginger
1 tsp shrimp roe
2 tbsp Asian sesame oil
600 g or about 4 1/2 cups Tang (wheat) flour (澄麵)
3 cups hot water
1 cup cold water
冬筍 60 克
碎豬肉 200 克
瘦肉 (剁碎) 400 克
紹興酒 2 湯匙
生抽 3 湯匙
鹽 1 茶匙
薤汁 2 1/2 茶匙
薑汁 2 1/2 茶匙
蝦子 1 茶匙
麻油 2 湯匙
澄麵 600 克
熱水 3 杯
冷水 1 杯
Wash the winter bamboo shoots and remove the outer husks.
Blanch in boiling water until just cooked (about 4 minutes). Drain and dice finely.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the fatty and lean pork. Add the cooking wine, soy sauce, salt, and juice from the shallots and ginger. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Add the diced bamboo shoots, the shrimp roe, and sesame oil, and mix everything well to make the filling.
In a clean bowl, add the Tang flour. Add the hot water, mixing gently just until combined. Let cool to room temperature, add the cold water, and knead into a dough.
If the dough is too sticky while kneading, add more Tang flour 1/8 cup at a time. Separate the dough into portions weighing about 40 g each, or a ball of about 1 inch in diameter. With a small rolling pin, flatten and roll them into circles as thin as possible.
With the dough circle lying flat on the palm of your hand, place 1 1/2 tsp of the filling in the middle.
Fold the dough over pressing to seal, and shape it into a moon-like shape.
Steam on high heat in a bamboo steamer lined with lotus leaf (or parchment paper) for about 10 minutes and serve immediately.
Graceful Cuisine tips: If you desire, you can also pan fry the dumplings after steaming. Heat 1 tsp vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Transfer the dumplings from the bamboo steamer to the hot skillet. Fry, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes on one side until skin is golden brown and crispy. Flip to the other side and repeat. This extra step transforms these dumplings into delicious pot stickers, with the familiar crispy skin while the flavor of the filling stays sealed inside. Careful taking your first bite! They are steaming hot and you don’t want to accidentally discard the flavorful juices from the filling!