This post was inspired by recent posts from culinary Bees, James McElearney, John White, Maria Luquero Vila, Jan Johnston Osburn to name but a few.
Once a month I decide to make dumplings. Although I am British, dumplings have been a family tradition for generations. My Japanese grandparents worked in North East China before the war and no doubt dumplings (餃子) were a staple product when pork was available. I am also quite sure that my Polish grandparents feasted on their version of a dumpling (Pierogi).
The process of making dumplings as a family was probably the single event of my childhood that brought the families together.
Today I would make two varieties, the first, a standard filling of pork and cabbage, although I learnt from years in Japan, that a mixture of mince pork and mince beef produces the best taste. The second, a filling of pork and winter melon.
Over the years we have built quite a catalogue of possible recipes, essentially variations on the pork/cabbage theme with the addition of Shiso (Perilla) leaves, water chestnuts, baby bamboo, fish etc depending upon my mood and what is seasonal.
The word dumpling is pretty generic and covers pretty much any starchy substance that is made into a ball or envelope with filling. But it is fascinating to me that homogenous versions of dumplings can be found in almost every single country.
The strangest dumplings I had were in a roadside restaurant just outside of Beijing, China. These were donkey dumplings, a local favourite. Believe it or not, donkey meat is revered in China as one of the top “land” meats, and comparable in quality, taste, and texture to the top “sky” meat, that of a dragon. For me, they tasted pretty much like normal Chinese dumplings that had gone rotten.
So here is the recipe of our family dumplings (Feeds 4 pax):
Preparation – Filling
Finely chop half a Napa Cabbage and put into a colander. Sprinkle 1 tablespoons of salt and set aside for 20 minutes. With your hands, squeeze the chopped cabbage to remove much of the water.
In a large bowl add 300 grams of pork mince and 100 grams of beef mince and the cabbage. Add a tablespoon of salt, a dash of baijiu (Chinese firewater), but if not available, a tablespoon of vodka will do. Add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil. With your hands, mix the mixture for about a minute and set aside.
Preparation – Skin
Mix 4 parts all purpose flour with 1 part boiling water and add a dash of salt. Need mixture with your hands and form a dough ball. Split the ball into apple sized sections and roll on a floured surface into long rolls. With a knife, cut the roll into 1 inch pieces. Flatten the pieces with the palm of your hand and then use a rolling pin to make thin circles.
Obviously you can just buy dumpling/gyoza skins, but homemade skins just taste better.
Making the dumplings: Prepare a small bowl of water and a teaspoon. Take a skin in your hand, and use your finger to wet the edges. Take a teaspoon of the filling and place in the center, then close and pleat.
Now you are ready to fry (yaki-gyoza) or boil (sui-gyoza) the dumplings.
To fry, oil the base of a large skillet (preferably cast iron) and set on medium heat. Once hot, place the dumplings in the skillet, flat side down, in nice rows. Let fry for a couple of minutes. Set to high heat, add a quarter cup of cold water to the middle of the pan and cover the pan with the lid. After 30 seconds, reduce heat to medium and let simmer until all the water evaporates. Remove dumplings and serve.
To boil, boil a large pan of water and insert the dumplings. Set to medium heat. Once the dumplings rise to the surface add a cup of cold water. When the water in the pan returns to a boil, remove dumplings and serve.
Dipping sauce: One part soy sauce to 2 parts rice vinegar. Add chilli oil if desired.
Do feel free to share your national dumpling culture below.
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