Making Dumplings in America
The one thing I have missed the most while spending time in America is homemade dumplings (some say jiaozi). Back in my home in Taiwan, making dumplings is a special event that everyone loves to do. Funny thing is, every family has its own way of making them. For example, my grandmother’s version is a little different than my mother’s. Over the last few years, my father has convinced my mother to re-design the flavor of the fillings so that we no longer need dipping sauce while eating them. This version has officially become my family’s special, and it is the version which I really wanted to recreate in Philly. I recently found the time to make them and here’s how I did it!
Obviously, I don’t have the ability to make dumpling wrappings from scratch. But, I did happen to find people selling them at an Asian market in Chinatown. One useful tip is that the wrappings should be used the day you buy them to keep their freshness. It is never a good idea to use frozen ones because the wrappings will tend to dry out and don’t have the ability to hold the fillings inside well.
For the filling, people usually use ground pork as the base, but there are also versions that use ground beef and ground chicken. I always like to add some veggies to add more flavor. The common ones include adding chopped cabbage or carrots into the meat. My favorite way is to add chives. Remember to chop the veggies as fine as possible so you don’t get big chunks of vegetables while eating them. My parents figured out that keeping the fillings as dry as possible will avoid the wrappings to get too wet and unable to close. They advised that I season the meat with ground pepper and a little bit of thick soy instead of seasoning the filling with salt, which will cause the meat and vegetables to sweat. Thick soy will add just as much flavor to the meat for people who don’t like their food to be too salty. It also provide that smoky flavor that I love.
Now, onto the wrapping! There’s actually no standard way to wrap dumplings. This always causes a competition among people’s creativity while making them in my family. After we cook the dumplings, my family always has a fun time guessing which dumpling was made by whom based on the shape of it. The most important thing is to keep the fillings from coming out of the wrappings and to make sure that they don’t fall apart during the cooking process. Below is a picture showing my preferred way of wrapping them. As long as you keep the filling in the center and carefully seal the dumpling by lightly pinching the sides together, it should turn out alright. There might be some cases where the dumplings cannot seal up well. If this happens, just brush a little water on the sides and it will be good to go.
Cooking dumplings is very easy. The traditional way is to throw them into boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes until they float to the surface of water— the same logic as cooking frozen raviolis bought from the supermarket. There’s no need to add salt into the cooking water. A method my family uses to keep the dumplings from falling apart in the water is to freeze them for at least 30 minutes before cooking them. That way, the dumplings will hold their shape better. After you have cooked them, sprinkle some sesame oil on top to give them a richer aroma. You can also try to steam them, make them into pot stickers, or whatever you feel will be tasty.
As I mentioned before, the dumplings made in my family’s style don’t require dipping sauce. But, if you do want a more dramatic taste, here’s a type of dipping sauce taught by my grandmother that I highly recommend making. Simply chop up some scallions and garlic, and stir them into a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and black vinegar. Here in America, I recommend using balsamic vinegar to provide an even richer flavor.
I always disagree that there should be a traditional way of making dumplings. Everyone should feel free to make their own traditions. However, this is my family’s way of making them if you need help getting started. Enjoy!
Round-shape dumpling wrappings (about 50 pieces in 1 package)
ground pork (1 lb)
chives (1 bunch)
garlic (2 – 4 cloves)
red pepper flakes (optional)
Finely mix all ingredients of the fillings and seasonings together.
Place one wrappings on the center of your palm, scoop approximately 1 tablespoon of the filling to the center of the wrapping.
Fold the wrapping in half with fillings in the center. Gently pinch the two sides of the wrappings together to form a pocket shape.
Place dumplings into the freezer for 30 minutes before cooking or store up to 1 month.
Cooking Steps (boil):
Boil one pot of water.
Throw dumplings into the pot, leave the lid on for faster heat circulation
When water starts to boil again or the dumplings are floating to the surface, take the dumplings out and drain them before placing them onto the plate.