This is the post to dominate all posts: how to do dumplings Chris & Dani style, in excruciating photographic and literary detail.
By way of Explanation: A long time ago Chris and Dani played paper football at a work Happy Hour, which led to a 3 hour conversation over chocolate-cake at Tryst, which led to an exploration of home-made pizza dough which somehow led to dumplings. If Molly Wizenberg had her marshmallows, I had Chris’ dumplings. It was the meal that made me say, “oh wow…his could be serious.”
We’ve since made hundreds, maybe even thousands of dumplings. They’ve become a staple in our relationship. Sometimes we get experimental, (Peking Duck dumplings) sometimes we have to compromise our standards (buying pre-ground pork or bad wrappers) but for the most part we stick to tradition: crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth and juicy on the inside, pork and spinach dumplings.
These dumplings are really, really f-ing good. Even Chris’ 93 year-old grandmother from Shanghai says they are “very good” which I think means the same thing and that is seriously high praise my friends. There are relatively few ingredients in this dish so the quality of ingredients you use matters a lot. Chris and I can be a little imprecise in some of our measurements but there are a few non-negotiables that take this recipe from good to “oh wow.” Here they are for you:
Use Pork Shoulder (or an 80/20 meat/fat ratio) from somewhere like the Farmer’s Market or Whole Foods-it makes a huge difference in the flavor. Another way to boost the flavor (and improve the texture) is to coarsely grind your ginger and your meat together, but pre-ground meat is ok too, the coarser ground, the better mouth feel for the dumpling. Just don’t be tempted by a lower fat ratio-makes for dry, unexciting dumplings.
Buy Your Wrappers from an Asian Grocery StoreYou can make them yourself too but buying them does save a lot of time. There is a huge difference though between the kind you can get at Harris Teeter versus Great Wall or another Asian grocery store. We prefer the “white” ones over the “yellow” ones and fresh over frozen, but frozen works too. Remember, dumpling wrappers are round, wonton are square. In a pinch, wonton wrappers work but definitely make an inferior dumpling (too thin).
Use a lot of Fresh GingerYou don’t have to follow this step but Chris and I like to use basically 2 small thumbs or one “wow you have a really disturbingly large thumb” thumb’s-worth of fresh ginger, finely diced/pulverized/gound into the meat.
If we are going to get technical, the dumplings Chris and I make are technically pot-stickers since we cook them in a pan rather than in a pot of boiling water. But know that you could boil them if you really wanted to–it is a much easier process, but not quite as satisfying.
Ok, one more thing to note, this recipe makes probably 4-5 servings of 10 dumplings each. Chris and I usually eat 1.5-2 servings and freeze the rest (uncooked) in a single layer in a Tupperware. After they are frozen you can put them in a freezer bag to save space. Though this recipe takes time on the front end, it makes for several nights worth of incredibly quick and incredibly satisfying homemade meals, perfect for those nights you come home from the office late and tired but not in the mood for take-out. Just dump the frozen dumplings in a pan (they keep for weeks or even months)follow the cooking directions below and you are good to go.
Ok on to The Ingredients
1 standard (160z?) bag of frozen chopped spinach-thawed and squeezed 90% (we usually use 3/4 of the bag)
1 lb of 80/20 pork shoulder coarsely ground
1 giant thumb’s worth of ginger, finely diced or ground into the meat
1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Approximately 1/4 Cup Sesame Oil
Approximately 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce (If mix looks dry, add more sesame oil and soy sauce in equal proportions)
Combine the above ingredients in a big bowl, careful not to over-mix (you don’t want the fat to get warm, break down and get greasy)
Ok now on to the fun part, Construction and Cooking:
You’ll need a teaspoon or chopsticks and a small dish with some water in it to make the dumplings
First scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of your wrapper
Then rub a small amount of water along the edges of the dumpling wrapper. (this activates the cornstarch that will “glue” the dumping wrapper to itself) Fold the wrapper in half, pinching in the middle to create a taco-shape. (its “fusion” on so many levels)
This next part is easy once you get the hang of it, but a little tough to explain without standing over your shoulder. Should you get really stuck, this blog has some good photos and instructions, though they go a little pleating crazy if you know what I mean (2 pleats should work, anymore is just for aesthetics)
1. Hold the dumpling in your hand so that it looks like a half-circle with the top of the circular side pinched together.
2. Starting on the right side (or maybe on the left if you are a lefty) make like you are folding a paper fan, and create a fold in one side/edge of the dumpling wrapper, just a little ways down from the center pinch.
3. Press that fold back onto the edge of the dumpling wrapper so that you’ve created a seal between the two edges of the wrapper and between the top pinch and your first fold.
4. Make another fold a little further down to the right with the same edge/side of the dumplings as you made the first and pinch it similarly so that you now have sealed the two edges of the dumplings as well as the space between the two folds.
5. Use a touch more water to seal the entire right side of the dumpling. You can make more folds before sealing the right side if you want to have the prettiest dumplings ever, but its not necessary.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 on the left side of your half-moon shaped dumpling, making sure your pleats are all on the same side (I think this helps them stand up better).
When you are finished, the dumpling should look like this:
Place the finished dumplings in a large non-stick shallow pan in tight rows or circles if making the dumplings right away, or in a single layer in a Tupperware container if freezing. Chris and I usually do both at the same time. Repeat this whole process until you’ve run out of filling or wrappers (if you run out at the same time, congrats! You must be an extraordinarily balanced person)
This can take awhile, especially while you are still getting the hang of it. Plan on maybe 30-45 minutes of dumpling-shaping. The best solution: make them with someone else or even better, a group of people. Remember that saying about idle hands and how they are bad or something? Yeah, dumplings are the solution, plus its a calming sort of ritual to do while you chat with someone you love (or just like a lot) Plus, remember this meal makes like 4-5 servings so you can freeze a few days worth of meals at a time.
Now on to the cooking:
Once you have about 20 dumplings in a shallow, non-stick pan as in the picture above, pour about an inch of water into the pan (no oil here unless you know your pan’s non-stick coating it past its prime and won’t allow the dumplings to dislodge easily-in that case, use just a touch of vegetable oil) It should come about half-way up the dumplings. The idea here is that you are going to boil the dumplings and then, as the water evaporates, develop a nice crust on the bottom.
Turn the heat on to high to medium-high and cover with a large pot cover. Leave the pot cover on for a few minutes to ensure that the tip tops of the dumplings get steamed through.
After a few minutes take off the cover. The water should be bubbling and boiling furiously, like this:
Let the water evaporate, this should take somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes. The dumplings should become a little translucent so that you can see faint pink and green through the skins. (see some of the photos below)
Its important for all of the water to evaporate out of the pan so that the bottoms are able to crisp up. If your dumplings have been in the pan for awhile (more than 10-12 minutes ish) and are looking pretty translucent but you’ve still got a lot of water in the pan, its fine to just scoop or pour some out.
Once the water has evaporated, the remaining starches will start to cook in the bottom of the pan creating a thin brown crust. You’ll see this starch go from bubbles to white film to tan to brown. At this point kill the heat.
If you have a good non-stick pan, this next step shouldn’t be too bad. Use a heat-resistant spatula to loosen the outermost dumplings in the pan then invert a large plate over the dumplings. Hold the bottom of the plate with one hand and flip the pan over, shaking a little if necessary to dislodge the dumplings.
But no dumpling meal is complete without some dipping sauce. Mix 1 part sesame oil, 1 part soy sauce, some hot sauce, and vinegar to taste. Then get ready to dunk your dumplings.
This is my favorite vinegar. Its almost out but we can’t read all of the characters yet so we are holding onto this bottle until we can figure out where to get some more. Do you know?
And that’s it. These are sort of heavy so you don’t really need a side dish but if you want one, some bok choy sauteed in a very hot pan with a little bit of oil and oyster sauce works well.