In Chinese homes, dumplings (or jiaozi in Mandarin) are a traditional must-eat food on New Year's Eve; families wrap them up and eat them as the clock strikes midnight. Dumplings symbolize longevity and wealth; their shape resembles gold shoe-shaped ingots, an early form of Chinese currency.
From Polish pierogito to Italian raviolito to pan-fried Japanese gyoza, dumplings are universal comfort food. Even though there are as many variations as there are eaters, the classic Chinese dumpling is filled with a pork and garlic chive base to which cabbage, scallions, and black mushrooms can be added. Chinese dumplings can also be cooked in a multitude of ways — most traditionally boiled (shuijiao, which literally means "water dumpling"), but also steamed (zhengjiao) and pan-fried (guotie, commonly known as "pot stickers").
I may or may not be able to influence luck, but I'll take my chances with our dumpling ritual every year. If luck has it, this Chinese family tradition — and my cultural heritage — will endure, and that is a feast worth celebrating.
This is an easy, basic Chinese dumpling recipe that's freezable for when you need a quick meal. If you can't find garlic chives, use more scallions instead, and you can always use a different ground meat rather than pork if you'd like. If you don't have a food processor to chop up the Napa cabbage, I've added alternative directions for salting the cabbage instead to help them wilt a bit before going into the filling.
My favorite cooking method is to pan-fry dumplings since I love the contrast of tender filling to crisp wrapper, but you can also boil or steam them instead too. Don't forget the dipping sauce, which is essential!
- Christine, January 2018
Classic Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi)
Makes about 30 dumplings
- For the dumpling filling:
Napa cabbage (about 1/4 head), plus extra leaves for lining if steaming
scallions (green and white parts), finely chopped
finely chopped garlic chives
clove garlic, finely chopped
freshly grated peeled ginger
toasted (Asian) sesame oil
round wheat dumpling or potsticker wrappers
- For the dipping sauce:
thinly sliced scallions, white part only
toasted sesame seeds
freshly ground black pepper
To make the filling: Coarsely chop the cabbage, and then transfer it to a food processor. Pulse until the cabbage is finely chopped but not puréed. (Alternatively, very finely chop the cabbage and place in a colander. Sprinkle lightly with salt, toss to combine, and let sit for 10 minutes.) Transfer the cabbage to a clean kitchen towel, roll it up, and squeeze to remove excess liquid.
Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl. Add the pork, scallions, garlic chives, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil and use your hands to combine; do not overwork or the filling will be tough. If you wish to taste for seasoning, poach or fry a small amount of the filling, and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
To fill the dumplings: Have a small bowl of water ready. Place a dumpling wrapper in the flat of your hand. Place a scant tablespoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the water and use it to wet the edges of the wrapper. Fold the dumpling in half to form a half-moon shape, pressing out the air as you seal the dumpling. If desired, use your opposite thumbs to fold a tiny pleat on either side of the dumpling, then press firmly to seal the dumpling closed. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all the filling is used, you will have extra wrappers.
1) Boil: Boiling dumplings is the most traditional way to cook them. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the dumplings and simmer until they float to the surface. Then add about a cup of cold water. When the water returns to a boil, add another cup of cold water. When the dumplings float to the surface again, use a slotted spoon to remove them to a platter.
2) Steam: Pour about 2 inches of water into a wide pot or a wok and bring to a boil. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer in a bamboo steamer lined with the extra Napa cabbage leaves or parchment paper. Cover the steamer, place it in the pot (don't let the water touch the dumplings), and steam on medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes.
3) Pan-fry: Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl it around. Add enough dumplings for a singler layer but leave enough space so that they do not touch. Add 1/4 cup of water (be careful, as it will splatter!) and immediately cover the pan. Cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, then uncover and continue to cook until all the water has evaporated and the bottoms are browned and crispy.
To make the dipping sauce: While the dumplings are boiling, steaming, or frying, combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the dumplings hot, with the sauce for dipping.
Freezing: If you are not cooking them immediately, freeze the dumplings for up to 3 months. Place dumplings in a singler layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze until solid, about 1 hour, then transfer them to a sealed freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Cook from frozen, adding a few minutes cooking time as needed.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Reprinted with permission from Lucky Rice by Danielle Chang, copyright (c) 2016. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.