Dumplings are an important part of Chinese culture and its cuisine—the days-long process and painstaking labor that go into traditional dumplings make every poppable one that much more valuable than the gold ingots they're said to represent in Chinese New Year celebrations. In Northern China, where wheat is more prevalent than rice, families gather for holidays to wrap enough for the feast, catching up as they do so. But with modern access to flour, and emigrants scattered across the globe, dumplings have become as common a food as any beloved traditional Chinese dish. Serve with Shanxi mature vinegar—or gyoza, teriyaki or soy sauce—for dipping. Add some chile crisp for a little heat if you like.

EatingWell.com, January 2023

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Credit: Christine Ma

Recipe Summary

active:
2 hrs 15 mins
marinate:
6 hrs
total:
8 hrs 15 mins
Servings:
12
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How Adapting My Dad's Dumpling Recipe Has Helped Me Make a Chinese Tradition My Own

As a child, I used to watch rapt as my father and his cousin wrapped dumplings in the back room of our Chinese restaurant. I loved the dull thunk the enormous Chinese cleavers made as they turned long, fat tubes of snowy dough into scallop-shaped pieces whose edges rose in a spongy, weak protest. I remember the efficient way they used a wooden rolling pin to turn them into perfect discs, chatting the whole time in the Mandarin I didn't speak. 

My nose perked up in excitement on those days when I smelled the distinctive aroma of seasoned meat (ground by my father himself) and Chinese chives, sourced from my mom's garden in the summertime. They'd distribute this marinated pork into those precise rounds of dough with two butter knives that were used in the restaurant specifically for making dumplings, wontons, dim sum and crab rangoons. 

To this day, I can still picture their work-worn fingers, rough with callouses and swollen with tired joints, delicately pinching neat, uniform pleats into every plump little pocket. The wrinkles in their chapped skin stood out a stark white as the fine flour they used to dust the work table and the dumpling wrappers pressed firmly into them in sharp relief. 

For non-restaurateurs, recollections might run closer to what was portrayed in Crazy Rich Asians—generations of family members gathered in a room to wrap dumplings ahead of Chinese New Year, where they're a symbolic, auspicious food meant to symbolize gold ingots and good fortune. But while my specific memory, part of a collective one for a unique generation of American Chinese takeout kids, is a way of life that is disappearing, the way we make dumplings is ages old. Over talk, over conversation, over shared work.

Between grinding the meat, chopping the chives, building the seasoning, marinating the filling, and making, rising and shaping the dough, making dumplings wholly from scratch is typically a days-long endeavor. Stuffing, shaping, then freezing or cooking add hours more. Ultimately, they are labors of love, each one as unique as the individual who made it, and all the more special for the conversation that happens around each step.

Like Italian red sauce, dumplings are delicious nearly anywhere, and every family has their own recipe, interpretation and secret ingredient that makes their dumplings taste as expected yet unmistakably different. And as my dad closed up shop and I moved to Louisiana and Georgia from New York, I found that no one made a dumpling quite like he did. The balance of dough to filling, the fragrance of his marinade, which incorporated his also-from-scratch brown sauce (the generically called base sauce for stir-fries), the perfect amount of juice that would extrude and fill the dumpling as it cooked … between his red-lacquered spare ribs and his dumplings, these were the tastes of home. 

But, as we all learn in adulthood, home is what your family makes it. Once you leave that familial home and create one of your own, you learn just how hard it is to duplicate the feelings, the flavors, the textures. 

I never mastered the art of from-scratch dumpling-making. I don't roll dough out well nor evenly and my pleats are equally varied and sloppy. So I made this Chinese dish and my dad's signature recipe my own—one that requires far less artistry and skill, using store-bought wrappers and skipping the step of pleating. But that's the thing about family recipes, right? Beyond mastery of technique and regional ingredients, the specific essence of the dishes changes with the maker, even as its essence remains preserved. My dumplings reflect the continuing evolution of Chinese in America—the fluidity of authenticity in Chinese food, and my own identity as proudly American Chinese. It also uses the more Japanese technique of frying followed by steaming, versus boiling then pan-frying, as the thinner wrappers won't stand up to that kind of treatment. A hybrid of Chinese flavors, American ingredient sensibilities and convenience, and Japanese style makes these dumplings part of the continuing evolution of Chinese food in America—a marriage of cultures at the crossroads of so many. This recipe is a taste of a different kind of home. Mine.

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Combine pork, turkey, chives and water chestnuts in a large bowl; mix well. Add oyster sauce, sesame oil, dark soy sauce, soy sauce,  Shaoxing, ginger, MSG and pepper; mix well to incorporate the seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or up to 3 days.

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  • When you're ready to wrap, get out the pork mixture and dumpling wrappers and fill a small bowl with water. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. (If using parchment paper, sprinkle it with flour.) 

  • Place one heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of a dumpling wrapper. Wet a finger with water and run it around the inside edges of the wrapper. Press the edges together to seal. No need to pleat with this cheat! Be careful not to overstuff to avoid tearing the wrapper or having the dumplings burst. Set the dumpling on the prepared baking sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying. Repeat to make 48 dumplings. (If you plan to freeze them, place the filled dumplings on a large floured baking sheet. Take care that they do not overlap too much lest they stick to one another. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 10 months. Proceed with Step 4; no thawing needed.) 

  • To cook dumplings: Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Carefully add 8 dumplings. Cook, flipping once, until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Add water to the pan, filling to halfway the height of the dumplings (about 1 cup). Increase heat to medium-high, partially cover the pan, and cook until the water has nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until the water has completely evaporated. Reduce heat to medium and cook, flipping once or twice, until the dumplings are dry and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a platter and repeat to cook the remaining dumplings.

Ingredient notes

Chinese chives are pungent, sharp and fiercely strong in flavor. You'll want to visit your local Asian grocery store for this important ingredient, which may also be labeled as green or garlic chives.

Dark soy sauce (sometimes called black soy sauce) is thicker than regular soy sauce, with a touch of sweetness. Look for it in Asian markets.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer used in savory foods, including Asian and packaged foods. It's made by fermenting starch, such as sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses, which is similar to the process used to make wine, vinegar and yogurt. MSG is said to be the source of our fifth taste quality—umami—which translates to "pleasant savory taste."

It's worth seeking out dumpling wrappers made by Twin Marquis, Dynasty or Twin Dragon. Look for them in the refrigerated or frozen section of your Asian market. They are thinner than other brands and stick together better.

Nutrition Facts

4 dumplings
262 calories; protein 10g; carbohydrates 22g; dietary fiber 1g; fat 15g; saturated fat 3g; mono fat 8g; poly fat 4g; cholesterol 30mg; vitamin a iu 84IU; vitamin b3 niacin 4mg; vitamin c 1mg; vitamin d iu 3IU; vitamin e iu 2IU; folate 50mg; vitamin k 9mg; sodium 372mg; calcium 26mg; iron 2mg; magnesium 17mg; phosphorus 103mg; potassium 153mg; zinc 1mg; omega 3 fatty acid 1g; omega 6 fatty acid 3g; niacin equivalents 6mg; selenium 19mcg.
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