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Nicely pleated and well-stuffed Chinese dumplings (Jiaozi or Gow Gees) are flavor-filled pillows worthy of main meal status. They’re not hard to prepare, despite how it may look, and dumplings are a Chinese New Year’s treat that’s a great appetizer or side dish year round.
Because their shape resembles old style silver and gold ingots, making boiled Jiaozi dumplings is a New Year’s Eve tradition in Northern China that represents prosperity and success for the coming year. If you’d like to add a new Chinese classic to your culinary repertoire, these filling mouthfuls are a fun and versatile choice.
Also known as pot stickers because they, well, stick to the pot when you fry them, Chinese dumplings can be made a couple of different ways. You can also incorporate a few labor-saving steps into the process if you’re in a hurry. Although you get points for forming them perfectly, even if your technique is less than stellar, they’ll still taste delicious.
Pick Your Method
Chinese dumplings can be boiled or fried. Pot stickers, the fried version, sport a distinctive golden brown mark on the bottom where they kiss the skillet. Prep for both methods is similar.
Dumpling recipes are pretty consistent and use a vegetable base, like Chinese (Napa) cabbage, with pork (shrimp, chicken and lamb work, too), cornstarch and spices. Moisture is the enemy here, so dry is good. This means you may have to pat the veggies dry after you wash them.
Tips and Cheats
Preparing dumplings involves four separate steps: making the dough, mincing the filling, forming the dumplings and cooking them in a skillet or pot of water. A couple of these steps can be shortened or completely eliminated if you aren’t into the culinary process but still want good, home-cooked results.
- Dough – Chinese dumpling dough is easy to make, but it takes patience to roll it out thin and even, about a thirty-second of an inch. The dough recipe is typically five parts flour to one part water. Mix it very well, either the old fashioned way, with chopsticks, or in a food processor. You can use a cup or glass as a dough cutter. Ideally, you want a circle three inches in diameter. (Cheat: Use wonton or egg roll wrappers instead. If you have a variety of thicknesses to choose from at your local market, thicker is better.)
- Mincing – This part is important because dumplings are small, and a coarse chop won’t give you good variety in each mouthful. It’s also the most time-consuming part of the process. (Cheat: There’s no really good cheat here, although you might consider buying cleaned and shredded greens so part of the work is already done for you. Having your butcher grind your choice of meat is an option, too.)
- Filling – Whether you’re working with wrappers or making your own dough, filling and forming is the part of the dumpling making process that takes the most skill. Once you’ve learned though, it’s like riding a bike and you won’t ever forget. Two key points you need to keep in mind are not to overfill the dumpling and to seal it well. You get extra points for forming the dough into even, overlapping pleats. (Cheat: You can buy dumpling presses that make the job effortless. Plastic varieties are inexpensive too. As a bonus, they also work for making pirogis and even ravioli.)
- Cooking – You can boil or fry Chinese dumplings, and then steam them. Just keep in mind that you have to be gentle to avoid having them come apart during cooking. For pot stickers, make sure you use a heavy skillet. The goal is to sear the bottom using oil and then add water to steam-cook them for the second half of the process. Keep cooking after the water has evaporated in order to firm up the dough on top.
Pot stickers make tasty leftovers, so plan on creating a big batch. They also freeze well. Just start them off in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and transfer them to a bag once they’re frozen.
Did You Know?
Chinese New Year is also called the Chinese Spring Festival. It’s based on the lunar calendar and usually occurs between January 21 and February 20 on Western (Gregorian) calendars [source: 101 Lifestyles].
Lots More Information
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