Chinese dumplings. In my mind, they are shuijiao, or “water dumplings” as they are boiled. These to me are are “Chinese dumplings”. Guotie or “pot stickers” to me are “Hong Kong” dumplings, or just dumplings. We used to eat them every Sunday at dimsum. I’ve googled Chinese dumplings, and I have learned that actually they are properly called jiaozi. Ah yes, this word is recalled now. But my mum always called them shuijiao to differentiate from guotie. Jiaozi to me seems more of a mainland Chinese word.
We grew up pretty Canadian – perhaps unusually so. The only Chinese food we ate on a regular basis was Sunday dimsum, after church. Something my dad wanted until we were teenagers and sick of eating dimsum every week! Now however, whenever I get home, I always want my dad to take me to dimsum. I just can’t get decent dimsum here in the UK. And also, I now understand why my dad wanted to eat dimsum every Sunday. When it’s something you grow up eating, you have a fond nostalgia for the tastes and textures.
The First Chinese Dumpling Memory
When I was 11, we went to China. Mainland China. There’s a difference you see, when you grow up with parents that are not from the mainland. But this isn’t a blog about politics, so let’s end the discussion here and carry on with the dumplings. My uncle was living there at the time. I remember the day we arrived in Beijing. We were so jet lagged. The air pollution was something else entirely. My nose, accustomed to the clean Canadian air, had never smelled anything like it before. My uncle took us immediately to a crowded restaurant. The heat also was unreal. Forty degrees Celsius, and cloying, with the blanket of air pollution smothering the city. My siblings and I entertained ourselves, whilst the adults spoke to each other in Chinese. None of us could really speak Mandarin well. To illustrate, hilariously my sister made my uncle’s stoic and expressionless driver laugh one day because she decided to announce practically the only thing she could say in Mandarin, which was “I need to fart”.
Back to this restaurant. The adults paid us no mind. My uncle and my mum were catching up and they seemed to be talking up a storm. Suddenly these plates arrived. They were tiny ones, like the side plates you get in a restaurant. But on each side plate were about 10 dumplings each (shuijiao). And the plates kept coming… and coming… and coming. There seemed to be no end. I think my uncle had ordered something obscene ike 500 dumplings. This was my first memory of shuijiao. Mmm how delicious. They were warm, cozy, juicy, and so tasty!! I don’t even remember what flavours they were, but just this memory of deliciousness.
The Second Chinese Dumpling Memory
We were invited to my mum’s friend’s place for Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is something our family does not celebrate. This should inform you (if you are of Chinese descent) about how un-Chinese my upbringing was. My mum’s friend is from mainland China. When we arrived, her husband was making dumpling wrappers. I’d never seen anything like this before. The dough was a perfect, plump, white, round thing, which he rolled out into a perfect log, and then methodically cut identical pieces off them, then rolled them out into thin circular discs. As soon as he had made a disc, it was snatched up to wrap the filling. My mum’s friend showed me how to wrap the dumpling. She could do it seemingly with one hand. I just aimed to make sure they didn’t burst. I don’t remember what these tasted like, but I’m sure I enjoyed them. I remember more the process of making the dumplings, because I’d never seen the wrapper being made by hand.
The Third Chinese Dumpling Memory
My last memory of shuijiao is in university. I had a Canadian classmate, and we became good friends during our placements. He had lived with a guy from mainland China all throughout uni, and of course when Chinese New Year rolled around, they invited me over for some dumplings. Two kilograms of meat were made into dumplings. This I remember. I had arrived a bit late, so pretty much all the dumpling making had been done by then. Oh boy these were some tasty dumplings. I ate so many I lost count. Apparently I ate more dumplings than any of the boys had done. I really do not believe this, but my two friends swear it’s true. I have lost touch with the Chinese guy, which is a real shame. But the Canadian one is the one who encouraged me to start this blog.
So a very long-winded introduction to what comes next. How to make Chinese dumplings. Now take from this what you will. I cannot claim to be an expert. But I am definitely an enthusiast! Some recent events have left me craving Chinese food left, right, and centre these last few weeks. And shuijiao were no exception. They are a bit painstaking to make, which is why usually you make them when you have company, as many hands make light work. The last time I tried to make these with my husband, he got so frustrated with himself that this time I didn’t want to inflict that kind of pain on him. But. A craving must be fulfilled. So.. allez!
I’ve yet to find my perfect dumpling wrapper recipe. And unfortunately I don’t have the benefit of having grown up watching my parents or grandparents make it. I only have those vague memories of my mum’s friend’s husband making the dough. And vagure mamories of how the dough should look.
Last time I tried with a hot water recipe, which really was very difficult to handle. This time I tried the wrapper recipe from Red House Spice. Next time I am going to try the recipe from China Sichuan Food.
She said to use this ratio:
- 250g / 2 cups all purpose flour
- 125-130ml / 0.5 cup water (cold, as opposed to boiling hot – does not have to be ice cold, from the tap is ok)
- For 500 g minced beef (see below), I multipled the above by 3. There were around 20 wrappers left over which I have frozen.
I weighed the ingredients, and I used plain flour, as I am in the UK. I believe it is roughly the same as all purpose flour in terms of gluten content.
Now I found that the water volume in the above recipe was really not enough.. unless it’s meant to be that dry and you just knead more? But I couldn’t get the dough to come together with 390 mL water, so I added more until it just came together. That was probably another 50-60 mL all together.
In the end however, the texture was pretty good. It had just the right amount of bite.
- 1000 g minced beef
- 2 eggs
- ~6cm x 2cm x 3cm block of ginger diced finely –> yields roughly 1.5-2 tablespoons
- 4 cloves of garlic diced finely
- ~3-4 tablespoons chives chopped finely –> use Chinese chives if you can get it for super authentic flavour. I just used regular garden chives
- can also add scallions, but I didn’t have them today!
- 2 tablespoons of coconut aminos mixed with 2 tablespoons of organic Yaemon Tamari soy sauce –> you can use 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, but I think for extra rich flavour try to use at least 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce or tamari
- 4 tablespoons of mirin (rice wine vinegar) –> you could probably substitute any sort of wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of Japanese sesame oil –> try to get Japanese sesame oil, it has the best flavour
- generous pinch of ground black pepper
The amount of the herbs and flavourings above can all be changed according to your taste. This is not an exact recipe, and to be honest, every time I make dumplings, the ratios change a bit, but I always add ginger, garlic, soy sauce/coconut aminos/tamari, mirin, and sesame oil. You can get away with less volume of mirin/soy sauce/sesame oil than the above. This time I added this much, and it made a really nice “soup” inside the dumpling itself, which I quite liked, so I will probably continue making my mix like this. But if you wanted, I reckon 3 tablespoons of each would be sufficient to season the meat.
I use coconut aminos and soy sauce that is fermented traditionally. But if you have no problems with soy, you can go ahead and use regular soy sauce. Dark gives a richer flavour.
Mix all the ingredients together.
Prepare the dough into discs
Stretch the dough into a skinny log. Either by stretching it apart or by putting a hole in the middle and thinning it out til you get a circle, then cut the circle to get a log. Slice off small pieces of dough the same size (weighing helps you get consistency).
I was too hungry though and I made GIANT dumplings! They were really too large. I did 23-30 g pieces, which were far too big. I would suggest 15g pieces would be good.
Make sure your work surface has a reasonable dusting of flour and your rolling pin is floured also, to ensure easy movement and no sticking.
Roll the piece into a circle, then flatten it with your palm. Start rolling it out thin with a rolling pin. The technique (as I recall when watching my mum’s friend’s husband) is to roll with one hand, and turn the disc with the other as it flattens out. From the blog post that I have linked above to the wrapping recipe, she says to roll from the centre to the edge, then turn the disc and repeat. The sides should be thinner than the centre.
To freeze extra wrappers, just dust extra flour on both sides of the wrapper, stack on top of each other and store in a ziplock bag or wrapped in parchment.
It is easiest to do this when you have a friend to work with! But if you are on your own, beware the dumpling wrappers do dry out if you leave them too long, so best to roll out up to 10 wrappers, then fill them, and then go back to rolling out some more.
To assemble, you will need a small dish of water to dip your finger into, the dough, and the filling.
Once you have a thin circular disc, put filling in the middle. Be careful not to overstuff, as you will struggle to close the dumpling.
Wet the edge of the dough wrapper with the water by dipping your finger into the water and running it along the edge. I find doing one half of the wrapper is sufficient.
Now you have to work a bit quickly because if you wait too long, the edge of the wrapper will start to melt and be difficult to work with.
I find it easiest to set the dumpling onto a flat surface in order to fold it. But if and when you become really pro, you can hold the dumpling in one hand and wrap it with the other.
In order to close it, you need to “fold” the dumpling wrapper in half basically, with the filling sandwiched in the middle.
Pinch the middle of the two semicircles together. Now you have options:
- Simply pinch the rest of the edges together to close
- Accordian style it. This I have never mastered, and I am sure I will be corrected by an expert. But the way that I can recall to do it is as follows: – Take the wrapper that is nearest to you on the right side (if you are right handed) of the middle pinch. (Start with the left side if you are left-handed)
– Make successive inward folds from the centre going outwards, so that it looks like successive accordian folds.
– Once you get to the end, you pinch the ends together and it should naturally curve away from you, because the edge that is away from you is longer (since it hasn’t been successively folded in).
– Then repeat on the left side.
I am sorry I did not take a picture of the actual process, but I have a picture of the end result. As you can see, I’m out of practice so mine are a bit wonky. But it doesn’t matter, because they will still be tasty. Don’t be put off by the fact that you may not make picture perfect dumplings. That comes with practice.
The key thing is – make sure all edges are well sealed, as dumpling explosion while cooking is not pretty!
And when putting the dumpling together – be brave! Don’t fiddle around with it too much, just go for it and pinch the edges together. The more you fiddle and the longer the water sits on the edge of the wrapper, the harder the wrapper gets to handle.
As discussed, you can fry, steam or boil them. This blog post is about the boiled kind. But the recipe will be pretty similar regardless of cooking method. With the fried kind you would make the dough with hot water instead.
Bring a pot of water to a gentle rolling boil. You may add oil to the water if you wish. The key is to keep the water moving during cooking so the dumplings don’t stick.
Place the dumplings into the water once it reaches a gentle rolling boil, and wait til they float to the top. Once they do, they’re done!
I believe (and again I could be wrong) that traditional sauce is with black rice vinegar. But I never have that to hand. So I use:
- tamari (or a decent dark soy) – because you’re using this to dip in, the quality is key
- +/- sesame oil (depending on my mood)
- +/- chilli oil or sirhacha (again depending on my mood)