Steamed Pork Dumplings

Chinese New Year: Steamed Pork Dumplings with Homemade Wrappers

Early last year, we conducted an exhaustive survey of the Chinese takeout options in the greater Portland area, sampling several restaurants’ versions of steamed pork dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, fried wontons, and scallion pancakes. It was a sampling of our favorite classics from the “greatest hits” collection of Chinese take-out, and we searched far and wide for versions of these basic dishes that would satisfy the near-weekly appetite we have for delivery Chinese. It was, by all accounts, a dismal failure.

Our bar for Chinese food isn’t set very high, and it certainly isn’t “authentic.” We’re not asking for culinary genius, here, instead looking simply for dumplings that are cooked competently and sweet ‘n’ sour sauce that didn’t begin its life as airplane glue. Something to drink cheap beer to. Something to watch Survivor by. Instead, our search for Chinese take out in Portland led us to alarmingly large foil  sacks of empty fried wonton skins, puffy chicken donuts bathed in cornstarchy syrup, and gigantic, absurd dumplings that exploded boiling water all over our burned chins before dropping their tiny payload of shriveled pork onto the floor.

In a year where experts estimate that more than 250 new Mexican restaurants opened in Portland, the options presented by Chinese take-out restaurants still fall woefully short of food you should be eating voluntarily. Rather than re-tread this old ground (though we certainly invite you to do so), we decided to dedicate this first week in 2012 to an exploration of our favorite recipes for classic Chinese takeout-style dishes.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

To start the series, we decided to tackle our all-time favorite flimsy tin of Chinese wonder: The steamed (or in this case, boiled) pork dumpling. Commonly served by the half-dozen in a round takeout container half-full of cloudy water, our ideal dumpling is meaty, with a thickish, doughy wrapper, dipped in a mixture of soy, rice wine vinegar, and ginger. The first bite should break the seal, revealing a pocket perfect for holding more sauce. In our version, a little bit of cabbage acts as a binder for the filling, and keeps the inside from getting too dense. The dough is thicker than you’d find in a translucent potsticker, folded in little pleats, before being boiled and then (optionally) pan-fried on one side.

In China, male children are selectively bred for their dumpling-pleating abilities, so don’t feel bad if it takes you a few dozen tries and a few YouTube videos to get a respectable looking result. Ours certainly aren’t much to look at, but you’ll see that the boiling disguises some of the mistakes you may make during folding. Don’t worry if they end up looking more like day-old pierogies, unfried empanadas, or a bit of a chewed-up foot wrapped in a fat noodle. They will still be better than anything you can get from one of the numerous local Chinese super buffets.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Steamed Pork Dumplings with Homemade Wrappers
Adapted from a recipe in Serious Eats; Makes about 40 dumplings, or 25-30 by the time you get the hang of it and throw out the duds.

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup boiling water

For the filling:

  • 1/2 a small head of napa cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated on a microplane

Method:

For the dough:

Place flour in food processor. With machine running, slowly drizzle in water until cohesive dough is formed. Allow dough to ride around inside of processor for 30 seconds. Form into a ball using floured hands, and transfer to a bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Place cabbage and salt in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a strainer set over a bowl, and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place scallions, pork, soy sauce, sherry, and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse into a paste, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

After cabbage has purged, squeeze any remaining moisture out with your fists, then transfer to the bowl with the pork. Fold together with a spatula.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Divide dough into 4 sections, and each section into 10 small tablespoon-sized balls, making 40 balls total. On a well-floured work surface, roll each ball into a round 3 1/2- to 4-inches in diameter. Arrange wrappers on a floured board or parchment; if you try and stack them, they may fuse back together into one giant dough ball.

To form dumplings, place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with a wet fingertip or a pastry brush. Fold in half and pinch the bottom-right corner closed. Pleat the front edge of the wrapper repeatedly, pinching the edge closed after each pleat until the entire dumpling is sealed. Transfer sealed dumplings to a lightly floured wooden or parchment-lined board.

For the dipping sauce:

Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature.

To cook dumplings:

In a large pot of boiling water, cook dumplings 6-8 at a time, for three minutes per batch. Stop here, or, for pan-fried dumplings, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet and sear bottoms of dumplings until golden brown. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

In our “Chinese New Year” series, we unlock the secrets of our favorite Chinese-American takeout classics with a week’s worth of recipe posts. We realize that the Chinese New Year isn’t until January 23rd this year, making the name of this series more “clever,” than it is “informative.” To read more from this series, click here.

Comments

  1. says

    I adore dumplings, I always tell my mom if she could make them for me and she always says no so I’m often buying them at the store, I can’t wait to try them like this

  2. Wendy says

    FINALLY! I real potsticker recipe that doesn’t require 140 ingredients that I’ve never heard of! Can’t wait to try these!

  3. Wendy says

    Oh, and don’t feel alone! Apparently, Salt Lake City has a rule that there can only be one decent Chinese restaurant open at a time, with a 6 month to 1 year waiting period between the one going out of the business and the next one opening up!

  4. Rachel says

    These were so delicious! Pot stickers were always so intimidating to me to try at home, now I think we’ll be making a big batch of these once every month (or twice, or three times). Thanks for an awesome recipe!!

    • Malcolm says

      Yes, we never thought we possessed the skills needed to make them, and our folding technique still leaves a lot to be desired. But overall, we’re really happy with how these turned out!

  5. Kym says

    Hi was wondering if you can make these using gluten free all purpose flour or rice flour? what else would i have to pout into the dough to make everything stay combined. I’ve tried making dough with rice flour but it seemed to lack the staying together when rolled, as there is no gluten present to keep every thing combined. My daughter is allergic to wheat & gluten and she loves these.
    Please help.

    • Malcolm says

      I have to say that I really don’t know, as I don’t do any gluten-free baking. I will say that I think the gluten matrix is an important part of the way this dough comes together. I’d be interested in hearing the results of your experiments with rice flour. Good luck!

    • Dianna says

      Isn’t that what xanthum gum is for? I thought that was to hold things together…but I don’t cook gluten free (yet) so I’m not sure.

  6. David says

    Any recommendation on how to mix the dough without a blender/food processor. Made the Scallion Pancakes today and just mixed the dough by hand. They tasted great but were pretty dense, not light and flaky as described. Perhaps I did not fry hot/long enough. I’d imagine I will have the same trouble with this recipe due to the same dough/process being used. Although, a heavy dumpling wrapper seems like less of a problem than heavy pancakes. ;)

  7. says

    These dumplings look delicious, but there’s actually a way to make the cooking phase a one step process as well as a hybrid. If you can’t choose between steamed or fried, here’s what chefs do in China:

    Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan and wait until heated. Add the dumplings and wait for the dumplings to crisp a bit, then pour two table spoons of oil mixed with szechuan spicy sauce, chopped garlic, and a spoonful of water over the dumplings, then quickly seal off the pot with a lid to allow the dumplings to steam. Wait for it to finish cooking and in the end, you have dumplings crispy on the bottom, but steamed on the top :)

  8. Claire says

    Just tried making these.. subbed out the sherry and scallions for white wine and garlic as its what I had on hand and they turned out amazing

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