Why It Works
- Nice fatty pork creates a succulent filling.
- Cabbage physically impedes pork muscle proteins from binding too tightly with each other, ensuring that the filling stays tender without shrinking.
Of all the foods in the A1 through A24 section of your local Chinese takeout menu, fried dumplings (that's Peking ravioli to you Bostonians) are perhaps the ones that benefit most from some home treatment. Unless you're really lucky, takeout dumplings are thick-skinned and greasy, any crunch having left them in the long steamy bike ride from the kitchen to your door.
Made with fresh wrappers and eaten straight out of the wok (or frying pan, of you prefer), they rank up there with burgers and mapo tofu as World's Awesome Foodstuff. The perfect fried dumpling should have a golden brown, ultra-crisp fried bottom, with a skin that's springy and chewy, but never tough or doughy.
The fillings can vary by taste, but my favorite combination is pork and cabbage. Nice fatty pork keeps things moist, while cabbage acts much in the way that breadcrumbs work in meatloaf or meatballs: it physically impedes the pork muscly proteins from binding too tightly with each other, ensuring that the filling stays tender without shrinking. How many times have you bitten into a restaurant dumpling only to find a big empty sack of skin with a tiny meat nugget hiding out in the corner? That won't happen with these.
The hardest part of making dumplings at home is forming and rolling out the dough, and it's really not that hard. The dough is made by adding boiling water to flour, which means that the proteins in the flour that usually form a stretchy gluten matrix are already partially cooked before kneading beings. This severely limits gluten formation, which makes the dough a lot more like a paste than a stretchy bread dough. The malleable stuff is very easy to roll out (you have to let it cool first) into even, thin shapes. After steaming or boiling, it becomes slightly translucent, with a pleasant springiness that'll put store-bought wrappers to shame.
"There's really no shame in using the store-bought variety if you can't be bothered to make your own dough."
That said, there's really no shame in using the store-bought variety if you can't be bothered to make your own dough. I do it all the time when I want a lot of dumplings in a hurry.
When fancy dim sum cooks form the dumplings, they do it really fast, right in the palm of their hand. I find it much easier to do the crimping and sealing on a cutting board. I like making the traditional crescent-shaped pouch, but even simply folding the skins in half and sealing them will work. It all tastes the same in the end!
Just remember: use less filling than you think you should. An overstuffed dumplings is hard to seal, hard to cook, and hard to eat.
How to Cook the Dumplings
Boiling is the simplest method, and results in a relatively thick, soft-skinned specimen. Just toss them in a pot of boiling water (remember, this is a fresh pasta, so you have to use a fair amount of boiling water to prevent them from turning mushy), wait until they float, then let them cook for an extra minute or two to ensure the filling is cooked through.
Steaming is also quite simple, provided you have a bamboo steamer and a wok (if you don't, you should). This method produces dumplings with a slightly thinner, stretchier skin. Superior, if you ask me. Remember to line your steamer basket with cabbage leaves to prevent sticking.
The best method for preparing dumplings is pan-frying. The traditional procedure is to first fry them in oil, then add water to the pan and cover it so that the dumplings steam through. Eventually, the water all evaporates, and the dumplings fry once more, crisping up their bottoms. It's a great one-pan option, but it takes a little practice to get the timing right and to prevent the dumplings from sticking.
The Hybrid Method: Boil or Steam, Then Fry
Much easier is the hybrid method: boil or steam the dumplings first, then fry them to crisp up their bottom. I like frying in a wok because the wide edges prevent oil from splattering onto my stovetop or floor. Just make sure to allow the dumplings a minute or two to drain and for excess moisture to evaporate before adding them to the wok or frying pan. Cast iron or non-stick are best, with a good amount of oil to create a substantial bottom crust.
Once you've got the basic method down, feel free to experiment with the filling, adding aromatics (like ginger, chilis, lemongrass, or cumin, for example), changing out the meat (shrimp, or a mixture of lamb and pork or beef and pork are nice), or adding other vegetables in addition to the cabbage (like shredded carrots, blanched and chopped spinach, or finely diced water chestnuts).
This recipe was cross-tested in 2022 and lightly updated with clearer instructions to guarantee best results.
For the Dough:
2 cups (9 ounces; 255g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (237ml) boiling water
For the Filling:
1/2 pound (8 ounces; 226g) Napa cabbage (about 1/2 a small head), roughly chopped
1 teaspoon (3g) kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1/2 pound (8 ounces; 226g) fatty ground pork
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sugar
For the Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely sliced scallion greens
1 teaspoon ginger, grated on a microplane
For the Dough: place flour in bowl of food processor. With machine running, slowly drizzle in water until a cohesive dough forms (you probably won't need all the water). Allow dough to ride around processor for 30 seconds. The dough should be smooth and tacky. 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: Place cabbage and salt in food processor and pulse until finely chopped, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer to a fine-meshed strainer set over a bowl. Allow to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place scallions, pork, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse until homogeneous and pasty, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
After cabbage has purged, squeeze any remaining moisture out with your fingers, then transfer to the bowl with the pork. Fold together with a spatula until homogeneous. Microwave a small ball of the filling in a bowl for 10 seconds and eat it to taste for seasoning. Add more salt, soy sauce, or sugar as necessary and repeat tasting and seasoning until the filling tastes like you want it to. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To Make the Dumplings: Divide dough into 4 sections. Roll each section into a 6-inch long log. Cut each section into 10 equal pieces and roll each into a ball, making 40 balls total (about 3.8 ounce; 10g each). On a well-floured work surface, roll each ball into a round 3 1/2- to 4-inches in diameter. Stack wrappers and keep under plastic until all of them are rolled out.
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.
To Make the Sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature.
To Cook the Dumplings: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 6 to 12 dumplings and boil until they float, about 1 minute. Continue boiling for 2 minutes longer, then transfer to a plate with a wire-mesh spider or slotted spoon. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet or the bottom of a well-seasoned cast iron wok over medium heat until shimmering. Add dumplings flat-side down and cook, swirling occasionally, until bottom of dumplings are golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with dipping sauce. Repeat step 7 with remaining dumplings, working in batches.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||13%|
|Total Carbohydrate 27g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||10%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|