Dumplings are the bomb.
My sister sent me this article by Nicole Routhier in Cook’s Illustrated titled “How to Make Asian Dumplings,”  [PDF] which offers up a good discussion of basic cooking methods, filling recipes, dipping sauce recipes, and wrapper recipes and wrapping technique. It’s really a great tutorial on Asian dumplings and it’s very easy to understand (with great illustrations).
The recipe we really like in the article is for the Sesame Beef and Cabbage Filling. We’ve taken the base recipe Routhier provided and put in a few changes that we really like. For example, we’ve swapped out the beef for pork and pork & shrimp (our favorite). We also have future plans to modify it so that we will use scallops and shrimp, to make it all seafood.
Here are our tips based off our experience making dumplings:
- Double the recipe: It’s quite a bit of work to make dumplings, so you might as well double the recipe and freeze the ones you don’t eat!
- For fillings, you don’t want to get too lean. You want some fat and oil in there, whether you add sesame oil or use a higher percentage fat meat (pork or fattier beef), because that will translate into moistness in the filling after it’s been cooked. We’ve experimented with just lean beef (with cabbage, ginger, sesame oil, and a little pork) but the filling comes out too dry.
- Don’t overfill, it’s better to underfill the dumplings than overfill. While the dumpling cooks, there’s a tendency for the dumplings to expand and for juice to leak out of any poorly sealed seams. After a dozen dumplings, you’ll get a feel for how much is ideal because it won’t be a mess to seal.
- When closing the wrapper, use a spoon to wet the edges. I like to use the spoon that I used to scoop the filling into the wrapper. Dip the spoon in water and use that spoon to moisten the edge of the wrapper, this keeps your fingers dry so it’s easier to create the seal. If you moisten it with your finger, there is a tendency for the skin to stick to the moist fingers.
- We don’t make out own skins. Unlike homemade pizza , which naturally includes making your own homemade pizza dough , I don’t think making your own wrappers adds a tremendous amount. I think the time savings make this a less imposing challenge.
- For our cooking method, we prefer to steam our dumplings then follow up with a little frying on the pan with sesame oil to give the bottom a little bit of crispiness. To get it from the steamer to the pan, I spray a pair of tongs with Pam and then move them manually, one by one.
- With commercially made frozen dumplings, my tendency is to boil them because it’s faster, but with homemade dumplings I think steaming is the best. Boiling may be too violent a process for our delicate dumplings, with the rolling nature capable of tearing our soft dumplings apart.
- Make a dipping sauce. Your sauce should be based on the type of dumplings you made and be careful not to make a sauce that dominates the flavors of your filling. If you just dip it in soy sauce or soy and hot sauce, you’re doing yourself a disservice because the soy will dominate the filling’s flavors.
We make the soy ginger dipping sauce in the article and absolutely love it (we double the chile oil though, because we like it to have a little extra punch!).
- Freezing dumplings is a little trickier because the skins may still be sticky from being thawed and because you’ve been handling them. My trick is to first separate them on a plate and put them in the refrigerator, rotating them every fifteen minutes, so that they can dry out a little and cool down. Once their skins are nice and dry, I transfer the plate to the freezer. The key is to freeze them on their own and then, after they’re fully frozen, put them in a freezer bag. If you put them together immediately, they’ll stick and you’ll have this big unmanageable mess.
- Experiment! The fun of cooking is in the experimentation (it’s also what makes it so addicting!), playing with recipes and using your own creativity to create something unique that you can enjoy. Once you get the general flavors down, start tweaking them to your preferences. We’ve experimented with a variety of fillings (including the above mentioned lower percentage fat beef, that turned out a little dry) with great success. Either you find something you like, which you can make again, or you find something you don’t, which means you gain greater insight into what works well and what doesn’t!
The photo above isn’t of our dumplings, but they look very similar, because I can’t find my camera’s battery charger. On a recent flight, my luggage was torn and a side pocket’s contents were lost… hopefully my charger wasn’t in there (we thought it was a bag of toiletries).
(Photo: joygant )