So, today we got together with Minnie’s lovely friend Meg (which got me thinking that I’m missing out on a great alliterative opportunity by not having an ‘M’ name). Meg’s mother-in-law, Sansan, is Hong Kong Chinese and Meg generously offered up her services to teach us how to make dumplings from scratch. You know, the kind you have when you go to Dim Sum. Specifically, Jiaozi. Minnie and I love dumplings and, continuing with the bready-doughy theme that seems to be emerging, we leapt at the opportunity to be taught by a Total Pro. And she is a Total Pro. Once she get’s going, Sansan can churn out dumplings like the British make tea. And they look lovely. Perfect parcels of deliciousness with perfect pinches and perfect pleats. She’s made an awful lot in her time. She said that an experienced dumpling eater (i.e one of the Uncles) can get through 100 of these in one sitting. For a large family, Sansan was making a minimum of 30 per head. That’s a lot of dumplings. And for this reason, you really do need to have a major Dumpling session in order to deliver the quantities. It’s a family affair with everyone chipping in and helping with chopping, kneading, rolling, pinching etc. A whole day. We did a half-day with four of us on hand and toddlers wreaking havoc around us (and under us and between our legs)
In short, making dumplings was a lot less complicated than I thought it was going to be. Essentially it simply involves creating a delicious filling from whatever-you-fancy, making a dough from flour and water, rolling thin pancakey thingies from the dough, putting dollops of delicious filling in the pancakey things, pinching them together to make little parcels then steaming them or steaming them then pan-frying. Done. Critically, there are no ‘specialist’ ingredients that make it especially tricky, a consideration when you live in the countryside with no Chinatown to hand.
Now, this isn’t going to be a terribly instructional post. Minnie and I were very much learning today and we will be doing some more experimenting at home when we next find an opportunity. Further, we were working with such a Total Pro that there were no quantities or measurements. Lastly, for the filling in particular, it really is about your taste buds and how spicy you like things. But this is roughly how it went.
1. Create a dough from white flour and cold tap water. You’re adding the water very gradually and aiming to get to a very light dough that feels quite stiff at the end but is smooth and silky at the same time. i.e not springy (these words were proffered by Minnie who has more dough experience than I – I’m more DOH! – and as far as i can tell, dough has at least as many possible descriptors as snow for the Eskimo). It requires a fair bit of kneading. Eventually, you will create dough sausages, cut them into chunks, squash them down to a vague circle, then use a rolling-pin to get them nice and thin. This in itself is an art – too thick and the dumplings are too ‘doughy’, too thin and they won’t contain the contents. The important thing is not to let the dough dry out while you’re busy making the little pancakes because otherwise they’re harder to pinch together. We draped a slightly damp flannel over the dough when not in use to stop it drying out. Meanwhile someone else is getting on with;
2. Making a tasty filling: We used a packet of pork mince, finely-finely chopped chinese cabbage (about half a head), finely-finely chopped spring onion, finely chopped coriander leaves and stalks. Check out the picture to get an idea of the mix of meat to veg ratio in this instance. But of course you can use anything. And we’ll come back to this another time. This mix does need to be seasoned generously with salt and sesame seed oil. For the sesame seed oil, you’re talking a good old ‘glug, glug, glug, glug, glug”. We initially under-oiled and, once the first batch was cooked, added more into the mix for the second batch because it was too bland and dry. I’m emphasising this point because I’m generally pretty sparing with sesame oil as it can really hijack the taste, but in this instance you need to do what Total Pro says. Overall, you need to over-season as the flavours need to punch through the parcel at first bite.
3. Create tasty mini packages of yumminess from said dough and tasty filling: In the absence of your very own Total Pro at your side when you do this, and neither of us working out how to do video on our blog yet, I would actually suggest checking youtube videos for a close-up. Essentially what you’re doing is putting filling onto a pancake then pinching it closed, all the while making sure you create elegant little pleats as you go. SO easier said than done – one of those things where, when you see the Total Pro doing it, you think “yep, I can do that.” Then you try and the result is SO toddler in comparison it’s embarrassing. Further, when Meg’s sister-in-law (genuine daughter of said Total Pro) banged out a few dumplings, her pleats were completely different, but equally gorgeous. So, there isn’t necessarily a 100% right technique. It’s very easy to ‘seal’ the parcels with pinches, but it’s making it look pretty that is the challenging part and of course will come with lots of practice. Oh, yes, as you go, pop your finished dumplings on a tray with parchment with flour sprinkled on. This will stop them sticking to a surface and making it tricky when it comes to cooking them.
3. Steam or steam & fry the dumplings: This needs to be done in batches. Drop about 10 dumplings in boiling water. When the pot starts to boil over, add more water. Do this 3 times and then apparently they’re ready. We did this and it bloody worked! If you want fried ones, you take the pre-steamed dumplings and pop them in a hot pan and fry til the under side is golden.
4. Serve with dipping sauce. We had thinly sliced ginger in soy sauce and garlic, and also a ginger and the chinese version of white wine vinegar. Each gorgeous. All delicious. Play and make your own up.
If you’re still reading, you’ve come a long way and your stamina is commendable. If you don’t have a Total Pro at hand, and you find this blog post quite frankly too vague and unreliable, I would suggest getting a bunch of mates around, get on youtube and have a crack. The dumplings were absolutely delicious and it was a huge amount of fun getting there. Really worth the effort.