As we all know, food and festivals go hand in hand. For most people from Northern China, the must-have food to celebrate Chinese New Year, which starts today, is water dumpling, or Shui Jiao (水饺) in Mandarin.
You cannot find a better way to start the New Year than getting the entire family together to work the dough, roll the wrappers, make and cook the dumplings, and best of all, sit around the table to enjoy the juicy and succulent dumplings!
Chinese water dumplings are so named because they are cooked in boiling water. To make water dumplings, you start with cold-water dough, a mixture of wheat flour and cold water, which is kneaded, rested, and rolled out to individual round wrappers.
The gluten developed through kneading makes the wrappers elastic, which helps withstand the pressures of boiling and gives the cooked dumplings a wonderful texture.
By comparison, steamed or pan-fried dumplings call for hot-water dough, which produces a softer texture. A great example is garlic chive turnovers, which I posted last year.
Making cold-water dough and rolling dumpling wrappers can be quite easy, and even therapeutic, if you follow the method provided in my recipe below and use a tortilla press as your secret weapon. Although store-bought wrappers are handy in a pinch, they really don’t give you the same texture as homemade ones.
What goes into the dumplings? Meat, seafood, vegetables, or any combination of them. I love ground pork with garlic chives, as well as ground pork with pickled cabbage, a favorite in Northeast China.
As for the dipping sauce, you can start with Zhenjiang vinegar and add other flavorings such as minced garlic, soy sauce, chile sauce, or sesame oil.
I have an insatiable appetite for dumplings. When I desire the very best water dumplings created by real masters from Northern China, I would make a trip to Shandong Dumpling in Flushing or Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House in Elmhurst. Eat a full plate of piping-hot dumplings there, and bring a large bag of frozen ones home. Lucky me!
Pork and garlic chive water dumplings
Makes about 24 dumplings
For the dough:
1 ½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
For the filling:
8 oz (230 g) ground pork
4 oz (115 g) garlic chives, cut into ¼-inch (6 mm) pieces
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the dipping sauce:
Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar, with additional flavorings such as minced garlic, soy sauce, chile sauce, or sesame oil.
For the dough:
- Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Slowly pour the water to the flour, stirring quickly with chopsticks so the water is distributed evenly.
- Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
For the filling:
- Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and let sit for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend.
- Cook ½ tablespoon of the filling in the microwave to taste the seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Divide the dough into 4 even pieces and form each piece into a ball.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll one ball into a long log about 1 ¼-inch (3 cm) thick. Cut the log length-wise evenly into 6 discs. Form each disc into a ball, press down with your palm, and roll into a 3-inch (7.5 cm) round wrapper using a small rolling pin, ideally an Asian dowel-style rolling pin about one inch in diameter. Try to roll the wrapper to around 1/12-in thick (2 mm) on the edge and slightly thicker in the center. You can use a tortilla press or a heavy-bottomed pan to make this process easier, by first pressing the disc into a flattened circle, then using the rolling pin to shape the wrapper into the desired size and thickness.
- To make the dumplings, place a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper, fold to form a half moon shape, and press the edges to seal. Optionally, you can use your thumbs and index fingers to give the dumpling a further pinch to push the ends slight up and towards the center, and give the dumpling a more elegant shape with a bulging center.
- Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Dust the wrappers and dumplings with flour to prevent them from sticking together.
- To cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the dumplings and give a quick stir to keep them from sticking. Bring the water back to a gentle boil, and cook until the dumplings stay afloat and fully cooked, about 6 minutes. Adding some cold water to the boiling water 3 or 4 times during cooking can cool the vapors inside the dumplings and prevent them from exploding.
- Remove the dumplings from the pot, drain well, and service immediately with the dipping sauce of your choice.