Dumplings are as fun to make as they are to eat, which is a good thing for those of us not satisfied with the usual six or eight pieces served at restaurants and takeout joints. Making dumplings at home means you can eat as many as you can make.
That’s cause for a celebration. A dumpling party can be easy to pull off, especially if you use commercially made wonton wrappers. That way, all you need to do is make a filling – and there’s a world of ideas out there, three of which are listed below.
Here are the five steps you need to achieve dumpling deliciousness.
1. BUY YOUR WRAPPERS
This is so easy, it almost doesn’t count as a step. Look for 3½-inch round wonton or dumpling skins at the grocery store. These could be in the freezer aisle or in the produce section; see the primer below for more advice.
2. MAKE YOUR FILLINGS
Try any – or all – of the following three ideas, pulled from three different dumpling cookbooks.
Pork and Cabbage
Makes: 26 dumplings
Wrap ½ cup washed, dried and finely chopped napa cabbage in clean cheesecloth or tea towel; squeeze to wring out excess moisture. In a medium bowl, use your hands to combine 1 pound ground pork, 2 tablespoons sherry cooking wine, 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger, 2 teaspoons soy sauce and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Gently fold in the cabbage, and mix until fully incorporated. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in each wrapper; follow shaping and cooking instructions in steps 3 and 4 below.
– From the just-published “The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $19.99) by Helen You with Max Falkowitz
Kimchi and Chicken
Makes: 44 dumplings
Combine 1 cup each of chopped napa cabbage and finely chopped whole-cabbage kimchi with 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions in a colander, making sure they are well-drained. Transfer to a large bowl; mix with 1 pound ground chicken, 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and ½ teaspoon each salt and ground white pepper. (Wear rubber gloves if mixing by hand because of the chile in the kimchi.) Place 1 tablespoon filling in each wrapper; follow shaping and cooking instructions in steps 3 and 4 below.
– From 2007’s “A World of Dumplings” by Brian Yarvin
Spinach and Ricotta Cheese
Makes: 17 dumplings
Boil ½ pound spinach in water for a few minutes, and squeeze dry. Add 1 egg yolk, 1 cup ricotta cheese and 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese; mix thoroughly. Place 1 tablespoon filling in each wrapper; follow shaping and cooking instructions in steps 3 and 4 below. Cooked dumplings may be served with a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, or melted butter and fresh sage.
– Adapted from 2015’s “Dumplings: A Global History” by Barbara Gallani
3. SHAPE YOUR DUMPLINGS
Once you’ve placed a tablespoon or so of filling in each round, you can simply fold the wrapper in half and pinch it closed. You may need to brush the edge of the wrapper with water to get it to stick and stay closed, writes Brian Yarvin in “A World of Dumplings.”
But if you’re picturing beautiful, pleated dumplings, you can do that at home too. In her classic 1982 cookbook, “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking,” Barbara Tropp offered very simple instructions for making a pleated Chinese dumpling: Spoon filling off-center in the wrapper and “nudge into a half-moon shape” with chopsticks or your fingers. Fold wrapper in half over filling and pinch closed at the midpoint only. Beginning to the right of the midpoint, make three tiny pleats on the near side of the wrapper, each pleat facing toward the midpoint. Press each pleat to the far side of the wrapper (which remains unpleated) to join the two sides. Pinch the right corner of the crescent closed. Repeat on the left side of the dumpling.
4. COOK YOUR DUMPLINGS
First, a decision – are you boiling your dumplings or pan-frying them?
Boiling instructions from “The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook”: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add dumplings six at a time. Boil for 2 minutes on high, reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for 2 more minutes. Dumplings are ready a minute or so after they rise to the surface; their skins will turn puffy. Remove dumplings from water with a slotted spoon, bring water back to a boil over high heat and repeat with remaining dumplings. Serve immediately.
Pan frying instructions based on “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking”: Heat skillet over high heat, add oil to coat the bottom of the skillet by a scant 1/4 inch. Reduce heat to medium. Place dumplings in skillet flat-side down. Raise heat, if necessary, to maintain a “merry sizzle,” and brown the bottoms. When bottoms are evenly browned, pour in enough water (or chicken stock) to come halfway up the side of the dumplings. Cover, simmer for 7 minutes or until the water is almost absorbed and the dumpling bottoms are crisped.
5. DO THE DIP
“Don’t dip right away,” warns Helen You in “The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook.” She writes that “sauce can be a crutch for middling dumplings that don’t deserve a seat at your table. Before you whip out the soy sauce and chile oil, try your dumplings plain. You may be surprised at how little adulteration you need.”
That said …
For Asian dumplings, my go-to dipping sauce is a Barbara Tropp recipe, again from “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking”: 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon each minced ginger and hot chili oil or sesame oil. (That’s for one person; adjust quantity to fit your crowd.) Western dumplings? Melted butter, some grated cheese and, maybe, a splash of heavy cream, always works for me.
A PRIMER ON BUYING, FILLING AND SEALING DUMPLING WRAPPERS
Wrapping up a dumpling at home is easy if you buy commercially prepared dumpling or wonton skins. Look for them, made from wheat flour, in the produce section’s refrigerated case or, possibly, frozen section.
While Asian markets have all sorts of prepared wrappers to choose from (make sure you look for those made with wheat, not rice), general supermarkets may have a more limited selection. Indeed, I visited the outposts of three major chains in my neighborhood and found just one brand in each and only one shape: square 3 1/2-inch wonton wrappers. (Two of the stores also had fresh egg roll wrappers; more on them in a moment.)
Circular wrappers are used to make the classic pleated pot sticker dumpling. My dumpling story offers the how-to of shaping that sort of dumpling. You can also make pot stickers with square wonton skins – just use a 3 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to create rounds. You can also use the fresh egg roll or spring roll wrappers; cut in half or quarters. You could, then, cut those halves or quarters with the biscuit cutter, but I’d just leave them in their rectangular or square shapes – enough cutting, right?
Honestly, if I’m in my kitchen with a mound of delicious filling, I don’t care if my stack of wrappers is round, square or even rectangular. I just go at it. Remember, all you really have to do to make a dumpling is fold the wrapper, whatever the shape, in half to enclose the filling. You can even take the ravioli route and place the filling on one wrapper and top with another.
Two of the wonton packages I found in the supermarket noted on their labels that the skins could be used for ravioli too. That got me thinking that wrappers specifically packaged for ravioli could be used for dumplings. So, check the fresh pasta section of your market for unflavored ravioli wrappers.
The big challenge for me in using commercially prepared wrappers has been ensuring proper closure. Pre-made wrappers tend to be drier and firmer than those you make from scratch, so pleating and closing can be a difficult. (You may want to scrap the pleats altogether.) Make sure you really pinch the wrapper together firmly when closing. Keep a bowl of water and a pastry brush handy so you can wet the edges of the wrapper to help seal it securely.
As you work, place wrapped dumplings on a baking sheet or large tray. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap, so they stay moist while you wrap the rest.