Chinese New Year: Dumplings for Days

So Chunjie, Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, happened, and that really only means two things: fireworks and dumplings.

Actually, this year the week long vacation was no where as deadly warzone as I had faced in the two years past. I mean, yes, there were tons of fireworks compared to any American celebration of anything, and the first night (the big fireworks event) definitely had its dangerous ground-zero moments, so many firework remnants in front of my building required an army of street sweepers and their brooms as well as a god damn bulldozer to sweep it all up, apparently there were only 45% as many fireworks as last year. And we all remember how Bambi got hit in the face last year, and I’ve been informed of someone who actually saw a man get his head blown off by fireworks in prior years.

Anyways, so the first night we decided to watch the fireworks in relative safety, and got on a double decker Ring-Road bus, sitting right up at the front up to so we could have a tour of the city and all the explosions. This worked well until at about 11:00 we found ourselves deposited on a remote corner of southwest Beijing. After some walking and dodging and shivering, we found the last night bus that would take us to Dongzhimen, where we walked quickly towards Sanlitun. The intersection of Chunxiu  Road and Dongzhimen was insane, things blowing up left and right, burning embers floating down to the ground very close to our heads, just utter madness. We made our way to Nali Patio and watched from the roof. It was really quite spectacular, if very cold.

So that took care of the fireworks, and aside from occasionally perching in my window seat to watch pretty explosions across the street, and occasionally freaking out because I’d be biking in the middle of the day when someone set one off very near me, I sort of was surfeited on them.

On to the dumplings. This is my mom’s recipe for wontons. My mom is famous for wontons, at least in my family. I’ve been helping her assemble them since I was four years old. The white side of my family loves them, and nearly every big family dinner we have, she’s asked to make them for appetizers. They’ve made waves at team dinners, international food nights, fundraising parties, etc. Pretty much, they’re amazing and you should make them immediately.

At home we always used store bought skins because my mom had shit to do like work and take care of three children so who has time to make dough from scratch and then roll out perfect circles? Store bought skins are paper thin, uniform size and shape, and very convenient. You can buy them frozen or sometimes in the refrigerated produce area in some grocery stores, and store them in the freezer until you need them.

But, I’m a twenty five year old with no infants and four friends to command in the dumpling making process, so while I bought two packs of skins, we also made a batch of dough which two of my ‘kitchen assistants’ kneaded and rolled out. It’s basically flour and water, the same recipe as noodles.

In the mean time, the rest of us worked on the filling. We made two different kinds. I usually use ground pork, but these can be made with any sort of ground meat.

A) 1 Lb ground pork and finely minced raw shrimp.

B) 1 Lb ground pork, diced green peppers.

To each of these bowls we added shredded cabbage, minced garlic and ginger, 2 Tbs cooking wine, 1 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs fish sauce and oyster sauce, 2 tsp sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Mix this up well, then microwave a teaspoon of it, and taste it, and re-season if necessary.

Then comes the arduous part. Take a small spoonful of filling and deposit in the middle of the square skin (keep the open pack of store bought skins under a damp paper towel otherwise they will dry and crack). Fold into a triangle, and fold in the corners, making a tri-corn hat or ingot shape. It helps to dip your finger in water  and trace along the inner edges of the skin, otherwise they won’t seal together.

With the homemade dough, the wrappers will be much thicker, and a bit smaller. Roll them out evenly to a circle shape. Dough in the middle. For the inexperienced dumpling makers, they made half moons and ingot shapes. I sealed mine in crescent creases, folding in twice on each side from the center, but that takes a lot of practice to accomplish (if you order Peking Ravioli or Potstickers from your local junky Chinese takeout, think of that shape, only smaller and better because I am an awesome dumpling assembling robot).

We started the dumping venture rather late, and I had agreed to attend a HeyRobics! class with the girls, so I left the rest of the dumpling assembly reluctantly in the large hands of the boys, and went to get my exercise on. Well, what can I say. Swedish jazzercise is not my cup of tea. I mean, I can sort of see the appeal and it is a cardio workout, but dancing and jumping around with a bunch of people makes me want to snark and snap. I very much prefer getting into shape by punching people. After an hour or so of that, and taking care of some cats, we returned, and I gave the boys instructions via phone so that dumplings would be cooking even before I got home.

We cooked ours two ways. Boiled and fried. The homemade dough does very very both boiled and fried, but the store bought skins are better fried, unless served in soup. You can also freeze the dumplings now, before cooking them, they store very well and can be boiled or steamed or panfried later.

One large pot of water, brought to a boil, on the other burner, a wok full of 3-4 inches of neutral oil. Bring it to about 350F, and fry dumplings in batches (do not overload the wok). Let them get all nice and golden on one side, and then flip to the other side and let them get all golden, then remove with long chopsticks or slotted spoon, and place in a paper towel lined colander to drain. Cut one open just to make sure it’s fully cooked through, but the process should take about 5-6 minutes. Watch the heat carefully to make sure the skins don’t overcook or burn, but you do want them golden and crispy. The homemade dough wil take longer than store bought since it’s thicker.

Bambi compares me to Kamaji the Boiler man, only a dumpling making machine instead of bathhouse water

Bambi compares me to Kamaji the Boiler man, only a dumpling making machine instead of bathhouse water

Fried Jiaozi, draining in a paper towel lined colander

Fried Jiaozi, draining in a paper towel lined colander

 

Or, bring the water to a boil, add a batch of dumplings, let the water come to a boil again, add a rice bowl full of water, let it come to a boil again, and the dumplings should be done (again, I recommend cutting one open just to be sure, because a lot of this depends on the thickness and size of the wrapper and filling).

Serve with sweet chili sauce or soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and garlic and hot oil.

In total we made about 180 dumplings, and between the five of us, ate almost all of them.


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