Sunday 4 March 2007

Chinese Dumplings

A few years ago, I was hired to do some 4D localisation work in Beijing, and over the few trips I had there, some of the best memories are of the food. I never got a chance to do much sightseeing, but I did have to eat, and made sure I ate well. On the last two trips, I was working with Imre, who complained that each time he spent any time in China with me, he put on weight. I know I must have too as we always seemed to eat very well, and with the food so good most of the time, it was necessary to make the most of it as I didn't know when next I'd have food as good.

One of the things which Imre introduced me to was dumplings. We often went to one particular dumpling restaurant for lunch, as it was on the same road as the National Library of China, where we were working, and their dumplings were great, except one batch when Imre forgot that I couldn't eat mushrooms. Yeah, right, I'm sure he was seeing if I'd eat them if I didn't know they were in there.

Since then, the only time I've eaten similar Dumplings was when my Mongolian friend, Bata and his wife cooked them for me. Although, Mongolian dumplings tend to be a bit scarce on the vegetables, although still very tasty and very filling. Although I observed some of the cooking process for Bata's dumplings, I never got the recipe from him before he left to go back to Mongolia.

So, when Joel emailed me with a link to a recent video he made of him Making Dumplings, I sat through a lot of the 25 minutes (flicking forward a bit every now and then) to figure out the technique, and this weekend, I finally took the plunge and tried out his recipe. The only thing I haven't tried yet is frying them after boiling them, but I wanted to remember what they were like in Beijing, and according to Joel, frying them after boiling is a Shanghai thing, so I stuck to how I remembered them and just boiled them

Recipe for the Dumpling Dough (makes 80-90 dumplings)

  • 6 cups of Plain Flour
  • 2 cups of Water

Mix the flour and water together and knead to make a smooth dough. Then cover and leave for about an hour (i.e. the time it takes to get the filling ready if you're me).

Recipe for the Dumpling Filling (makes 80-90 dumplings)

  • 400g Lean Minced Beef
  • 400g Lean Minced Pork
  • 4 Large Carrots, finely chopped
  • 8-10 Spring Onions, finely chopped
  • 1.5 bulbs of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of Fresh Coriander, finely chopped
Mix the ingredients for the filling together so that they're completely mixed together. The vegetables should be finely chopped, but not done in a food processor. And if you're like Joel, you might mix them together using chopsticks, but in my case, I just used a fork to mix everything together (saving the chopsticks for the eating).

Now that the filling has been prepared, and the dough has been sitting, covered, for an hour at least, you can take it back out again and knead it a little more to knock it back and make it a smooth dough again. Then start trying to turn it into a cylinder of dough about an inch across. This will make a very long piece of dough, so, make one piece about 30cm x 2.5cm and cover the rest so that it doesn't dry out while you're preparing the first batch.

You then want to cut off a piece to give you a sphere of dough which is about 2.5cm diameter, then using the handle of a wooden spoon, roll this out on a well floured board to make it about 10cm in diameter, leaving the middle of the piece slightly thicker. See the video to see how Joel does it. Then, once the correct size, add a teaspoon of the filling onto the piece of dough, then fold in half and seal by folding over the edges to make a typical looking Chinese Dumpling. The store these dumplings on a well-floured board, plate or tray.

Once you have 20-30 dumplings made, bring a large sauce pan of water to the boil, allowing enough space to add another few cups of water to it. When the water is fully bubbling, add 20 or so dumplings to the water, stirring very gently to ensure non stick to the bottom. Just let them move about, rather than actually stirring them.

When the water comes to a proper boil again, add a cut of water to cool it down. By not letting it boil aggressively throughout the cooking, it helps stop the dumplings from breaking up. You need to repeat this process another 2 times (3 cups of cold water in total) during cooking, then the dumplings should be ready. They should all be floating also, but taste one just to make sure.

Recipe for the Dipping Sauce

  • 0.5 cup Malt Vinegar
  • 0.5 cup Soy Sauce
  • 0.5 cup Sweet Chilli Sauce
  • 8-10 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 dried Red Chillies, finely chopped

Actually, this probably wasn't as authentic as it should be. Really, I should have got some proper dumpling dipping vinegar and Chinese hot sauce, but I didn't have these, and so I improvised. The amounts here are definitely not accurate to the sauce I made as the chilli sauce went in a little quicker than I'd expected, so ended up watering it down with some balsamic vinegar when I had them for the lunch the next day. But when Ejaz had them the following evening, he had it non-watered down as he had man-flu, and needed the additional spice.

Ejaz gave the dumplings and dipping sauce 8 out of 10. He'd never had anything like them before, so didn't have anything to score them against, but still really enjoyed them, and it's the higest mark he's ever given any of my food. Previous scores haven't been higher than a seven. I haven't tried any fried yet, but steamed they're pretty good too, but Joel said that steaming them was southern thing, and really required a slightly different design of dumpling. The thing is, the night I made them, I was starving by the time I'd made a few, so I put on milk pan with some water, stuck on a small bamboo steamer I had, and put them in so that I could taste a couple before preparing the rest.

Joel says that you can freeze them before boiling them so that you can finish them at a later stage. But they also seem to keep in the fridge overnight, covered, and preferably separated so that they don't stick together.

The photography is awful, I know. With a better camera at my disposal, I might have got a better shot. I think it might be replacing this photo with a daytime one off the next batch of dumplings, taken during daylight.

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