When the Bumpus hounds destroyed the Parker family’s Christmas turkey in A Christmas Story, the family did the only sensible thing they could: they went out for Chinese food. The relationship between Christmas dinner and Chinese foodgoes back much further than the 1950’s, and it has become, in its own way, a staple of American Christmas culture.
Well, if you’d rather eat in than dine out this Christmas, we can help. We’ve already shared a terrific recipe for General Tso’s chicken, but one dish does not a Christmas feast make. A proper feast wants dumplings, 1 and we have the tips you need to make them right and to make them safe.
Chinese dumplings: a very brief introduction
Books can be and have been written on the subject of Chinese dumplings, and this isn’t going to come anywhere close to doing the whole subject justice. There are dozens of kinds of dumplings, if not hundreds, from the various regional cuisines of China. While some varieties are eaten only for special occasions, there are many that are part of the every-day, street-food scene of modern China. They can be filled with meat, vegetables, fish, bean pastes, or even sweets, and they come in a variety of shapes.
Here, we’ll focus on Chinese jiǎozi (pronounced jeeOW-tzuh), or, as we often (and sometimes erroneously) call them, potstickers. These dumplings can be filled with nearly anything—though they are often filled with pork or lamb—and are often eaten with a soy-based dipping sauce. They can be boiled, steamed, even deep-fried. They are often made from hand-rolled wrappers with thicker, doughier walls than those made with pre-made dumpling wrappers—a step we won’t be taking in this recipe. (Japanese gyoza are descended both culinarily and linguistically from jiǎozi but have thinner skins. Gyoza wrappers are often what are available at stores in America for wrapping dumplings.)
Potstickers in particular
The version we’ll be cooking—technically called jiānjiǎo, fried dumplings—are properly what we call potstickers. Rather than steaming or boiling them, these are fried on one side in a thin film of oil, then steamed in the pan by adding a half cup or so of water and putting the lid on the pan while the water boils out. Once the water has cooked off, a little more oil is added to the pan to re-crisp the bottoms of the dumplings. If you don’t use a very well seasoned cast iron pan or a non-stick pan, you will learn why they are called “potstickers;” they will cook to the pan and not want to release. If you don’t have a pan that can pass for non-stick, use a little more oil during each frying step.
The version we present here is a bit of a mash-up, leaning slightly more towards the Japanese gyoza. (We combine methods and recipe parts from both SeriousEats.com and JustOneCookbook.com.) It includes Napa cabbage that has been chopped, salted and then drained (a step that decreases bulk in the final mix also thereby creating a better environment for even cooking), as well as finely chopped mushrooms and minced garlic. The filling can be infinitely played around with: substitute kimchi for cabbage, swap out leeks for green onion, use chicken instead of pork…you get the idea.
Chinese dumpling temperatures
Depending on the size of wrappers you use for your dumplings, you will only be putting a couple of teaspoons of meat filling into your potstickers, and that meat will cook quickly. But that meat is also ground, and that means there is an elevated chance of food-borne pathogen infection. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they can’t be undercooked! As with all ground-meat dishes, it’s important to cook your pork dumplings to a full 160°F (71°C), and the Thermapen® is both accurate enough and has a small enough sensor to check such small packages of deliciousness.
Once the dumplings have fried for a few minutes, then been steamed for a few minutes, and finally fried for a few minutes more, simply check several of them with your Thermapen to make sure their internal temperature doesn’t read below 160°F (71°C). It only takes a few seconds, so you can check each one if you want without overcooking them.
No matter what you’re making a Chinese feast for, it’s worth taking a little extra prep time to make a batch of these delicious little morsels. They’re savory, rich, and so fun to eat that you’ll lose track of how many you’ve had. But, if you use your Thermapen, at least you’ll know they’re safe.
Note: These freeze very well. Take a Saturday afternoon and make up a double batch, then freeze them on a sheet tray and bag them up for later use. You can cook them the same way, but it will take a little longer. You may need to do the steaming step twice. Dumplings on demand is a great way to live your life!
Also, folding the dumplings can seem daunting until you “get it,” but it isn’t hard. You can check out the tutorial on JustOneCookbook, which helped me to learn. In the end, though, how they look doesn’t really matter! As Andrea Nguyen, author of the wonderful Asian dumplings says, “Get the wrapper closed. Practice pretty shapes later.”Print
For the dumplings
- 1 lb fatty ground pork
- 2 scallions
- 1-inch fresh ginger
- 2 shiitake mushrooms
- 3–4 leaves Napa cabbage (5–8 oz)
- 2 scallions
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine (or dry white wine)
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- 1 package gyoza wrappers (40–50 wrappers)
- You’ll need 1 Tbsp neutral oil and 1 tsp sesame oil for each cooking batch of dumplings.
For the dipping sauce
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp chili oil
- 1 scallion, chopped fine
- 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
Make the dipping sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Prepare the filling
- Chop the cabbage rather finely and combine it in a bowl with about 1/2–1 tsp kosher salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes. Drain the excess water and squeeze out more water from the cabbage.
- Chop the mushrooms finely after removing their stems.
- Slice the scallion finely, mince the garlic, and grate the ginger.
- In a bowl, combine pork, cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, garlic, and black pepper to your liking. Mix together a little bit.
- Add the sugar, wine, and soy sauce to the mixture and combine well.
Stuff the dumplings
- Lay one wrapper flat on your work surface.
- Working one dumpling at a time, dip a finger in some water and wet the circumference of the face of the dumpling wrapper.
- Place 1-2 tsp filling in the center of the wrapper, shaping it slightly so that it runs across the equator of the wrapper leaving 1/2″ on each side.
- Fold the bottom half of the wrapper up to meet the top half.
- Holding the dumpling in your left hand, pinch the top center of the crescent between your left thumb and forefinger.
- With your right thumb and forefinger, starting near the center, pull a little of the wrapper that is facing you up towards the top, creating a crease on the outside of the wrapper. Pinch that crease closed with your left thumb and forefinger. Hold it at the new crease with your left hand, continue making creases and moving down the right side of the dumpling.
- Once the right side is all creased and sealed, pinch the top center with your right hand and make creases with your left hand going down the left side, moving from center to edge.
- Make all the dumplings! Set them on a baking sheet and, if your local air is very dry, cover them with a barely damp tea towel.
Cook the dumplings
- Preheat a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp neutral oil in it.
- Place as many dumplings as you can in the skillet without crowding them.
- Cook them until the bottoms become toasty and lovely brown, about 3 minutes.
- Have a lid of some kind ready to go. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the pan and cover it immediately. There will be a lot of steam!
- Cook the with the lid on until you no longer hear water boiling and steaming inside. Check to see if all the water has cooked out.
- If it has cooked out, drizzle the 1 tsp of sesame oil into the pan and cook the potstickers for another minute or so. Check to see that they are done by testing with a Thermapen. Their insides should all read 160°F (71°C) or higher.
- Remove the dumplings to a paper towel to drain or directly to a serving dish.
- Serve with dipping sauce, spicy mustard, chili sauce, or just plain, good soy sauce.
Note: you can cook these by other methods, too. Steam them or boil them carefully for a couple minutes. Just be sure to check the internal temp for proper doneness!
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Incidentally, that’s not just a commentary on Chinese food. Nearly every culture has some sort of dumpling and in many of those cultures dumplings factor into the most festive of foods. If you want a hearty winter feast in any cuisine, dumplings are a great way to round out the table.↩