I have tried so many commercially-made frozen Asian dumplings over the years and have been disappointed. Mushy flavorless fillings, unremarkable skins, and MSG are usually the culprits. But nevertheless, I always check the freezer cases at Asian markets for something new and interesting. Who knows, I may discover and learn something new.
Most recently, I bought a bag of frozen Asian dumplings made by WeiChuan, a company that produces Asian food products (frozen, canned, and dried) for sale in the United States. Their products are usually reliable. You may also know Weichuan from informative cookbooks such as Chinese Snacks, which I used as reference work when researching for Asian Dumplings.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a new dumpling promotion at Lion Foods in San Jose. It was for WeiChuan’s new line of Asian dumplings called the “Shan Dong Dumpling Series.” The dumplings are MSG-free (hurray!) and made in the U.S.A. Both points were touted on the packaging, reflecting WeiChuan’s understanding of consumer trends and concerns. No one wants to eat Melamine-laden dumplings.
A bit about Shandong: It’s a coastal province southeast of Beijing that’s renowned for good food, including hearty dumplings and noodles. Shandong cuisine is one of the core schools of cooking in China and its influence can be seen throughout northern Chinese dishes. There are also many Chinese-Koreans who live in Shandong: “You can see Korea across the way,” a Shandong restaurateur once joked to me.
The point here is that WeiChuan’s use of 山東 (shan dong) was my tip off. Don’t look for “Shandong” on the labels as WeiChuan markets the dumplings to Chinese people. You have to recognize a few Chinese characters to understand this; I possess basic skills in Mandarin. Now you have some insider’s knowledge to keep in your back pocket.
I bought a bag of pork and green bean dumplings for about $4. I know that the filling sounds weird but so what? You can put anything in a dumpling filling so long as you’re smart about it. (See my tips for making Asian dumpling filling from leftovers.)
I partially defrosted and then pan-fried the dumplings last week for lunch and they were remarkably good. The filling was juicy and had nice texture, like as if the pork and green beans had been hand chopped (they were likely machine chopped to a coarse texture). The flavor was distinctive enough to be good. (Use the regular pan-frying method for these but know that they may take a little longer as they're frozen; see Asian Dumplings for guidance.)
The dough had some give, though it wasn’t as tasty as homemade. The package says bleached flour was used, most likely for a desirable white color. As I’ve noted in Asian Dumplings, unbleached all-purpose flour makes better dough for dumplings such as pot stickers. Commercially-made dumplings will never be as good as freshly made or homemade dumplings. But they’re convenient to have and you can try different styles and fillings, then come up with your own!
I have about a dozen WeiChuan dumplings left and they’re thawing on the kitchen counter. There’s a pot of water coming to a boil and I’ll poach them off, tumble them in vinegar and chile oil!
WeiChuan products are widely distributed in the United States at Asian markets big and small. Look for this new line of Shandong dumplings. Check them out and let me know your thoughts. Or, if there’s another brand you like, let me know!