Sometimes the simplest ingredients come together more marvelously than you expect. This dumpling recipe from Sichuan province in China is one of them. My friend Carl Chu, a Chinese food expert and author, told me about the crescent-shaped dumplings, saying that I needed to check them out when I went to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. I put them on my hit list for this most recent trip to Asia.
Zhong jiaozi – the dumplings are named after their creator, a person named Zhong – were among the first things that we ate at a xiao chi (snack) joint located kitty corner from the Chengdu Sheraton. Frankly, they were not great. The dipping sauce was overly sweet and the filling lackluster.
I sampled one and moved on to the other dishes we’d ordered. But I’m obsessive about dumplings and kept thinking about the little plump crescents and how they could be made to taste really delicious.
Once home I poured through my books and realized that the filling was ridiculously straightforward. It’s basically flavored with lots of ginger-infused water, according to Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty cookbook.
The ginger that I saw at Chengdu markets were small relative to most ginger sold abroad. Given that, I decided to pump up the ginger. After a several trials and tinkering with the seasonings, I came up with the filling recipe below. It’s soft and wet so be sure to neaten it up as you shape the dumplings. Get fatty ground pork for the best flavor. And, stir/beat the filling to incorporate the liquid really well.
Sichuan Crescent Dumplings
If you have good store-bought skins, use 40 of them. I prefer my homemade dough, which is fresh and just like what would be employed by Chengdu cooks. [11/5/10 Update: Mil queried me on the soupyness of the original recipe post. The discussion got oddly heated and then it dawned upon me that I'd forgotten and ingredient: scallion. I had 3 different versions of this filling going and a mistake was made. I also slightly upped the amount of pork because it's easier to purchase.]
Makes 40 dumplings to serve 4 to 6
Chubby 2-inch 2 1/2-inch-section fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/4 cup 6 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 large egg white, beaten
2 teaspoons regular (light) soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 pound 7 ounces ground pork, fattier kind preferred
1/3 cup lightly packed finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
1 pound Basic Dumpling Dough (see Asian Dumplings, page 22)
3 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark (thick) soy sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons Chile Oil (purchased or homemade, see recipe on page 216 of Asian Dumplings)
2 cloves garlic, crushed and mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1. Halve the ginger lengthwise. Put it cut side down on your work surface, then smash the ginger with the flat side of your knife. Give it a couple of good whacks. Transfer to a bowl and pour the water over it. Set aside for 15 minutes to soak.
2. Meanwhile, make the basic dumpling dough, if you have not already. Set it aside to rest.
3. Drain the ginger liquid, and discard or save the ginger for another use. (It has about half of its original strength.) Add the salt, pepper, egg white, soy sauce, and rice wine. Stir to combine the seasonings well.
4. Put the pork and scallion in a bowl. Use a fork to break it up. Gradually stir in the liquid seasonings. When all the liquid has been added, stir the pork vigorously, almost beating it, to create a soft mixture that is slightly sticky. You don’t want to see any liquid visible. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. The filling can be made 1 day in advance and refrigerated; return to room temperature before using. You should have about 1 2/3 1 3/4 cups.
5. Stir together all the sauce ingredients to dissolve the sugar. Set at the table.
4. In the meantime, make 20 wrappers from half of the dough. (Or, make 10 at a time from a quarter of the dough.) Aim for 3-inch-wide wrappers. For guidance, read pages 24-25 of Asian Dumplings and watch this video posted at Asiandumplingtips.com on how to form basic dumpling wrappers.
5. When a batch of wrappers is done, assemble some dumplings. For each one, take a wrapper and hold it in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 2 teaspoons of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper. Then fold, pleat, and press to create a crescent-shaped half moon. (Watch this how-to video if you need an assist with making a half moon and other basic Asian dumpling shapes.)
Place each finished dumpling on a parchment paper-lined baking tray with a good 1/2 inch between each. Repeat with the other wrappers before forming and filling wrappers from the remaining dough. Cover the finished dumplings with a dry dishtowel as you make the rest.
6. To cook the dumplings, fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Gently drop half of the dumplings into the water, then use a wooden spoon to nudge them to prevent sticking. Cook the dumplings for about 6 minutes, or until they float to the surface, look glossy, and are puffed up and translucent. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop out the dumplings from the pot, briefly drain, and deposit in a shallow bowl or serving plate. Cover with a large inverted bowl to keep warm.
Return the water to a boil and cook the remaining dumplings. When they are done, return the first batch to the water to reheat them for a good minute. Serve the hot dumplings immediately with the sauce either in a communal bowl for people to help themselves or divided up among individual rice bowls or large dipping sauce dishes.