When I’m far from my favorite Asian snack shops, I make the noshes myself. Last week on Lunar New Year, I took the day off and tinkered in the kitchen, preparing traditional Viet eats and these northern Chinese dumplings. I was replicating panfried savory pastries that we’d enjoyed at the Beijing Pie House in the San Gabriel Valley, a mega-hub for excellent Chinese food in America located east of Los Angeles. Since it’s a good 6-hour drive from my house to the café, I figured I should make the meat pies!
These kinds of filled pastries are called xian bing (“she-ann bing”) in Mandarin Chinese. Bing is the Chinese term for a broad category of cakes, dumplings, and other doughstuffs – much like the term banh in Vietnamese. A moon cake is a classified as a bing; long ago, a national food publication translated moon cake as “moon pie” in a story that I’d written for it.
Banh and bing are difficult to translate into English, which is why these panfried dumplings are often times translated as meat pie. Made of chewy, thin dough and filled with a savory filling, they are on the large side. You can eat them with chopsticks or as finger food. When you bite into a hot one, it should be a little juicy. I forgot to warn my husband, and his first bite was a mess.
I’d never made them before last week but what the heck, it was a holiday and I wanted to do something fun. For the dough, I used the same one for the bacon and scallion pancakes, since it reminded me of the dough I had at the Beijing Pie House and both the pancake and pies are bing. Having gone to the pie house several times, I had a good sense of how the dumplings were folded (as closed satchels) and cooked (panfried on both sides).
Xian bing filling can be meat and vegetables or all vegetables and tofu. You could use any of the fillings in the Asian Dumplings cookbook that you’d use for pot stickers. For my experimental pork pies, I crafted the filling from pork, ginger, dill, and blanched savoy cabbage, which I had around and lends fabulous texture.
The dough came together handily and I hand rolled wrappers that were about 4 inches (10 cm) wide. The closed satchel shape (watch my how-to video) can hold a large amount of filling. Lots of flour on the parchment-lined baking sheet allowed me to chill the shaped dumplings for hours till dinner time (the restaurant did that too).
When it came time to panfried, it was easy – except that on the second side, things got a little dramatic and sputtered and spit. Be prepared to turn off the heat or use a splatter guard.
Then we ate the pork pie dumplings with chile oil and Chinkiang vinegar to add zing and heat. Despite making himself a little dirty, my husband deemed these pies a great success. Make these ginger pork pies or some variant, because it’s likely that like me, you don’t have a Chinese pie shop nearby. Plus, they’re just fun.
Panfried Chinese Pork Pies
Yields: 12 to serve 4 to 6
- 1 1/2 batches dough for Bacon and Scallion Pancakes made with half the quantity of salt
- 4-5 ounces (120-150g) Savoy cabbage leaves, blanched whole or halved, drained, and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1 medium green onion, green and white parts, finely chopped
- 2 rounded tablespoons chopped dill
- 7-8 ounces (210g-240g) ground pork or dark meat chicken
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 tablespoon water
- Neutral oil, such as canola, for panfrying
- Chile oil
- Chinkiang vinegar or rice vinegar
- Make the dough as instructed in the pancake recipe. Set aside to rest while you make the filling.
- For the filling, prep the cabbage, then put in a bowl. Add the ginger, green onion, dill, and pork (or chicken). Stir to break up and combine. In a separate bowl, combine the white pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, and water. Stir into the vegetable and meat mixture well; you should have about 1 ½ cups. Cover and set aside (or chill for hours) until the dough is ready. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and liberally sprinkle flour on it; set aside.
- To shape dumplings, roll the dough into a rope then cut crosswise into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then roll out into wrappers, each about 4 inches (10 cm) wide; see the video on how to roll out dumpling wrappers, if needed.
- Fill each wrapper with a portion of the meat mixture and shape into a closed satchel (see video tutorial). Place on the prepared baking sheet, either side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, if needed, to prevent drying. Once done, you can refrigerate the dumplings for up to several hours.
- To cook, use a non-stick skillet and add oil to film the bottom. Heat over medium and add the dumplings, pleated side down; let them crowd and it’s okay for them to touch one another. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to brown the bottom. Have a lid handy, then add about 1/3 cup of water – enough for the visual boiling to come up about halfway on the side of the dumplings. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.
- When you hear frying happening in the skilelt, slide the lid ajar to release steam. After 1 to 2 minutes, uncover completely and panfry the bottom to a crisp. Turn each over (use 2 spatulas or be gentle with tongs) and lightly brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, let the sizzling subside before transferring to a plate and serving with chile oil and vinegar as a dip. If you want saltiness, add soy sauce to the dip. Eat with chopsticks or out of hand.