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Jul 23, 2007 09:57 AM

The Chez Pei Cookbook Needs You! (Chinese Dumpling Skins)

So my wedding favor cookbook continues. It's slow going, but I have another recipe for everyone! This is what my fiance's grandmother told me to do, and it worked well last night. Please let me know if you have suggestions, I'll be trying the dough a few more times before I finalize my recipe!

Especially important: even if you have never made dumplings, tell me if the instructions are descriptive enough that you'd give it a try!

I will also be including relatively simple recipes for fillings and letting readers know they can buy storebought skins to (including favorite brands) save one difficult step.

This recipe comes courtesy of J’s grandmother, who grew up in the Shandong province of China. A Northern Chinese staple, dumplings have evolved into the favorite quick meal of many a busy young Asian American. Sure, you can buy commercially made frozen dumplings or fill pre-packaged skins with your own filling, but making your own is the only way to achieve the thick toothsome skin in which Northerners take pride.

Ingredients (enough for over forty dumplings)

4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
cold water

Put the flour in a large bowl and place under the faucet. Mix the flour in a swirling motion and turn the faucet to barely a steady stream. Stir until all the flour has formed into nubs the size of peanuts. Turn off the water and work the dough into a large ball, turning constantly. The dough should be slightly tacky without any dough actually sticking to your hands. Cover the bowl with a wet towel and let sit anywhere from two to four hours. It’s important to let the dough relax or you’ll end up with a tough dough that keeps shrinking on itself when you try to roll it out.

Break the dough into four pieces. Work one piece at a time and keep the others covered with a wet towel. Roll or stretch out the piece of dough into a rope, then cut the rope into sections—I like to use scissors. It doesn’t matter how thin or thick you roll the rope, but each finished section should be about a tablespoon of dough. Flatten each ball of dough with your palms and dust well with flour. Roll into a three inch round with a rolling pin, making the edges thinner than the center.

This is when cooking with a partner comes in handy. As one person rolls out the skins, the other fills them. Holding the skin in your left hand, draw a circle of water around the outer edge of the skin. Put a teaspoon or two of filling in the center, then fold the skin over into a half moon shape and press the wet edges together. Make sure you create a tight seal, but be careful not to get the side that was touching your palm wet or the dough will become slippery and hard to handle.

Set finished dumplings on a floured baking sheet, freeze, and remove to a plastic bag or container. They’ll keep for at least three months in the freezer. To cook, boil a large pot of water, put the dumplings in while still frozen, stir to prevent sticking, bring the water back up to a boil, then simmer for seven to ten minutes depending on the size of your dumplings. The water will foam, so keep an eye on it or use a very large pot.

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  1. The only thing that sticks out is putting the bowl of flour under a running tap. I suspect more than a few potential donees with less rather than more experience in the kitchen might end up with a serious mess on their hands, and possibly in the sink drain trap as well! A warning to keep the tap to the side where the bowl can be quickly slid out of the way if necessary, or better yet, a second set of hands might be advisable...

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeG

      Good point. A second person slowly drizzling the water in while you stir would be ideal.

      Also, seven to ten minutes is what I always did with storebought skins, but I timed it today and it was five minutes at most after the water comes back up to a boil. Homemade skins are more delicate!

      PS. Photo of resulting dumplings:

    2. In the description about stuffing the dumplings, I would say something about pleating the edges or the like---when I don't, mine always seem to fall apart.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jenn

        Ah, the beauty of fresh dumpling skins is the skin sticks together seamlessly without pleating! I'll make a point of saying that storebought skins have to be pleated. Thanks!

        1. re: Pei

          good to know. I'll have to be more motivated..............

          and I always do the thing with the cold water. The ayi in Beijing who taught me to make dumplings said I had to do it at least twice.

      2. As sad as it might sound, I probably learned how to make dumplings and de-vein a shrimp before I learned how to ride a bicycle.

        That said, I think your recipe for dumpling skins and making dumpling is great and is very easy to follow.

        Some thoughts:

        1. I would let the dough rest for longer than 4 hours (but this will depend on the temperature of the room)

        2. Don't stretch the dough into a rope, always (always!) roll it into a rope shape.

        3. You don't need one person to roll the dumpling skin and another to fill/make the dumplings. Trust me. I know from personal experience that this can be a ONE person job.

        4. When rolling the balls with the rolling pin, I would add this: (assuming you are rolling the pin with the right hand) "turn the partially flattened dough with the left hand in a counter-clock wise fashion as you roll the pin over the dough" .

        5. If the dough is sufficiently tacky enough (and you did not dust it with too much flour), you don't need to draw a circle of water around the outer edge in order to get a good seal. Pleating works equally well for home-made v. store made skins. In fact, I strongly suggest always pleating -- it just makes a prettier dumpling.

        6. Some thoughts on cooking frozen dumplings.

        -thaw before plunging them in boiling water (prevents breakage) and allows for more even cooking.

        -instead of simmering, bring the water back up to a boil, add another cup of cold water, cover and bring back to a boil again, add another cup of cold water, cover and once the water is brought back to a boil, the dumplings are done. I prefer this to the simmering method.

        *Bonus tip. Don't dump the water (or stock) that was used to cook the dumplings. Add some, sesame oil, soy sauce and green onions and you've got a nice savory but light soup to go with your dumpling. Waste not, want not!

        Good luck with your endeavor.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ipsedixit

          That's not sad, it's great! Thanks for all the tips. I'll give them a whirl next time!

          I KNEW I was supposed to follow the "add cold water" trick, but my fiance said it wasn't necessary. I guess it works either way, but I wasn't wrong!

        2. I have been thinking about making dumplings for quite a while now and your recipe sounds totally do-able to me. Though I would not consider myself a tentative cook, so I'm not sure if my feedback is at all useful. Dang, I'm heading out on a road trip or I would try your instructions and report back on my results. Good luck to you--this is an incredibly kind gift.

          PS I may have time on my hands when I land... I don't see anything here that should change at altitude, do you? (I'll be at about 7000 feet.)

          1 Reply
          1. re: miss louella

            The boiling will probably take longer, but that varies anyway depending on how thick you've rolled the skins and how big you've made the dumplings.

            If you do make it, even if it's a few months from now, do report back! This is a project that won't be done for awhile, so take your time!

          2. Before changing anything, is the recipe that you've been given exactly her wording?

            1 Reply
            1. re: chef chicklet

              Definitely not. It's paraphrased from when my fiance watched her cook with her explaining it in Chinese.