HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


What is wrong with my Chinese Dumplings?

Yesterday it was a hot one. We've had a pretty fiery week with temperatures well about the 100 indicatior each day. Let me tell you it really throws a damper on my creativity and drains me.

It was really hot so I tinkered with the thought of cold soup.. nope. I had a craving. And it was for dumplings. I have a wok, and I have a steamer, so I started to work at 4pm. Dumb.
Hottest time of the day here.

I decided on pork and shrimp dumplings and shrimp with a cocktail sauce. (Okay I took the easy route with the shrimp) and I WAS going to make lumpia or egg rolls. I confess I never made them, I was really pooped.

Here's my problem. The pork I've been buying has been strange. It comes prepackaged, and the grind is huge. Like catipillar grind (sorry) but that's what it looks like. I chop it up with a pastry tool until it's pretty fine. But even so, the dumplings are lacking something. I don't like the texture, and they are really lacking something. Is it dried mushroom & it's broth?

The recipe I use cornstarch and 1 egg white, fresh garlic (a lot) ginger root ( a lot), white pepper, green onion (quite a bit) ground pork, sesame oil, soy sauce, sherry, And usually I do add a few raw shrimp. I didn't last night all I had was precooked and it just seemed wrong to add those. (I've used the Frugal Gourmet's recipe as a guide for 20 years).

I've always felt that I made pretty tasty siu mai, and lately the taste is not coming out all that great. After steaming the dumplings I use the usual dipping and sriacha sauce, soy sauce etc. I used to use a chili paste that had more garlic in it than switched to the sriracha sauce and I'm switching back to my old favorite, Heavenly Chef red chili paste.
Sriacha has a sweetness to it I don't care for. But that is another problem and not what I have with the dumpling itself.

My problem is a couple things. The texture of the steamed dumpling (too meaty and dense), and a lack of flavor. I am so bummed, I have to get these right, these are not my usual dumplings and I am really perplexed as to what happened.
If it is the shrimp, what is the ratio? And if it's the cornstarch please let me know...
Should I use ground chicken instead?

I'd sure appreciate some help with this, I love these things, I want to be able to make them the way I used to!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Chef,

    Without seeing your pork, it's hard to say. Sounds like it is too lean.

    My recipe for pork dumpling fillings usually include the entire egg (not just the whites).

    Also, I usually mix in some type of vegetable, either chives or Chinese cabbage (both finely chopped, or diced). I don't see that in your version. Without a veggie, you're essentially making a meatball, which is NOT what you want for a dumpling filling.

    As to mixing, sounds like you are OVER mixing. I usually just mix the ground pork, ginger, garlic, egg, cabbage (or chives), soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch (optional), salt & pepper with chopsticks. Don't need to go all out, just mix to the point where all the ingredients are incorporated.

    Also, I would forgo adding the shrimp. I've never used shrimp as a flavor enhancer (sometimes I will use shrimp along with pork and fish to make a "3 taste" dumpling, but never just as a enhancer). If you do want to add shrimp, add rehydrated dried shrimp, finely chopped -- some people do this to add that certain umami without using MSG.

    As to cornstarch, depending on how wet my filling is, I sometimes skip it and just rely on the sesame oil, but your results may vary. I don't consider the cornstarch to be critical.

    Hope this helps and good luck. Stay cool!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Thanks ipsedixit, I will not add shrimp.
      i get what you say about the cornstarch. I alwasy wondered why the addition of an egg white and the cornstarch. I will try the cabbage, that makes sense.

      For some reason they've always worked. Maybe I was off with my tastes then, I make these fairly often and for about the last three times. I have had an issue with the pork, and and then been unhappy with the meat texture. I forgot tod say, I do add water chestnuts if this makes any difference. I don't add chives, but scallion. I love the taste so there is quite a bit in there. This has to be fixed. I am having a house warming party for my son, and he has requested most of the apps he grew up on. He has a palate like mine, and can notice if things are off or different.

    2. strangely, I made dumplings a few weeks ago too and my filling was not juicy enough ... a bit hard. I did pretty much what you did. Exact same ingreds (except the white pepper). I was just winging it b/c I couldn't remember what I used to do. I finally went to a Nina Simonds [sp?] book; she put in chopped Napa cabbage. I'm wondering if the extra veg makes a moisture filling? And I vaguely remember putting in more veg in the past.

      Also, I suspect our pork wasn't fatty enough. Fat not only tenderizes but gives extra porky deliciousness. I was making potstickers, and I think I oversteamed them, b/c the dough seemed a little more "gelatinized" (if that's a word), than usual. All in all, not successful potstickers.

      1. As others have said, grocery store pork is too lean. You could add some unsmoked bacon or pork fat from another cut if you like.

        Also try adding water chesnuts - Gives a bit of a bite to them.

        1. Would you consider adding some finely chopped and sauteed cabbage? It's a nice trick that can be used with meatballs to keep them juicy and tender (read this on another thread on CH, I think).....

          1. I'm not sure if this is helpful, but last time I made dumplings I discovered I was out of cornstarch at the last minute. I used a similar amount of potato flour, and I thought it added some extra creamy richness to the filling. I know it's not at all traditional but I found it to be a happy discovery.

            1 Reply
            1. re: corneygirl

              You know I'm open to most anything. I have never used potato flour, so that's my only concern for an asian meat mix, how it will respond. I'm really looking for a juicy tender, flavorful dumpling that you can't stop eating. That's the way mine have always been until now.

            2. I have a 1/2 pound of the meat left, and in looking at it. I think this might be part of my problem. It's really really red, and cooked it almost looks like ground beef.

              So I think that those that said it was too lean had it correct. I know when I buy pork, the way my Dad taught me was to buy pale pork. And because of the way the animal's handled, you'll get the bright red meat. He told me to stay away from that.

              I think adding cabbage is a great suggestion and even though I didn't do that before, I'm willing to try that. I was cruising flicker, and the siu mai prepard is fairly light in color. I have an inkling the pork is the major problem.

              I also agree, I don't need the cornstarch or so much. I am supposed to add a Tablespoon, but I didn't last night, I added about a half, because the recipe was halved.

              6 Replies
              1. re: chef chicklet

                If you are going to add shredded cabbage, make sure to SQUEEZE out as much water as possible before mixing it into your pork filling. (Technique: grab a handful of cabbage, squeeze it like you're are trying to form a ball and the water will naturally release.)

                Also, if the pork is too lean (or dry) add some sesame oil.

                And, remember, don't overmix. Incorporate, but don't do it to a point where you start getting a paste-like mixture.

                Good luck.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Adding cabbage saved my dumplings. I julienne the cabbage., then toss with 1/4 tsp salt, then let drain in a colander. I'll then use a paper towel to squeeze and brush off the salt.

                  And I agree with the mixing only enough to incorporate the ingredients. I don't add cornstarch either. Mine is a recipe from America's Test kitchen, and it's really good.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I did add sesame oil, I always do, that gives it such great flavor too.
                    what do you think about what I wrote about Tyler Florence putting everything in the food processor?

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Hey chef chicklet,

                      I'm never one to tell someone they shouldn't experiment, but would you really trust Tyler Florence on how to make traditional Chinese dumplings?

                      Now granted, Tyler's dumplings may taste really, really good, but part of me will wonder if they truly capture the quiddity of Chinese dumplings (or "jiaozi"). I mean, I'm not going to look to Yan Can Cook to see how I should make pizzas, right? :-)

                      At the end of the day, regardless of your recipe or technique, I seriously think your problem lies in your pork. It's probably just too lean.

                      I grew up making dumplings, and I can tell you that the pork we used in our restaurant was really quite fatty -- part of it was to reduce costs -- but a part of it was to make sure the texture and taste was right.

                      Good luck to you.

                      (P.S. by the way, you should try boiling your dumplings instead of steaming them. Just fyi)

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        LOL! I just knew you were going to bust me on that!!!
                        NO of course you're right, I don't want to take instruction on Chinese/Asian cooking from TF, I have better resources right here :). If I could squeeze my fat derriere throught the computer somehow, I'd love to watch you make them~~ I need to find a new source for my ground pork. Its bloody as all heck and it's very unappealing. I'd take a picture but it seems I've misplaced my camera yesterday...

                        How am I going to boil siu mai? The stuff will fall out. I do that with my won ton for soup, but these just stand up and have an open top..
                        Really, thanks for all your help. I won't give up until I get them right again!

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I wonder if you would do better to buy some pork shoulder and grind it yourself? Or for dumplings, you could "chop" the meat in a food processor. I have no idea what part of the animal they use for pre-packaged ground pork, but it is never as good as what I grind from a whole piece of meat.

                2. The coarsely ground pork is just what I seek when I'm going to make dumplings. My local Asian market has a good fat-to-meat ratio, too. Instead of the Chinese cabbage we mince up entire scallions in the dumpling mix. No corn starch. No egg.

                  Some hounds may wanna shoot me, but the soy sauce should be the thick Mushroom Soy available at Asian markets -- and MSG. Don't all shoot at once.

                  Dumpling dipping sauce is also a key element for us. We use 2/3 soy, 1/3 vinegar, garlic, dark sesame oil and a little bit of hot chili paste (or Sriracha in a pinch).

                  1. I usually add some good quality pork fat (lard) to my dumplings.

                    1. Well that was wierd.
                      Tyler Florence whom I never watch, made Chinese dim sum today.
                      Would you believe it, he made pork and shrimp siu mai.

                      What I noticed he did, was he put everything in the food processor, and his recipe is really close to mine. He used to 2 egg whites instead of one, and salt and pepper.
                      He claims they are nice and fluffy? ack. I don't mind using the food processor as long as I can get the dumpling to be light inside, I'll try anything.

                      1. 1)Maybe ask a butcher to rough grind some pork belly for you to add to your pork. Something like 1/3 of the pork grind that you already have is a start.

                        2) adding finely chopped napa cabbage that's been lightly salted, then had the water squeezed out is another classic addition to dumpling fillings. This way you also don't need to add as much salt to the meat, as it's already in the cabbage.

                        3)If you don't want to add shrimp but have tofu,the that's another method to add softness to the filling. Just the medium kind, not too firm, and yes squeeze water out, and add oil to the tofu and mix it up a little.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: HLing


                          Here's a secret.....use HLing's third suggestion of adding tofu, only I like to use soft tofu and blend it in completely with the ground meat... It makes for a lighter and silkier filling.

                          Watch Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

                          Aug 19, 2009

                          9:30 PM ET/PT

                          Aug 20, 2009

                          12:30 AM ET/PT

                          Aug 30, 2009

                          11:30 PM ET/PT


                          Sohui Kim of The Good Fork in Red Hook uses this preparation for her dumplings.

                          1. re: fourunder

                            fourunder, at first I was going to say soft tofu, but then I was weary that she might get the kind that's coagulated with agar agar, which would then melt away when heated.

                            1. re: HLing

                              I buy the firm, and I know that there are several types offered. That doesn't sound like a bad idea really. But, I want you to know that I have made prefect dumplings for years, and they were always a hit. I've made them for friends, froze them and then reheated without any problems at all. Actually, I was progressing to some harder or more unusual dumplings, and then about a year ago this texture thing started, and I can't figure it. Either that or my taste buds were wonky before, and they were really not that good after all. NO the pork is different, it's too dark.

                              These were something I served and brought to parties. My Chinese friends thought they were as good as theirs, so something happened. Dang.

                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                chef chicklet, I understand the frustration of knowing something isn't quite right, and yet not sure where it's going wrong. If it's been going on for a year now, it sounds like you will soon figure it out. It could be the pork source has been changed and you've been detecting it. I had something like that happen with Peanut Butter, where there was a period of time when every other PB i got, regardless of brand, was unfresh if not downright rancid. It was even difficult to get good raw peanuts without some strange chemical smell to it. So I gave it up for a while. I don't know what goes on in that particular industry, but i know something isn't right.

                                Back to your dumplings for a second though. I was a little puzzled at first when I read about the egg whites and corn starch. Then when in one of your reply you mentioned that you "can't boil siu mai", I realized that your term of "dumpling" was a broad one, while many of us who replied were thinking of the sealed kind.

                                OK, so If it's siu mai you're making, you don't want to add shredded veggies. You don't really want too much fatty bits, either.

                                It's important how and when you use the egg white and the corn starch. The two go together a certain way to make the meat tender instead of tough. Don't use food processor. marinate the meat with the sherry first, then soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and scallion. mix well and let it set for a little. At this point there are excess liquid, drain them. Then when you're about to wrap (or fill, since you don't close it off) mix in the egg white, be sure to have enough to coat the meat evenly. Then a light dusting of corn starch, also mixed evenly, but not squeezed or forced. when steamed the egg white in combination with the corn starch will keep the meat together, so you can afford to place them a little losely inside the skin.

                                The egg white +corn starch combo is important for making that slippery, velvety tender texture of the meat. The reason for doing it in this order is so that you'll have the chance to make sure there are no excessive liquid that may intervene with how the egg white and corn starch work together.

                                Forgive me if this isn't your solution, but there may be others out there who will find this helpful, just as the comment about different kinds of soft tofu. Please don't take it personally.

                                Good luck!

                                1. re: HLing

                                  That's a good point, HLing

                                  Sui mai =/= dumplings.

                        2. In addition to all these suggestions you could add some pork gelatin. It's quite laborious but the result is just like restaurant juicy style!

                          Boil 2-4 pork feet, add salt, one star anise, and some pepper and boil for a couple hours and then refrigerate overnight and the morning after you'll have a big pot of delicious gelatin!

                          softens up the meat and adds moisture + juice. in chinese when we eat dumplings we always say "you tang" or "mei tang" (has soup or none). prefer the former.

                          hope this helps!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: AndyGanil

                            Wait, are these the Shanghai Soup dumplings? I've never tried to make those if this where your suggestion is headed. Sounds awfully good though!

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Yes that is the method for soup dumplings.

                          2. i would pass on the egg white completely.

                            for sealed dumplings, make sure you have some kind of very finely chopped vegetable, like cabbage, chinese chives, scallions, etc.

                            for siew mai, the ratio of shrimp to pork is between 1:1 and 1.5:1 (depending on your preference). make sure the shrimp is raw, chop half the shrimp into small pieces and finely mince the other half very finely until sticky. add a little pork or chicken fat to the mixture, as well as some very finely chopped soaked dried chinese mushrooms. don't overmix.

                            sherry is a good substitute, but i still prefer shaoxing wine, there's a certain taste that just cannot be subbed out.

                            other than that your recipes seem fine. and don't worry! dim sum is supposed to be a casual food.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: madkittybadkitty

                              Thanks mkbk, I think that my mix of veggies, shrimp and pork ratio and the my process is fine, pretty close to yours. I do use sherry that was how I was taught, but next trip to bevmo, I'll pick up the shaoxing wine. The one major difference that possible could be affecting the texture, is the fat. What's perplexing is that the texture in the past has always been great, the dumplings have been super. But the last few times the texture is tough, and I don't like the pork, it's too rough. I can't say it better. I can fix that with the food processor and the fat, that might work. Seems as though you are quite the dumpling lover too, think about it and how you'd react if your recipe suddenly morphed on you. It is frustrating when your tried and true recipes change, I hate that! I know that my dumplings were just terrific and something changed, and the only thing that I can physically see, is the grind of the pork. So that makes me think that's it.

                              Another CH buddy suggested adding tofu, I like that idea too. So the next time I make them I'll be doing a few different techniques and now I'm adding your suggestion to add fat. Thanks mkbk, I appreciate your helping me get to the better place with my dumplings!
                              I owe you one!