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HELP! Why are my potstickers/dumplings so dry?

Hi Chowhounds,

I'm spontaneously doing a dumpling party this weekend for friends who've never wrapped them before. I conveniently forgot my last experience in trying to make them turned out badly - my wrapping technique is good, but the filling was so dry! Can you help me figure out why?

Theory #1: 90% of the recipes I'm finding online all suggest CORNSTARCH. Perhaps it soaks up all the "juice"?

Theory #2: Could it be the ground pork I bought from Ranch 99? It look like there was a lot of fat in it, so I really don't know!

I think my ratio of vegetables (finely chopped napa cabbage, salted and drained). was right?

Thanks for your thoughts, and any foolproof dumpling recipes you want to share!

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  1. Cornstarch isn't the problem, if you are using it as a slurry. Although not required, this is a popular technique.

    Without knowing exactly what you are doing, it is impossible to give you further guidance.

    Part of the problem may be your ratios, or a missing ingredient (e.g. sesame oil), etc.

    But lack of pork fat is not the problem. Fat does not make for a "juicy" filling.

    6 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Thanks for responding ipsedixit - the recipe I used was Steamy Kitchen's recipe...to the letter (see below)!
      There's the cornstarch slurry for the wrapping portion, but also 2 TB of cornstarch that goes into the meat mixture itself.

      Do you think I should skip the draining the vegetables? Wouldn't the natural vegetable juices help keep it "juicy"? Thanks!

      1 package of frozen dumpling skins, defrosted overnight in refrigerator or 40 minutes room temp (do not microwave or set in water)
      3/4 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
      3 stalks green onions, cut into 2 inch sections
      1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots
      1/2 pound ground pork
      2 tablespoons soy sauce
      1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
      2 tablespoons cornstarch
      1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
      1 tablespoon rice wine (or dry sherry)
      for the slurry: 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water in a small bowl
      cooking oil

      1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

        Omit the additional cornstarch for the pork & use + or - of slurry to bind the ingredients to correct consistency.

        1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

          Personally I would not make a cornstarch slurry for the filling, but just add the dry cornstarch. The moisture from the pork and fillings will help distribute the cornstarch throughout the mixture.

          This is one of the few times where I would mix the pork until you almost have a paste. The opposite of a meat loaf where you don't want to make a dense meat mixture. If you undermix the filling, the resulting cooked filling texture will be pebbly.

          Do you use a food processor for the vegetables? I would use a food processor to mince the veggie filling. I would also skip salting the veggies to drain excess liquid. The cornstarch will help soak up that extra liquid.

          Another addition to consider is adding a little toasted sesame oil for added flavor.

          1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

            I don't see the napa in this recipe you just posted, but if you are adding it in addition to the above ingredients, I would skip the salting and add a touch more of the liquid ingredients.

            1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg


              How long and how are you cooking your dumplings?

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Hi ipsedexit, when I boil the dumplings, I cook them just until they float to the top.
                When I do potstickers, I put a little oil in the pan, brown the bottoms, then add 1/3 cup of water, cover and steam until the skin looks cooked through. Usually around 3-4 minutes.
                The skin is never overcooked...but the interior is dry. : (

          2. how long are you mixing the filling? when i was a child, my grandmother used to make a filling with chives, shrimp, pork and aromatics + cornstarch and oil. but it was my job to mix the raw mixture continuously for 10 - 15 minutes at least and the reason was you had to get all the ingredients to bind into a smooth consistency otherwise the cooked filing woudl be grainy and dry...

            1. Maybe I am not a purist. I mix (at least the vast majority of) the filling the food processor and steam the dumplings -- I seldom make true potstickers. I don't do the green onions in the processor. They are always moist

              1. What's the corn starch in the filling for?
                My pot stickers call for cooked pork (or other meat filling) mixed with green onion, ginger, water chestnuts, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of sugar in a small amount of sesame oil. Maybe some chili if I'm after a spicy result. I let it rest at least overnight before using it.
                No cornstarch ....
                I just drop a tablespoon of the mixture onto a wonton wrapper and fold it up, seal the edges as normal and either cook them directly in oil then add a bit of water and cover to steam for a few minutes and finish with another brief fry in a little more oil.
                IMO, the corn starch in your mix is sucking up all the liquid ... not a good thing.
                I could see adding cornstarch if there is something in your recipe that is too wet to hold up but, otherwise, I'd skip the corn starch entirely.

                9 Replies
                1. re: todao

                  You use "cooked pork" for your filling?

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    "You use "cooked pork" for your filling?"
                    Yes. I've tried raw pork but it's difficult to get it completely cooked and I don't want to serve undercooked food to my family.

                    1. re: todao

                      How long do you cook it? Cooking it thoroughly shouldn't be an issue...

                      1. re: todao

                        Wow, that's the weirdest thing I've heard in how to make dumplings..

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Reading the recipe, it sounds like a recipe for fried egg rolls, minus the water/steam part of course.

                          It would explain the cooked pork.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            I used to make egg rolls at may parent's restaurant and we never used cooked pork.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Would have loved to try your parent's restaurant's version. But most egg roll filling is stir fried first and cooled before wrapping. The evidence is in the crumbled pork bits when you eat them. An internet search will show most if not all recipes directing you to stir fry first. If it was wrapped raw, it would come out more dumpling like in texture. It also explains why the OP was talking cornstarch slurry.





                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Weird... we used to make them always with a pre-stir fried mixture of ground pork, shreded veggies, occasionally vermicelli, etc...

                      2. re: todao

                        I didn't use corn starch this time, but it is an ingredient in the majority of the recipes I find online!

                      3. Hi Everyone,

                        So I took everyone's advice into consideration.
                        The dumpling party happened this past Saturday. I went to Ranch 99, picked a nice looking piece of pork butt, had them ground 6 pounds for me.

                        Chopped up fresh water chestnuts, fresh chives, garlic, ginger, added some sherry, sesame oil, a little sea salt.

                        No cornstarch AT ALL.

                        Yet, once again, my dumplings came out dry. They had a nice flavor, but just weren't juicy AT ALL.
                        I seriously don't know what's up. And I'm Chinese American too - this is just too shameful! My ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves!!!! Ai-yah!

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                          Maybe your pork is too lean? My recipe calls for 'fatty ground pork', which is what I buy. That's the only thing I can think of.

                          1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                            Describe what you mean by "dry"?

                            And dumplings aren't supposed to be "juicy".

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I had some pork leftover so I just made a few more potstickers. I'm attaching the photo here.
                              I also made a few frozen ones bought from 99 Ranch. I cooked both up and had my family do a blind taste test. Everyone said both had a nice flavor, but everyone preferred the store bought one - they described it as moister. The only think I can think of is the store bought ones have a very high ratio of vegetables. Also, I wonder if they salt and drain the water out of their vegetables like I have been doing?

                              FattyDumplin said they use to mix their meat mixture alot or it would come out "grainy". And that's actually a good description for my dumplings too. The meat seems a little, well, grainy.

                              Again, I saw the pork butt I chose - it had a fair amount of fat! Sorry everyone, this issue is just driving me crazy. There are so many dishes I do well, but not this dish....which should be my native dish! Grrrr!

                              1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                I just noticed you have no napa cabbage in your filling. Need to have that. And cut back k. The shrimp.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Sorry, I forgot to mention that I DID use napa cabbage - lots of it too - it was finely chopped up ( I used my vitamix and did a wet chop technique)- I used an entire head for 6lbs of pork. But maybe not enough? Thanks.

                                  1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                    Way too little napa cabbage to pork ratio. At least 1 head (depending on size) for 1-1.5lbs pork max. Try a 50/50 mixture. The more veggies the more tender and juicy the dumplings will get. Remember this was a way to fill up and stretch out a small portion of meat with vegetables and dough.

                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      I think this works but also don't think you need to have that much veggie in there to get the right texture... Shrimp paste definitely helps. mixing thoroughly and adding some water helps also - by the time you finish mixing, the raw filling should look very smooth and have a sheen to it. if you can see any meat "crumbles" then it is not mixed enough. We used to use chives as well. By the time you finished, it would be pink in color, but heavily flecked in green.

                            2. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                              how fatty was the pork butt? if you look at the ground pork at a ranch 99, it is ridiculously fatty. you can also use some ground up shrimp or shrimp paste, which my grandmother used to smooth up the texture.

                            3. What do you mean by juicy? I don't think your recipe or pork is an issue. Are you expecting liquid to be oozing out of the dumpling? I don't normally expect that from the standard pot stickers. Are you trying to make soup dumplings? Is that what you mean by juicy? Most recipes I have for dumplings have you squeezing any excess moisture out of the veg ingredients to make sure that the dumpling is not too wet. I don't think you're doing anything wrong. Your expectations may be for something else though.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Bkeats

                                Hi Bkeats, I know my XLB, and I'm definitely not trying to make that (but I do love those dumplings!).

                                I'm just comparing my potstickers to restaurant and store bought ones, and the texture of my filling just doesn't seem as moist. But you have a point. I may have unrealistic expectations.
                                I wish I could taste someone elses' homemade dumplings - that perspective would help!

                                Thank you everyone!!!

                                1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                  I would try adding some gelatin to your mixture. Gelatin holds onto water and adds an unctuous mouthfeel, which will help your dumplings seem juicier without making them wet. That plus the napa cabbage that ipsedixit recommended should help a great deal.

                                  1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                    Maybe you should take a hint from XLB, and include a bit of gelatin rich stock in the mix.

                                    1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                      I don't think cornstarch is the problem. My family always use it in our dumplings. When I first started out, I had problem with dry fillings too, but it was fine once I switched over to a fattier cut.

                                      Every family's "recipe" differ (i.e. my family never put alcohol to season/marinade meat). The main ingredient is raw pork, egg, green onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, white peper, ginger...what vegetables goes in varies (napa cabbage, bok choy, chives, shitake are some) depending on what we like. We only put shrimp in wontons. My mom also put some sort grounded toasted dry fish in wonton that makes it taste amazing.

                                      What is the texture of the filling when it's raw? My mom always used a food processor to "grind" the meat, so I do the same. The filling is ALMOST paste like.there is enough moisture that I don't need to use extra water to fold the dumpling.

                                      Unfortunately, it's really hard to explain what is the "right" texture for me. I learned it by helping my mom when she made it, all by eyeballing it, smell, and texture ...not recipe. Sorry can't be more help.

                                  2. I usually add 1 egg to the mixture.

                                    I also use at least 50% napa cabbage by volume after boiling and draining. I bet this is the problem. Make sure you mince finely enough. If it's too much work you can always pulse it in a food processor.

                                    Definitely do NOT use precooked pork. The juices have already cooked out by the time you put them in the wrapper.

                                    I agree no corn starch.

                                    The green onions should also be finely minced and not 2 inch sections.

                                    If you're worried about under-cooking you can always bring to a boil, add 1 cup cold water, bring to boil, add another cup cold water, and let it come to a boil again. Cut it open to see if it is done. It usually is.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      I find that with dumplings, if you boil for ~12 minutes, you are in good shape. What my dad told me is that the concept of adding 3 bowls of cold water is to allow the dough to cook up optimally.

                                    2. made some the other day-same problem too-maybe too much cornstarch?

                                      I didn't add an egg - would that help significantly?

                                      I did use a lot of cabbage.


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: madeliner

                                        I tried a recipe this year for guo tie by Fuchsia Dunlop from Every Grain of Rice that may help you with your problem. Her recipe includes adding stock or water to the filling. Here's the recipe for you (not my blog). http://nycsliceofrice.blogspot.com/20...

                                        Maybe try your recipe, but mix in some water or stock and see if that helps. Good luck!

                                      2. I have been reading a lot lately about sausage making and some principles there may apply to your problem. There is a lot in common between potsticker fillings and sausage fillings. The amount of salt and/or soy sauce in the recipe, as well as the mixing time/technique may be the issue. See this site http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives... for an explanation. Fattydumplin's post re: mixing seems to fit in with this.