There is again something to celebrate these days : Lunar New Year, which is the most important festival of the Chinese calendar. It happens on february 10th this year and will be the start of the year of the Snake – which by the way is my star sign, making me feel all the more concerned even if I’m not Asian at all. As often with festivals, but many more in China, this kind of event is tied to a whole culinary folklore, and as an authentic Chinese food lover, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to get cooking !
Jiǎozi (饺子), which include several kinds of dumplings, are a key part of the traditional New Year meals, at least in the form of shuǐjiǎo (水饺). These are boiled dumplings, which originated in northern China at the time of the late Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and lie at the very root of Chinese dumpling-making art. Resembling ingots, they are a symbol of good fortune, and are easy to make for family gatherings. However, they might be eaten not only as a festive meal, but also as a snack or as part of a multi-course meal : anyway, they always make for a convivial time.
The most traditional recipe includes pork and napa cabbage, but you might easily find a plenty of variations regarding mostly the filling. Though I proceeded a most classic way to make these dumplings, I wanted to experiment one of these variations, which seemed quite unusual to me. In a series of TV food shows about the regional gastronomy of China, one of the episodes introduced the Laoshan mount‘s cuisine. It is characterized by the use of green tea, not only as a flavouring ingredient as in some well-known recipes like Longjing shrimps or tea eggs, but as an edible component, in different forms. In the TV-show, the reporter tasted in particular dumplings filled with meat and, in equal amounts, chinese chives (long, bright green stalks with garlic aroma generally used for potstickers or chives dumplings, a variety of dim sum) and local green tea. I took great interest in it, especially as I had got at home a very good quality tea with long, pale, grayish green leaves and a subtle roasted rice flavour, with the help of which tea became one of my all-time favourite drinks. I simply used my customary dumpling wrappers recipe (which is actually Andrea Nguyen’s, whose book Asian Dumplings serves as a reference to me) and adapted a recipe of pork and chives dumplings of a French-Chinese blogger friend of mine. The resulting dumplings are really original and tasty : the consistency of the tea combines well with those of the other ingredients, and its aroma flavours well the filling (especially as I didn’t add other usual aromatics, such as ginger or garlic) without being overwhelming or adding bitterness.
So let’s give place to the recipe !
Ingredients (yields 16 medium-sized dumplings, that is : 2 servings as a main course, 4 as a snack, and even more in a multicourse meal) :
- 1 cup/ 125g all-purpose flour
- 140ml (1/4 cup + 1/8 cup) water
- 100g ground pork, not too lean (for an alternative, substitute with veal or shrimps)
- 100g chinese chives
- 5 g good quality green Chinese loose leaf tea (mine was a tea called « Xu » from Anhui region), or a good Japanese « Sencha », « Gyokuro » or « Genmaicha » tea (adjust the amount to your liking : I think 10g would be still good)
- 1/2 tbsp of light soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp of Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- ca 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper (or black pepper, to your liking)
- 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of vegetable oil or melted lard
- 1 egg white, slightly beaten
- pinch of baking soda (soda bicarbonate)
- light soy sauce, Chinese black rice vinegar and sesame oil / ginger (for serving)
– dumpling wrappers –
Put the flour in a large bowl. Boil the water, rest it half a minute and pour it over the flour, stirring with chopsticks or fork. If you find it too hot to work with, rest the mix 1 minute, covered. Knead until the lumps come together (add carefully a little water if it seems too dry after this first stage of kneading), then directly on your work surface until it forms a smooth and somewhat elastic dough. Wrap in cling film or Ziploc bag and rest at room temperature at least half an hour. I have never experimented it, but according to Andrea Nguyen, one can refrigerate the rested dough overnight and using it after having it returned to room temperature. During resting time, prepare the filling (see below).
To form the wrappers, follow the instructions of Andrea Nguyen herself in this video. Personnally, I do not proceed with the very same steps, but it doesn’t matter much. The important things are using the right tool, a small rolling pin that you can find in every Asian grocery, an always well dusting the work surface. To form even-sized wrappers, I shape the dough into a ring resembling a large bagel, then stretch it by sliding between my hands until it is only 1.5 inch-diameter. Then I cut it to transform it into a long log, that I roll on the work surface to stretch it more before cutting it into pieces. Andrea Nguyen rolls out the wrappers with the help of a tortilla press, but you can simply flatten the dough pieces with your palm before using the rolling pin (which I move from the sides of the wrapper to the center, on the contrary of Andrea Nguyen, but both seem to work well !). While rolling the wrappers out, rest the remaining pieces of dough under cling film, and avoid stacking the shaped wrappers if you don’t want them to stick to each other. If not assembling the dumplings right away, rest them under cling film to keep them from drying.
– the filling –
Reconstitute first the green tea by soaking it in hot water. Be careful to the temperature, which should’t exceed 80°C because it increases the bitterness of the tea. Once filtered, you might drink the resulting tea, so use a quite large amount of water (a whole teapot is fine) to keep it from being too concentrated.
When the leaves have opened out and recovered their light green color, drain them, reserving the soaking liquid. Wipe them a bit using paper towel, then air-dry them.
Throw away the wilted leaves of chives, trim the tough ends a bit, then rinse them under runnig water. Blot dry and chop them into 1/4 inch-wide pieces. Boil water in a medium pot, add the baking soda and 1 tsp of salt and blanch the chives 1 or 2 minutes, using a colander that fits the pot.
Drain, rinse under cold running water then drain again. Wipe them dry with paper towel.
In a bowl, combine pork with reconstituted tea leaves and chives, then add the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, pepper, oil or lard and egg (the two latter ingredients helping the filling to cohere once cooked) and mix well. Right before assembling the dumplings (to keep the chives from releasing water), add the remaining 1/4 tsp of salt and mix again.
– assembling the dumplings –
Before starting to assemble the dumplings, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Don’t forget to make it regularly while proceeding to the next steps.
To shape a dumpling, put 1 scant or heaping teaspoon (according to your preference and to your dumpling shaping skills !) of the filling on a wrapper, flattening the filling with your spoon and leaving 1/2 inch clean on all sides of the wrapper. Fold it in half to create a half-moon shaped dumpling, pressing the sides carefully to enclose the filling. If some juice gets out, which may happen with this kind of filling, soak it up with a paper towel, and let dry thoroughly before going on to shape the dumpling.
Place the half-moon on the work surface, pleated side up, and carefully push the filling from the sides to the center while pressing strongly the sides to create a « tetrahedron-shaped » dumpling. Among the many existing dumpling shapes, this one is in my view the most common and definitely the easier to master, though I still have to improve my skills : it’s impressing to see how seasoned cooks simply press the sides of the dumplings between their hands, having them neatly shaped in seconds ! I like the fact that with this shape, the dumplings « sit » well on the plate or in the pan if panfrying (see below) ; besides, they hold shape well and look so neat !
At this stage, you can freeze the dumplings : line them up on a tray covered with greaseproof paper and put it into the freezer. After one hour or two, when the dumplings have harden enough, remove them from the tray and put them into a Ziploc bag. They will keep for up to 1 month ; thaw them in the fridge before cooking, at least partially (and adjust the cooking time).
To cook the dumplings, bring water to the boil in a big pot. Drop the dumplings in batches (2 or 3 according to the size of your pot) and stir quickly to keep them from sticking together or to the bottom of the pot, plus lower the heat a little to avoid bursting. Once the dumplings float on the surface, let them cook until the wrappers are somewhat wilted and you can slightly see the color of the filling through them. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer and serve hot. If necessary, reheat the first batches by dropping them in the hot water 1 or 2 minutes once the other dumplings are cooked.
For a nice variation, you may also have the dumplings panfried as shown up here, which gives the bottom a nice nutty crust. Proceed
either by boiling them, draining then panfrying them on medium heat in a hot oiled pan until their bottom browns and turns crispy (you may also want to reheat cooled cooked dumplings this way, but do it rather on low-medium heat to avoid burning, since it would be longer for them to be warmed thoroughly),
either by cooking them like potstickers : put the uncooked dumplings in a hot oiled pan and wait until the crust starts forming before adding water to cover the bottom of the pan by 1/4-inch ; cover and let steam until it sizzles, then check if the dumplings are cooked through ; if not, add a little water and continue steaming until the skin turns slightly translucent. Then, finish cooking with lid off until the bottom is nicely browned and crispy enough.
恭禧發財 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) to you all !