I remember the first time I ate a dumpling. I was visiting New York City on a school trip and our chaperone took us to the iconic Joe’s Shanghai in midtown Manhattan for dim sum. We were seated at a large, round table next to a foggy fish tank, and we ordered what seemed like everything on the menu. Stacks of bamboo steamers soon appeared in front of us, revealing perfectly round and plump pockets of dough filled with ground pork and scallions on beds of wilted cabbage. I remember feeling so clumsy and silly trying to fit the whole dumpling into my mouth—dripping soy sauce all over myself and noticing the waiters smirking at my novice awkwardness. But I was completely hooked on the texture of the soft, pillowy dough and the silky, savory filling and gestured for yet another round. More chili oil, please!
I may not have mastered the art of graceful dumpling consumption that day, but I have since attempted to make dumplings at home with relative success. I’ve had the best luck with pot stickers, and conveniently, the precut circular wrappers can be purchased at most grocery stores. And even if you make too many, they freeze beautifully. The great thing about making your own is that the dough is fairly forgiving, and you can get creative with fillings depending on what’s in season. If you can fold a towel, you can fold a dumpling. Seriously.
Dumplings are a perfect project to get the kitchen-shy involved with the process. And even if the dumplings turn out slightly wonky, they’ll still taste just as delicious. True dumpling masters can fold their pot stickers into beautifully pleated masterpieces—ribboning the dough into perfect little pouches with ease and charm. But in reality, all you need to make your own pot stickers is a few fingers, a little bit of patience and a good, hot pan.
Pot stickers are pan-fried in a bit of cooking oil until crisp, quickly steamed in the pan and then cooked back to a crisp after the water evaporates. To assemble the pot stickers, place circular wrappers flat on a work surface an inch or so apart. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of each wrapper. Using your finger, lightly rub the edges of the wrappers with water and fold the dough over to create a half-moon shape—ribboning the edges around the filling, if desired. Pinch the edges to seal.
To cook the pot stickers, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pot stickers in a single layer (being careful not to overcrowd the pan) and cook until the bottoms are golden and crisp—about 2 to 3 minutes. Working quickly, add about ¼ cup of water to the pan and immediately cover. Let the dumplings steam for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are wrinkled and the dough is cooked through. Remove the lid and allow all the water to evaporate. Cook another minute, or until the bottoms are crispy and the dumplings are cooked through—shaking the pan to release the dumplings. Serve with soy sauce, sweet chili sauce or other dipping sauces, if desired.
By Rachel Johnson