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So you want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings? Follow these basic methods and tips, and you'll see that it's not so difficult, after all, and that the rewards are worth every bit of effort!
Dumplings are more generally known as jiaozi (jiǎozi | 饺子) in Chinese cuisine, and shui jiao refers specifically to boiled dumplings (shuǐjiǎo | 水饺) -- probably the most popular variety and certainly the easiest to cook. They are popular as a quick snack and are also the staple food in the northern regions of China.
As a food, dumplings have been around for a long time and are present in many different cultures and cuisines. Chinese dumplings were thought to have originated during the era of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). It's easy to see why dumplings - especially boiled dumplings - are so popular. They cook quickly and store well, so in the era of freezers, it's handy to have a stash of dumplings in your freezer for a quick snack or meal.
Now let's look at how to make Chinese dumplings and the things to consider -- the main distinguishing feature is probably the filling that goes inside. Chinese dumplings are typically filled with pork and some kind of vegetable and seasoned with Chinese sauces and spices, although really, you could fill your dumplings with anything you want. The meat and vegetable filling, wrapped in a wheat flour-based wrapper, means that these dumplings are a complete meal in one.
The second thing to consider when learning how to make Chinese dumplings is the various ways of wrapping or folding the dumplings. There are multiple different styles of wrapping Chinese dumplings, but no need to stick to the 'official' styles, your imagination is the limit here - you can certainly be creative and come up with your own way of wrapping dumplings.
The most stylish way, although not the simplest, is probably the crescent moon shape with six pleats. This style is particularly popular at Chinese New Year, as the shape resembles an ancient Chinese gold ingot, which is a lucky symbol for bringing wealth and fortune in the new year. Some also say the crescent shape represents the new moon and symbolises its brightness and hope for the year ahead. However you choose to interpret (or not) their cultural meaning, dumplings are, without a doubt, one of the most popular foods eaten during Chinese New Year by all communities who celebrate the festival.
In the tutorial below, I'll show you how to make Chinese dumplings in two basic styles -- the crescent moon style and a simpler crescent style with just one pleat on each side. As we're making boiled dumplings here, the style doesn't matter too much (nor does the wrapping have to be perfect!), as when they're cooked, it's difficult to distinguish between the various styles, anyway. Making boiled dumplings are a great way to hone your dumpling wrapping skills!
Learning how to make Chinese dumplings at home is especially useful if you have dietary restrictions, as you can completely customise what you put inside them. For these dumplings, I used a basic pork-based dumpling filling recipe, but you could use chicken, or even make your own vegetarian combinations.
Fresh is always best, so reward yourself by cooking the dumplings as soon as you've made enough to eat. Fresh dumplings don't require very much cooking time at all. Simply bring a pot of water to the boil, and cook your dumplings for 2-3 minutes -- they are done when they float to the surface. Transfer them to a plate using a slotted spoon to drain off the cooking water. Sometimes boiled dumplings are served in a flavoured broth, but we tend to drain them and instead use plenty of dipping sauce when eating them.
It's no problem at all if you're not cooking your dumplings fresh - they freeze incredibly well and taste nearly as good when cooked from frozen. To store, place the wrapped dumplings on a parchment-lined baking sheet, pop them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes until frozen, then transfer to an airtight food storage bag. They should keep for about 4-6 weeks. To cook dumplings from frozen, add them straight from the freezer to a pot of boiling water. Cook for 6 minutes or so, or until the dumplings float.
Despite the lengthy tutorial, there's really not much involved when it comes to making Chinese dumplings. So why not dive in and try your hand at it?
Take a look at my other, related, recipes below:
If you're making dumplings for Chinese New Year, take a look at my recipes for other foods to enjoy:
Here's how to make Chinese dumplings and what you'll need:
(Click here to jump straight to the recipe)
And here's what to do:
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