Ah jiaozi… on the last day of our visit to Shan’s family in Urumqi the capital of Xinjiang Province, we listened, as Shan translated for her mother. She explained that it is traditional to serve these dumplings to family members before they depart from home, to remind them that family wraps itself around you even when you are far away.
That good lady is on my mind today as she has just journeyed thousands of miles from her home in Urumqi to be with Shane and Shan in Beijing until the birth of her (our) grandchild, fulfilling the Chinese tradition of ensuring the expectant mother is well-nourished during her pregnancy. It is an abiding part of family values in China that mothers give up their own lifestyle and their own friendships to be with their daughter at this time.
Not only did Shan’s mother serve us dumplings, she showed us how to make them and the making was also a family affair, rooted in age old traditions. Even Shan’s niece, little Xuan Xuan aged 5, was already learning how to prepare them from her mother and grandmother – her “nai nai“.
So this post is a small tribute to Shan’s Mum whose life experience is a world away from my own but with whom I have a share in a new life carrying both our genes. I hope she will be pleased that she has already taught me how to use some of her skills, on the other side of the world, before I become a nai nai myself.
In Urumqi the wrappers are made by hand from a flour and water dough and the filling is almost invariably pork – Shan’s mother would consider lamb wasted on such a simple dish.
By the way, all the cooking for the Gao family is done on this two-ring hob – no oven, grill or microwave is considered necessary. Chopsticks, the cleaver in the first photo above, and the “spade” in the last photo are among the few kitchen utensils.
“Stick to the pot” dumplings – Jiaozi – 锅贴 饺子
I have now made jiaozi several times back here in Ireland and I love the tactile pleasure of mixing up the filling and making up the little parcels. I haven’t yet got around to making the pastry by hand but I have three versions of the filling I like to use – a pork mix which is as close as I can get to Shan’s mother’s version, a beef one typical of what the Muslim Uighurs might make in Xinjiang and a chicken and leek filling which I found in Gok Cooks Chinese.
There are several versions of the dip too which I vary depending on the mood I’m in. I’m particularly fond of the honey and soy dip which also came from Gok Wan, although the soy and vinegar would be more typical of Xinjiang.
Makes approx 50
- 50 round wheat dumpling/ wonton/ gyoza wrappers*
- Cornflour for dusting
- 2 egg yolks lightly beaten
- One of the fillings below
- Sunflower oil for cooking
- Jug of cold water
- One of the dipping sauces below
*buy in the freezer section of your local Asian supermarket – Happy Belly and Imperial are good brands
Filling One – Shan’s Mum’s Xinjiang Jiaozi
- 300 g Chinese cabbage, finely chopped and tossed for 30 mins with 1 tsp salt
- 450 g minced pork
- 100 g Chinese garlic finely chopped
- 2 1/2 tbs light soy sauce
- 1 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tbs roasted sesame oil
- 1 tbs finely chopped ginger
- 1 tbs cornflour
Filling 2 – Xinjiang Muslim Potstickers
- 500 g minced beef
- 4 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 – 6 spring onions (green part only) finely sliced
- 1 bunch of Chinese chives (or ordinary chives), finely chopped
- 1 small bunch of fresh coriander, finaly chopped
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 4 tsp light soy sauce
- 4 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
- A little water or stock
Filling 3 – Gok Wan’s Chicken and Leek Magic Potstickers
- 400 g minced chicken
- 4 tbs finely chopped leek
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 4 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tsps sesame oil
- 2 tsp Shaoxing wine
- Salt and white pepper
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten (if needed to bind)
Dipping Sauce 1 – Soy and Vinegar
- 5 tbs light soy sauce
- 3 tbs Chinkiang (Chinese black) vinegar
Dipping Sauce 2 – Soy, Chilli and Sesame
- 5 tbs light soy sauce
- 2 1/2 tbs chilli oil
- 1 tbs roasted sesame oil
- 1 spring onion finely chopped
Dipping Sauce 3 – Soy and Honey
- 2 tbs runny honey
- 1 tbs light soy sauce
- 1 tbs chopped chives
- Make up your chosen filling by mixing the ingredients in a bowl with your hand until you have a consistency that is soft but not runny. If necessary drain off any excess liquid.
- Dust your work surface with cornflour and lay out your dumpling wrappers.
- Place a heaped teaspoon of filling on the centre of each wrapper.
- Dip your finger in the egg yolk and run it around the edge of the wrapper.
- Fold over and pinch to seal.
- Store on lightly dusted baking trays in a cool place until ready to cook.
- Mix the ingredients of your chosen dipping sauce.
- Heat a large non-stick frying pan with deep sides over medium to high heat.
- Add a good swirl of cooking oil and heat.
- Cook the dumplings, in batches, as follows:
- Place the dumplings on the base of the pan in a single layer, ensuring the edges don’t touch.
- Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, over a medium heat, shaking the pan to make sure they don’t stick, until the bases are dark golden and crispy.
- Pour in enough water around the base of the pan to create steam around the dumplings (about 200 ml).
- Cover (with a lid or a bamboo steamer cover) and steam the dumplings for 5 to 8 minutes – add a little more water if necessary, during the cooking period, if the pan is drying out.
- Remove the lid at the end of cooking time to allow the steam to escape and the remaining water boil off.
- Serve with the crispy side up and a dipping sauce of your choice.
If you wish you can simply boil the dumplings. Just bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add about half the dumplings, stirring immediately to prevent them from sticking. Add a cup of cold water and continue cooking over high heat until the water boils. Add another 3 cups of cold water and cook until the water boils again. Remove from heat and drain the dumplings. Repeat with the second batch.
In Xinjiang it is usual to boil half the dumplings and make pot-stickers with the other half.
Er… jiaozi burger anyone?:
I got carried away making jiaozi last weekend with a batch of the pork and of the beef mixture on the go. I was amazed at how far 450 g of pork stretched in these dumplings and, 3 days later, I was still making them. My other half had the bright idea of using up the left over filling by making up a burger and grilling it. It was very tasty!
These tasty morsels are great for finger food for a party. A big batch goes a long way. You can also make smaller quantities and serve as a starter. They are all the more fun to make if you can get helpers, preferably willing little ones.