Jiaozi (Dumplings) 饺子

A mainstay of Chinese cuisine, “jiǎozi” 饺子, which means “dumplings” in Mandarin, is a stuffed dumpling with origins in the Eastern Han Dynasty dating back 2,000 years ago.

Although widely consumed in China all year round, especially in the northern regions, these succulent treats are one of the most popular traditional foods consumed during Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival 春节 chūnjié) and is often prepared by family members on the eve on the new year. Jiǎozi’s importance as a Chinese New Year staple stems from its shape, which closely resembles the gold and silver ingots used as currency in ancient China and is thus consumed to usher wealth, good fortune and prosperity for the new year. Sometimes, a sanitized coin would be stuffed into a jiǎozi; the lucky one to land the coin-stuffed dumpling is believed to enjoy good fortune for the coming year.

Jiǎozi is also traditionally consumed by folks in northern China during the Dongzhi Festival 冬至 (Winter Solstice Festival), a tradition born out of the belief that eating dumplings helps prevent frostbitten ears.

As the story goes, during one particularly cold winter, Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 , one of China’s most distinguished physicians who lived during the Han Dynasty, saw many local people suffering from frostbitten ears. In an effort to alleviate their situation, the kindly doctor mixed some traditional Chinese medicine, meat and other ingredients and made a new kind of food with vague resemblance to ears – dumplings. These dumplings were distributed to the local people who were cured of their frostbite. Word went around that consuming dumplings cured frostbite which grew into the tradition we see in northern China today. Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 is also thus credited as the inventor of jiǎozi.

Jiaozi’s delicate wrapper or skin, known as “jiaozi pi” 餃子皮 in Mandarin is made with wheat flour. The wheat grain, a staple of northern Chinese cuisine (rice is the staple or southern Chinese cuisine) has been milled for thousands of years in China.
Initially, flour milling was a grueling affair where equipment such as the saddle quern were operated by hand to grind wheat grains into flour. Later, mechanized flour processes let to increased productivity gains; the Chinese were believed to be one of the first users of water powered milling equipment.
After grinding the wheat grains, the resultant flour needs to be sifted to separate the finer grains from the coarser ones (so the coarser grains could be discarded or reground). The Chinese again are believed to be the pioneers of flour sifting, having extrapolated the prevalent technology for weaving silk using a fine mesh. Evidence exists that the sieving of powders for human consumption was practiced in China before such processing began in the West.

The jiaozi wrapper is made by mixing the flour with an adequate quantity of water. The amount of water required would vary with the quality of the dough, humidity conditions etc. Thus, it would be difficult to specify a fixed ratio of flour to water and seasoned Chinese cooks rarely go by any recipes when making jiaozi dough.

Traditionally, boiling water is used to form the dough because it helps produce a softer and elastic dough (cold water does not produce the same qualities and hence results in an inferior dough). Needless to say, freshly ground floor produces a better quality dough resulting in a jiaozi that is superior taste-wise and nutrition-wise.

Jiǎozi’s versatility has given rise to a plethora of stuffings such as beef with celery, shrimp and eggs with leeks as well as vegetarian stuffings. Arguably the most popular traditional stuffing is a mixture of ground pork, Chinese cabbage, scallions, soy sauce, salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Jiǎozi are traditionally boiled or steamed. When the dumplings are pan-fried they are known as guōtiē 锅贴 which in Mandarin literally means “stuck to the wok”.

Boiled jiǎozi, known as “shuǐjiǎo” 水饺 in Mandarin, is made by dropping the dumplings in boiling water and boiling them until they float and the skins turn somewhat transparent. The traditional method calls for boiling the jiaozi three times, each time after adding a certain quantity of cold water.
Steamed jiǎozi, known as “zhēng jiǎo” 蒸饺 is made by steaming the dumplings in circular bamboo steamers stacked over a wok of boiling hot water.

Jiaozi wrapper:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups wheat flour
  • Boiling water as required to form a dough

Method:

Sift flour.

Bring water to a boil.

Slowly add a portion of the boiling water to the sifted flour.

Mix with chopsticks until the dough forms a crumbly texture. If the dough is too dry add more water.

When dough is cool enough to handle, take out and knead until it forms a soft, pliable and elastic texture. The dough should not be sticky. Add flour or water as required.

Wrap the dough with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for about 1 hour.

After an hour, divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a rope about 1 inch (about 2.5 centimeters) in diameter.

Cut the rope into 5/8 inch (about 1.5 centimeters) pieces.

Flatten each piece with your palms and roll into rounds with a rolling pin. Each round should be 3 – 3 1/2 (about 7.5 cm – 8.5 cm) inches in diameter and 1/16 – 1/8inches (about 0.1cm – 0.3 cm) thick.

Keep the skins covered to ensure they stay moist and don’t dry out. Ideally, assemble the jiaozi immediately after rolling out the wrapper.

Version 1 (Vegetarian filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Chinese black mushrooms- soaked in warm water, washed and chopped to cubes
  • 3/4 cup carrot – sliced thinly
  • 1lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 1 inch sized ginger – minced
  • 4 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt as desired
  • 1-2 tbsp peanut oil

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, slice the cabbage thinly.

Heat a wok over medium high heat.

Add peanut oil and then add ginger.

Fry till fragrant.

Add chopped mushrooms and fry until mushrooms are tender.

Add cabbage and carrots. Fry till tender. Mixture should be mushy.

Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, add sesame oil, soy sauce, Shao Xing wine, salt and chopped green onions.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Version 2 (Pork and cabbage filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) pork with fat – minced
  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 2-3 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger – minced
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • Salt as desired
  • 1/4 – 3/4 cup pork stock

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, chop the cabbage to 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces.

Combine chopped cabbage with all other ingredients, except the pork stock.

Add the pork stock a little at a time, mixing continuously in clockwise direction, until the mixture turns wet and sticky. You may not require all the pork stock, so don’t add all at once.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Assembling the jiaozi:

Take a jiaozi wrapper and set it on the working table.

Moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (this may not be necessary if the wrapper is freshly rolled out or has not been set aside for too long).

Place one tablespoon of filling into the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper, bringing the edges close together but ensure they don’t stick.

Starting from the right side, pinch one edge into pleats, pasting the pleat onto the other edge, thereby forming a crescent shaped jiaozi that is pleated on one side.

Cooking the jiaozi:

Boiled jiaozi:

Pour water to a large wok.

Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

Add as many jiaozi that would cover the base of the wok but don’t overcrowd it. Stir gently to ensure none of the jiaozi stick to the base of the wok.

When water comes to a boil, add about 1 cup of cold water. Cover and bring water to a boil. Repeat this process two times.

When the water boils for the third time, the dumplings are ready.

Steamed jiaozi:

Arrange dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket.

Pour 3 cups of water into a large wok.

Bring water to boil over high heat.

When water boils, place the bamboo steamer basket into the wok.

Steam for about 6-10 minutes.

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