September 1, 2008

Making jiaozi from scratch




Like Diana Kuan from Appetite for China, I was not always a fan of the northern style jiaozi (饺子, dumplings) common in Beijing. I found them to be bland and stodgy because of their thick skin. However, after eating proper homemade jiaozi I am now a convert and regularly have cravings for this ideal comfort food. Fortunately, I have my own jiaozi expert to show me how to make jiaozi at home from scratch. This post has a jiaozi recipe along with a photo guide to two different wrapping methods.

Filling (饺子馅儿)

  • 0.5 kg ground beef, a little fatty (一斤牛肉)(lamb and pork are equally good)
  • salt ()
  • 10 oz. water
  • MSG (味精) - Yes, you read right! Don't blame me if you leave this out and end up with bland dumplings.
  • finely ground peppercorn (花椒粉)
  • soy sauce (酱油)
  • 2 leeks (大葱)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (清油)
  1. In a large bowl mix the beef and water and set aside while you chop the leeks so that the water has time to penetrate and soften the beef; this will ensure your filling doesn't crumble.
  2. Finely chop the leeks, then chop some more.
  3. After you've finished chopping the leeks (you should be in tears by now), remix the beef and water again briefly. Then, individually mix in salt, ground peppercorn, MSG, soy sauce, leeks, and oil all to taste (适量) in the order listed. The amount of oil added might vary from this recipe, but Western readers should note that your filling should not be the consistency of hamburger meat; that would make for a very dry filling. The filling should look a little slimy. Don't worry, it will taste much better than it looks! You might want to pan fry a small portion of filling to check that the flavor is to your liking.
  4. Cover and set inside the refrigerator.

Wrapper (饺子皮)
  • 8 cups flour (面粉 or 饺子粉)
  • salt or baking powder (盐 or )
  • 16 oz. water
Jiaozi dough can be made from nothing more than flour, water, and a pinch of salt. If you have it, then baking powder can be used in place of salt to give the dough a softer and smoother consistency. Using high quality flour is important to having nice tasting and pleasingly textured dumpling wrappers. We used a flour made specifically for jiaozi (饺子粉) available at most supermarkets in Beijing. Ready-made wrappers are also available and will taste every bit as good, but are not nearly as much fun!
  1. Pour all of the flour into a large bowl and add a generous pinch of salt (or baking powder); then mix.
  2. Add in the water gradually, one pour at a time. After each pour, scoop the wet flour together. The consistency of the dough should be drier than when making bread. Once you have formed a nice ball of dough then remove it from the bowl and set it on the counter or large chopping board (wherever you will knead the dough). Repeat this process until all of the flour has been made into dough.
  3. Now the difficult part. Kneading dough (揉面) can be hard work, but extra effort here will pay off. The video below shows the main part of kneading; once the dough gets down to the diameter of a quarter then fold the ends to the middle and repeat over and over. After the dough has been kneaded into a silky texture, then roll the dough with your fingers like a Playdo snake; the outside should be smooth with no cracks. Be careful not to tear the dough as you're kneading it, that breaks the strands of gluten that are formed as you knead.


  4. Once you have your dough snake, hold the roll in your left hand with a small part, about 3/4 inch, sticking up. Then, use your right hand like the moving blade on a pair of scissors to grab and cut the piece of dough sticking up. The dough should be firm and break off without becoming stretched out; if it stretches then the dough is too soft and you should knead in a little more flour. You could also use a knife to cut the pieces but that's not nearly as fun and robs you of feedback on the consistency of the dough. Repeat this with the rest of the dough.
  5. Place the dough pieces with the cut sides up or down, not on the side. Press down with your palm to flatten the dough pieces into a circle.
  6. Take the pieces in your left hand and turn them as you flatten them with a rolling pin. Don't roll all the way into the middle, leave the middle of the wrapper thicker than the rest. If you roll the pieces correctly then the edge will curl up slightly into a cup shape. This video shows the process nicely, though you can work faster by rolling the pin with your fingers instead of your palm. If you're making a lot of dumpling wrappers then keep the ones you've already made covered so they don't dry out; same goes for after the dumplings have been wrapped.

Wrapping dumplings

There are several different ways to wrap dumplings, but for beginners it's best to start with something simple. Steps 1 and 2 are the same for both methods.

Step 1. Holding a wrapper in your left hand, place an economical amount of filling in the center with chopsticks (or your fingers after dipping them in a bowl of water). At this stage many people brush the edge of the wrapper which is facing up with water so that the edges of the dumpling crimp together better. In Beijing Gourmand's opinion this step is unnecessary with home-made wrappers.

Step 2. Give the wrapper a slight stretch and then crimp the middle of two opposite sides together gently.


Method A
Method A is a lot like tortellinis, you simply crimp the entire edge and then fold the ends together and crimp again.

Method B
This wrapping method is hard to explain, and Beijing Gourmand's attempts have failed miserably. I'm told the trick is folding the edges to the inside.

Other Wrapping Methods



Cooking the jiaozi

With jiaozi made from scratch there is no need to freeze the jiaozi first to harden the skin, your jiaozi will be ready for boiling immediately after you are done wrapping them.


  1. Boil water.
  2. Put in the jiaozi. You do not need to use a very large pan; the jiaozi should be packed tightly, like a public swimming pool in summer. Packing them in tightly helps them cook more quickly.
  3. Constantly and gently stir the jiaozi by pushing them away from you, preferably with the rounded part of a spoon. This method lessens the likelihood that you will break one of the jiaozi.
  4. After a few minutes the jiaozi will float to the top, at this point it is less necessary to stir.
  5. After the jiaozi have been floating for a few minutes you will notice that they have become more swollen and that their skins have a pearly translucence. This means they're ready to eat!
  6. Eating jiaozi with vinegar () is nearly mandatory, and adding thinly sliced peppers (辣椒) is recommended. You might also want to add a drop of soy sauce, cilantro (香菜), and finely chopped garlic (大蒜) to your vinegar.


This recipe was rather simple, Appetite for China has a nice pea and shiitake dumpling recipe and also a guide to wrapping and pan-frying dumplings.

Update

Grace and I got together with some friends recently so she could teach them her jiaozi recipe. Everyone did wonderfully, though there were some complaints of knuckle pain the next day from all the kneading. A bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon went well with the meal.

4 comments:

Diana said...

The leaf-shaped ones look impressive. I wish my hands were dexterous enough. Kudos to your personal jiaozi expert.

Melissa K. said...

This recipe looks great, but I don't use MSG, since lots of people are sensitive to it. Instead, I substitute a little bit of sesame oil for the vegetable oil, and that adds some flavor.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say that msg can be substituted by the same amount of half- half salt and sugar.

ayamen said...

this looks great!!!
is it possible to steam them instead of boiling...?
can't wait to start cooking!