Some Dim Sum

Dim Sum servingChinese dumplings (part of dim sum meals) are easy! If I sound a bit like the Frugal Gourmet by loudly announcing this, it may be because Jeff Smith has gone a long way to proving this to me. And I’m not just talking about buying wonton or gyoza wrappers at the store and filling them with a ground pork mixture, I’m also referring to the act of making the dumpling wrapper dough, which is no more complicated than making fresh pasta — maybe even easier (because you don’t have to cut it to ribbons). It’s certainly easier than making gnocchi because you don’t have to boil potatoes ahead of time.

What takes most of the time is finding and getting out and measuring and chopping ALL of the ingredients that go in the fillings. But that’s not much of a burden. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is how few of us own a bamboo steamer. You could use any steamer, or pan with a perforated liner, but then you should remember to cut and oil a piece of parchment paper to set the dumplings on, otherwise they’ll stick to the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have official “parchment” paper, The Frug says to use typing paper…! But if you have a bamboo steamer (and they’re very inexpensive when you buy one in any Chinatown in any large American city), you can forget about parchment and just grease the bamboo rack in each steamer level with shortening or lard.

If steaming intimidates you, go ahead and fry them in about an inch of oil — you give up some of the subtlety of flavors in the filling, but you add the crunchy texture of fried wrapper.

And the results are fantastic — just as good (if not better, depending on your ingredients) as authentic dim sum from restaurants. Spicy, bursting with flavor, and the perfect vehicle for a good dipping sauce. Dipping sauce is usually a combination of soy sauce (2 parts), vinegar (1 part, usually a lightly flavored vinegar, not balsamic), wine (1 part, most recipes call for mirin, but a sweet white wine or sherry would do), water (1 part), plus a dribble of sesame oil and some chopped scallions. I include a more fancy dipping sauce below.

The Frug gives us a mini-chapter on dim sum in his cook book on “Ancient Cuisines” and includes several dumpling recipes: two with pork, and one with shrimp. They are easy and seem reasonably authentic, although I question whether the tablespoon of cornstarch is really necessary as a binder, especially when he also has you include an egg white. All I know is that they tasted the way I expected good pork dumplings to taste, and I appreciated the guidance he gave on mixing doughs for the wrappers.

Cooks Illustrated happened to publish their own “Perfect Potsticker” recipe just after I made several batches from the recipes below, and theirs is almost identical to The Frug’s Shu-Mei (below) except without the cornstarch and with cabbage, which they mince then wilt with 3/4 teaspoon of table salt before adding to the rest of the filling ingredients. CI being CI, their recipe results in a technical breakthrough — in this case involving air that gets trapped between the filling and the wrapper resulting in the dreaded “ballooning” during steaming, which can result in “A messy first bite…” Yowch! They recommend being careful to press ALL the air out before sealing the wrapper to avoid the social stigma of ballooned and messy pot stickers.

The Boston Globe also happened to chime in about chinese dumplings/pot stickers at the same time, and their wrapper recipe is not as easy (as well as being given in a restaurant quantity). The boiling water used by The Frug helps with the flour incorporation, and I think that heat also helps develop the gluten quickly because after resting and cutting into coins, I could NOT roll that dough out too thin. It always bound the filling, sealed, and held through steaming. The dough made with cold water was more fragile, resulting in a thicker (and gummier, to my taste) wrapper, more like a pirogi.

In several batches that I made, I ended up grinding the pork skin along with the loin. Traditional Italian sausages called “Cotechino” require boiled then ground pork skin along with the pork (about 1 part skin to 9 parts meat and fat), which creates a gelatinous texture in the finished sausage, and I imagine that this additional protein helps bind the sausage together. I didn’t have time to boil this skin (and then cool it before grinding) as I’ve done for Cotechino, so I just ground it with the rest of the meat (it helped to mix strips with meat and fat as it went through, since the Kitchen Aid grinding attachment seemed to choke on too much of the skin going through at once…), and you couldn’t tell once it was ground pork. And even though I knew the skin was in the dumpling filling, I couldn’t tell that it wasn’t pure pork. Alison didn’t know, and pronounced the dumplings “excellent!” which just proves the old saying that you never want to see how laws and sausage are made, because then you could never stomach either. I wouldn’t encourage you to go out of your way to find pork skin to grind, I would mearly point out that if you’re grinding your own meat, you might not need to use a pretty pink pork loin. It’s pretty clear that dumplings were probably invented as a way to get rid of scraps and left-overs because after you wrap it up with ginger and onion and cabbage, then serve it with a pungeunt dipping sauce, it probably doesn’t matter what cut the meat came from — it’s just along for the ride.

Fun Gor
from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, Rome by Jeff Smith
makes 24 dim sum

The dough, or wrapper, on this one has a light and trasparent look since you use cake flour and boiling water. When steamed the dough has a rather “pearly” look and it is delicious.

The Dough:
1 cup Swans Down cake flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 tsp. lard

The Filling:
3/4 pound pork, coursely ground
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 water chestnuts, coursely chopped
2 Tbsp. grated carrot
2 Tbsp. coursely chopped Napa cabbage
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped Western-style cabbage
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

Mix well all ingredients for filling.

Prepare dough by mixing flour and salt together, then adding boiling water while stirring with chopsticks to get a partially cooked dough. Quickly add the lard in little pinches then knead until smooth. When dough is smooth (about 2 minutes kneading) cover it with the mixing bowl and let rest for 15 minutes before shaping.

Pork Shu-Mei
from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, Rome by Jeff Smith
makes 24 dim sum

1 pound lean ground pork, finely chopped
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp fresh ground white pepper
1 Tbsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar
1 Tbsp chopped green onion
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp medium chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts
2 cloves minced or pressed garlic

shu-mei skins, or gyoza skins, or fun gor skins (see above)

Mix all filling ingredients together well. If rolling out wrappers, make into a 3 inch circle. Place about 3/4 tablespoon filling in the middle, then raise the edges and fold them in one direction to create a cylindar with an open top (looks like a money bag, and are often offered at New Year to predict wealth to come). They may be steamed or deep fried.

For really fancy Shu-Mei, put a peeled hard-boiled quail egg on top of the meat before steaming.

Chinese dumplings (Boston Globe 1/25/06)

A DIPPING SAUCE from a Pot Stickers recipe

1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
 ½ red jalapeno or other chili pepper, thinly sliced

1. In a bowl, stir together the vinegar, light and dark soy sauces, water, sugar, sesame oil, and chili sauce, just until the sugar dissolves.

2. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and fresh chili. Use at once or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Makes 60

This filling recipe is adapted from “Classic Chinese Cuisine,” by Salem author Nina Simonds. The wrapper recipe is from Hui Lee, a family friend who is a terrific cook.


3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups ice water
Extra flour (for rolling)
1. In a bowl, stir the flour and salt.

2. Stir in the water a little at a time, adding only as much as you need to form a smooth dough.

3. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it can be formed into a smooth ball. Cover the dough with a clean cloth; let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.


5 cups finely chopped Chinese (Napa) cabbage
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground pork
2 cups finely chopped Chinese garlic chives or 1 cup finely chopped leeks mixed with 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine or sake
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon cornstarch, or more if needed
1 cup cold water

1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage and salt. Toss lightly to mix it evenly. Set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Take a handful of the cabbage and squeeze out as much water as possible. Place the squeezed cabbage in a clean bowl. Continue with the remaining cabbage. Stir the ground pork into the cabbage with the chives or leeks and garlic.

3. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine or sake, ginger, garlic, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch, stirring vigorously in one direction to combine the mixture evenly. If the mixture seems loose, add an additional 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

4. Knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball, adding flour to the counter if necessary. Halve the dough and form each piece into a long, snakelike roll about 1 inch in diameter. Cut each roll into 30 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and then press each one into a circle.

5. Using a small rolling pin, short dowel, or lightly floured tortilla press, roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface to form a 3-inch circle. Cover the circles with a clean cloth.

6. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrappers with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half-moon shape and pinch the edges to seal them.

7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don’t stick together. When the water returns to a boil again, add 1/2 cup of cold water. Let the water return to a boil again, and add another 1/2 cup of cold water. Heat to a boil again.

8. When the dumplings have returned to a boil three times, they are ready. Drain and remove. Cook the remaining dumplings in the same way. (This is the traditional method of cooking dumplings; for a simpler method, boil them for about 8 minutes, uncovered, over high heat.) Serve with black vinegar.

–Kimberly W. Moy published in the Boston Globe

One thought on “Some Dim Sum

  1. Eric,
    Thanks for re-awakening my love for Chinese dumplings. The Frug’s shrimp dumplings (HA GOW) were a favorite for parties in Newton.
    I always loved gyoza, but somehow the recipe got messed up or our technique got lazy and they got to be greasy and not so good, so we stopped making them. I don’t know that we ever steamed them.
    Really good pork buns are available in San Francisco—in Chinatown as you may imagine—but the best may be in the Sugar Bowl Bakery in the Kaiser Medical Building… great after a “fasting” blood test.
    We have two bamboo steamers (large and not so large), so I’ll have to get on these dumplings!


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