Pork Dumplings

Jiaoz

Flavor: Mild and GingeryMeal: Almost in Advance, BoiledMeal: One-Dish

Americans know these delicious little meat-filled pastries by so many different titles that we hesitated before giving this recipe an English name. “Peking ravioli,” “wraplings,” and “crescents” are but a few of the terms restaurateurs and cookbook authors use for these ubiquitous dumplings. Jiaoz in Chinese means, quite literally, a “three-cornered, meat filled dumpling,” but even in China a jiaoz can go by many names, depending on whether it is deep-fried, pan-fried, steamed, or boiled.

Although jiaoz are made and eaten all over China, they are traditionally associated with the northern part of the country, where wheat rather than rice is the staple. On Taiwan the best of the classically prepared jiaoz were made by people from Shantung, the coastal province that juts out like a thumb into the Yellow Sea somewhat to the south of Peking. Generally the texture of the skins and the composition of the fillings vary according to the prevailing taste of different provinces. Szechwanese chauvinists that we are, we feel that Szechwanese jiaoz are the best. They are not too different from the standard Pekingese type, except that they taste better. They are more fragrant and more definitively seasoned. And, while Northerners accompany their dumplings with a sauce composed of soy sauce and vinegar, the natives of Szechwan favor a more potent mixture containing raw garlic and hot red pepper. In any case, in comparison to Mrs. Chiang’s, all other jiaoz taste bland and uninteresting.

Jiaoz occupy a special place in the cuisine of China. They are eaten both at and between meals. There was a row of open-stall restaurants near the center of Taipei that served nothing but jiaoz twenty-four hours a day. They were a temptation we rarely resisted, especially late at night on our way home from an evening on the town. We also ate jiaoz for dinner. A mammoth plateful of them accompanied by a bowl of spicy dip sauce was a feast for the whole family. The children competed among themselves to see who could eat the most dumplings; the adults stuffed themselves without counting.

Of course, it takes the better part of an afternoon to make enough of these dumplings to feed a large and hungry gathering, especially for a novice. Mrs. Chiang can roll out a jiaoz skin, fill it and pinch it together into a perfect crescent with the speed and dexterity only years of experience can produce. It takes me twice as long and my dumplings are lopsided, but they are fun to make. Children particularly love to wrap their own jiaoz.

Some Oriental food stores carry ready-made skins, often called gyosa or choutz skins. Using them will save you an enormous amount of work. This is the kind of short cut that even experienced Chinese cooks take. Although commercial jiaoz skins may not be as fresh as homemade ones, they are perfectly authentic.

Although jiaoz can be made in advance and even frozen, handling them requires a few precautions. Uncooked jiaoz have the unfortunate habit of sticking to each other and to everything else as well. This is because the moisture from the filling inevitably seeps into the skins and makes the dough sticky. Place the jiaoz on a floured surface after you have filled them, don’t let them touch each other, and never, never try to keep them nice and moist with a damp towel. If you are planning to freeze them, put them in the freezer on an open plate until they become quite hard, then put them in an airtight container or plastic bag. Don’t thaw them before cooking; you can cook them in the same way you cook unfrozen jiaoz.

In the following recipes, we give two different fillings for jiaoz, one that is mainly pork and a lighter one containing both pork and vegetables. They should each yield about 75 or 80 dumplings. Since a hungry adult will usually eat from 12 to 15 at a sitting, you can plan your guest list accordingly.

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Method

Preparation

15 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop them, both white part and green, into tiny pieces, about the size of a match head. (Mrs. Chiang finds it easier to chop so many scallions if she first smashes each one with the side of the cleaver.)
½ -inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then mince it fine, until it reaches the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.

1 pound ground pork

½ cup soy sauce

1-½ tablespoons sesame oil

½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

1 egg

Put the pork in a mixing bowl and add the chopped ginger and scallions to it, along with the soy sauce, sesame oil, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, egg, and salt. Combine very thoroughly, then set the pork mixture aside until the jiaoz skins are ready to be filled.

1-½ teaspoons salt

3 cups (all-purpose) flour

¾ cup water

Mix the flour and the water together. (You will probably have to use your hands to work this dough because it is a very stiff one.) The dough should be quite hard and dry and definitely not sticky.

Before you actually begin to roll out the jiaoz skins, prepare a platter or tray to hold the jiaoz until they are cooked. Flour it heavily or cover it with waxed paper, because filled jiaoz have a tendency to stick to an ordinary dry surface.

Knead the dough for 2 minutes on a clean dry surface until it becomes elastic, then divide into 4 roughly equal parts. Take one of the pieces and roll it out into a long snake about 16 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. Cut the snake into about 20 pieces, each one about the size of the bubblegum balls that come from penny candy machines.

Prepare a floured surface for rolling out the jiaoz skins. Then take one of the little dough balls and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is a flat circle about 3 inches in diameter. (Mrs. Chiang rolls out and fills about 5 skins at a time, rather than monotonously rolling all of them out at once.)

(meat mixture)

Take about 1-½ teaspoons of the meat mixture and put it in the middle of a jiaoz skin. Fold the dough over the filling and then use your fingers to make 4 or 5 little pleats on one side of the jiaoz skin. As you make each pleat, pinch it together with the dough on the other side of the jiaoz skin. The finished product should be a little crescent-shaped pouch of dough.

Place each jiaoz on a floured surface as you finish it, and be sure the dumplings don’t touch each other.

Cooking

Bring a very large pot of water to a full, rolling boil. Gently put about 15 or 20 jiaoz into the pot and wait for the water to boil again. (Don’t try to cook all the jiaoz together at one time; 20 is about all that even the largest pot can hold.)

When the water is boiling heavily again, pour in enough cold water to stop the boiling. Let the jiaoz come to a boil again and repeat this step twice more. After the jiaoz have come to a boil for the fourth time, remove them from the pot. Drain them well in a strainer or colander and then serve.

Dip Sauce

4 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon salt

Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver, then peel. Put them in a small, steep-sided bowl or mortar with the salt; then, using the wooden handle of your cleaver or a wooden spoon or pestle, mash the garlic and salt together into a thick paste.

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes in oil

½ teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons soy sauce

Add the vinegar, hot pepper flakes in oil, sesame oil, and soy sauce to the garlic paste. Stir the resulting sauce well, then pour it into small bowls or saucers for everybody to dip their jiaoz into.

Serving

Jiaoz can be eaten in many ways. I am a purist of sorts and usually eat mine plain. John prefers to dip his into a sauce. The easiest to make is a simple mixture of equal parts of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Mrs. Chiang creates a more potent Szechwanese version, peppery hot and permeated with raw garlic.

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