Everything in Hunan is on a grand scale—the dramatic variety and beauty of the terrain, the abundance of the harvest, the sheer spiciness and flavor of the food, and the expansive warmth of the Hunan personality. It is, in many ways, the Texas of China. Even the chopsticks, the bowls, and the dumplings of Hunan are enormous.
If you have a food processor:
Put the flour in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. With the machine running add the water in a thin stream through the feed tube just until the dough clumps in a near-ball around the blade. You may not use all the water or you may need a bit more, depending on the dryness of the flour. After a ball is formed, run the machine 10 seconds more to knead the dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently by hand about 30 seconds, until it is earlobe-soft and smooth, and will bounce gently back when pressed lightly with a finger. Dust the board only if the dough is sticking. When processed correctly it will need little or no additional flour.
Put the dough in a small bowl, seal airtight with plastic film, then set aside to rest 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.
If you do not have a food processor: Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Stirring with chopsticks or a large spoon, combine it with enough water dribbled slowly into the bowl to form a stiff dough. Knead gently by hand on a lightly floured board 5–10 minutes, until earlobe-soft, smooth, and elastic enough to spring gently back when pressed lightly with a finger. Seal and let rest as above.
Chop the cabbage until pea-size, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and toss well to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes, drain, then squeeze firmly between your palms or wring out enfolded in cheesecloth to remove excess moisture.
Scatter the cabbage in a large bowl, add the pork, then sprinkle the remaining filling ingredients on top. Stir briskly in one direction until well blended, with chopsticks or a fork, then throw the mixture lightly against the inside of the bowl 5 or 6 times to compact it. (This makes it cohesive enough to go inside the dumpling wrapper, but still loose and coarse enough to have a good texture.) For best flavor, seal the filling airtight with a piece of plastic pressed directly on the surface and let stand 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.
Remove the dough to a lightly floured board and knead gently with the heel of one hand just until smooth, about 10 seconds. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces with a sharp knife. Roll out 1 piece at a time, keeping the remainder covered against drying.
Dust the board lightly, then press the first piece of dough into a flat disk and roll out to an even thinness of 1/16 inch, dusting the dough and the board lightly as needed to prevent sticking. Put your eye level to the board and run your fingers over the dough to be sure it is evenly thin.
Use a sharp, floured 3½ inch cutter to cut out as many dough rounds as possible, cutting them right next to one another to minimize scraps. Line up the wrappers on a lightly floured surface and cover them with a dry cloth. Squeeze the scraps into a ball and put aside with the remaining dough.
Fill and shape the first group of wrappers before you roll out the next piece of dough. When all 3 pieces have been rolled out and shaped into dumplings, gently knead the scraps together in a single ball on an unfloured board, then roll out and cut the last wrappers.
Line a baking sheet with silicon (no-stick) parchment paper to hold the finished dumplings. If you don’t have the parchment, flour the baking sheet evenly to prevent the dumplings from sticking. Have the filling, a tablespoon, and the tray alongside the wrappers.
Fill one wrapper at a time, keeping the remaining covered. Put 1 level tablespoon of filling off-center in the wrapper, and nudge it with your finger into a half-moon shape, about 2 inches long, as illustrated below. You needn’t be precise; shaping the filling simply makes the dumpling easier to seal. Pleat and press the dumpling closed as illustrated. When you are finished, the dumpling should be sealed tightly and prettily and should curve gracefully into an arc and rest flat on its smooth bottom.
Homemade wrappers are typically soft and moist, and you should have no problem sealing them. If, however, the dough has dried and will not adhere to itself (which is the case with store-bought wrappers), run a moist finger lightly around the edge of the circle before folding and pleating the dough. Do not use too much water, or the dough will turn soggy.
Transfer the finished dumpling to the tray, then cover with a dry cloth to prevent drying. Leave ¾ inch between the dumplings; they will spread a bit as they rest. Check midway to see if the dumplings are sticking to the paper or the sheet, and dust with additional flour if needed.
When all the dumplings are shaped, you may seal the tray airtight with plastic wrap or enfold it in a big bag from the cleaners and refrigerate the dumplings for several hours. Or, you may flash-freeze them on the tray until firm, bag airtight, and freeze for several weeks. Cook frozen dumplings when only partially thawed, while the dough is still firm. Cook refrigerated dumplings directly from the refrigerator.
About 25 minutes before serving, put as many large bowls as you have dumpling eaters in a low oven to warm. Mix the sauce ingredients, and adjust to taste. The sauce should be high-seasoned and spicy.
Fill a 6–7-quart pot with 3 quarts cold unsalted water, cover, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove the cover, then quickly drop in the dumplings one by one. With chopsticks or a wooden spoon gently stir two or three times to separate the dumplings. Cover the pot and cook only until the water returns to a boil. Keep an eye on the lid to see when steam begins to escape, indicating the water is boiling.
Remove the cover, add 1 cup of cold water to the pot, and re-cover. When the water returns to a boil, remove the cover, pour in another cup of cold water, and replace the cover. Repeat this process once more, for a total of 3 cups of cold water. After the third cup, while you are waiting for the water to return to a boil, stir up the sauce and divide it evenly among the individual bowls.
When the water returns to a boil, turn off the heat and uncover the pot. Fish the dumplings from the water with a large Chinese mesh spoon, hold them briefly above the pot to drain, then transfer them swiftly and still dripping a bit of water to the bowls. If you have only a small spoon with which to retrieve the dumplings, transfer them in batches to a large metal colander.
Serve the dumplings at once, accompanied by small Chinese ladles or Western soup spoons, and let each participant toss his or her own dumplings in the sauce.
Traditionally, one scoops a dumpling up on the spoon then steers all or a portion of it into one’s mouth with chopsticks, keeping the spoon in readiness at the lips to retrieve what one can’t or doesn’t wish to bite off. Beware of the first bite! Boiled dumplings are delectably and dangerously juicy, and the hot liquid will squirt out embarrassingly if you are not gentle when you first bite down.
In most Chinese homes the poaching liquid is served up as a hot drink to follow the dumplings, often garnished with a soupçon of soy or chopped scallion, and sometimes profiting from the breakage of poorly sealed dumplings. Try it. It is tummy-soothing.
Cold leftover boiled dumplings are rather wretched, in my opinion, but there is rarely any trouble eating them up while they’re hot.
THE ILLUSTRATED COMPLEAT DUMPLING: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
The genius of this method is that the dough is not overly thick at the top, having been pleated on only one side, and that the dumpling will stand upright on the tray or in the frying pan (if you are making pot stickers). Plus, it is beautiful to look at.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.