It must be obvious that I love the Chinese dumplings called jiaozi. After all, I named my blog after them.
At Chunjie, aka Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, the traditional custom is to make and eat lots of jiaozi, and at that time of year you see TV and newspaper photos of the President of China joining some family or other somewhere in China and helping them to make jiaozi in preparation for the festival.
I am told that jiaozi are more popular in northern China than in the south; they are akin to Italian ravioli and who is to say that Marco Polo didn’t take the idea of them back to Italy?
There are three methods of cooking jiaozi, namely: boiling in water, when they are called shuijiao (water dumplings); frying + steaming in a large flat pan, and these are then called guotie which literally means ‘pot stick’ (in the USA they are called Pot Stickers); or steaming them, in which case they are called zhēngjiǎo.
Whatever the cooking method, the basic preparation of jiaozi is always the same. They consist of a thin sheet of dough wrapped and folded round a filling. The fillings are many and various, depending on where you are, who is making them and the time of year. The supermarkets all have vast freezer cabinets bulging with packets of commercially made and frozen jiaozi which are obviously convenient for working folk who do not have the time or inclination to make them from scratch.
In 2011 we were invited to spend Chinese New Year with Beijing friends and their family. Our hostess’s uncle used to have his own restaurant and he undertook to initiate me into the way of the jiaozi! He prepared the dough, let it rest, cut it and rolled it. He showed me how to make two fillings, both of which were delicious but rather up-market for everyday noshing (well, it WAS New Year after all!), they were boiled in water and I am ashamed to tell you how many shuijiao I and the DH consumed..
Last weekend we went out to spend the day with a dear friend who has a house with a beautiful garden in SW Beijing. Knowing how I love jiaozi, she had bought all the ingredients for making them for our lunch. The filling she made is a classic every-day recipe. She had bought the dough skins - jiaozi pi - from the local noodle maker which she says is what most housewives do. Then she cooked them using the fried/steamed method so they became guotie.
Three days ago when at the market I walked past one of the noodle-making stalls, and there on a table I saw bags and bags of jiaozi pi, seizing the moment, I bought a bag and then scurried off to my favourite pork butcher for the minced pork I would need. When I got to her stall, she noticed my bag of jiaozi pi, and asked how much pork I wanted – I selected a piece of pork to be minced, at which point another customer decided to intervene and said that the pork I had chosen was not fatty enough for good jiaozi. She thought it should be 50/50 lean to fat – at this point every one within earshot began giving their opinions, and quite a heated discussion ensued. Of course they were all trying to instruct the ignorant laowei (ie ME) as to the best/correct/most delicious combo! In the end we compromised on 75% lean meat to 25% fat, and everyone decided that that would be ok for a ‘beginner’.
Then it was off to my vegetable lady – to purchase a bundle of jiu cai as this is absolutely essential for the typical Beijing jiaozi filling.
Back in the apartment I set to work. First the jiu cai had to be thoroughly washed clean of any dirt and grit, and any nasty mushy stems had to be removed. Jui cai is often transalated into English as ’garlic chives’ but it is not like the garlic chives we know in the west. It does have a garlicky flavour, but it is more like a grass with flat bladed leaves, I suspect that outside China it is not easily available although you could substitute other things for it – finely chopped leeks would do just as well.
500g coarsely minced pork
1 bundle jiu cai
2 medium eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper, plus a small sprinkling of MSG if you want to be really Chinese!
A bag of jiaozi pi (or follow the recipe at the end of this blog)
Chop the cleaned jiu cai finely and add to the pork
Add two eggs, the soy sauce, plus seasoning.
Use cooking chopsticks or a wooden fork to blend everything together
Set out a small production line with the filling, the jiaozi pi, a small bowl of cold water, and a couple of large dishes or trays to lay the jiaozi on when you have made them.
Take a jiaozi pi in the palm of your left hand, dip a finger in the cold water and run it round the edge of the jiaozi pi. Then pick up what is a comfortable amount of the filling in a pair of chopsticks and place it in the center. Fold the two sides together, tuck the ends in, and crimp the excess dough together making a neat semi-circular parcel. Lay them out, without touching, on the dishes or trays. Unless you are feeding a lot of people you will probably have made far more than you need for one meal. I must admit that the first few jiaozi took me ages to fill and fold, but then I hit my stride and got a bit faster – even so it took me a full hour to make them all. I have seen some Chinese making a huge number in nano-seconds – obviously I need more practice!
I decided to cook them as guotie. Put a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is really hot place the jiaozi, folded side down (ie the stuck-together side up) into the pan and cook for several minutes. Then pour in enough water to come half-way up the sides of the jiaozi and immediately put a lid on the pan. Continue to cook until all the water has evaporated. The bottom of each jiaozi should be a crispy golden brown, and the top and sides will have steamed and be opaque.
Tip onto a dish and serve straight away – each person should have a small bowl with some finely sliced threads of fresh ginger and Shaanxi vinegar, into which they can dip the guotie.
好吃 Hao chi – Delicious!
This recipe will probably make you far more jiaozi than you need for a single meal for two. Open freeze the others on the tray and when hard frozen transfer them into a bag. When you want a quick meal, bring a large pan of water to the boil, toss in the frozen dumplings, and when they float to the top and are cooked through, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and serve at once.
To make your own jiaozi pi you will need:
275g plain flour
250ml very hot water
250ml very hot water
Put the flour into a large bowl and stir the hot water gradually into it, mixing it all the time with a fork until most of the water is incorporated. Add more hot water if the mixture seems dry. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead it with your hands , dusting the dough with a little flour to stop it sticking. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and silky. It will take about 5-10 minutes – very therapeutic exercise!
Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a clean, damp tea towel and let it rest for about half an hour whilst you prepare the stuffing.
Once the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and knead it again for about 5 minutes, dusting with a little flour if it is sticky.
Once the dough is smooth, form it into a roll approx 23cms (9ins) long and about 2½ cms (1 inch) in diameter. Take a knife and cut the roll into 18 equal slices. Roll each slice into a small ball, then with a rolling pin, roll each ball out on a floured surface to form a small round flat “pancake” about 6cms (2½ ins) in diameter. Arrange the dough discs on a lightly floured tray and cover them with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out until you are ready to use them.