Food

A big batch Chinese dumplings recipe from Canadian chef Jackie Kai Ellis' family vault

Passed down through generations, this recipe is something special to both make and eat with the whole family.

Passed down through generations, this recipe is something special to both make and eat with the whole family

(Credit: Jackie Kai Ellis)

For Chinese-Canadian pastry chef Jackie Kai Ellis, making dumplings with her family was a “day-long affair” that occurred each time they celebrated a special occasion (and sometimes just because). Though the fillings would sometimes change — particularly during Ellis’ vegetarian stint in high school — the process was always the same: the entire family gathered in the kitchen, each member taking on a different piece of the feast prep.

Read this excerpt from her memoir The Measure of my Powers to learn more about how Ellis came to cherish her culture’s cuisine, and scroll down for her generation-spanning dumplings recipe.

Pork and Chive Dumplings

By Jackie Kai Ellis

This is my family recipe, which has evolved over too many generations to count. We are still trying to perfect them. This recipe is a large one, so I recommend getting your friends and family involved, or feel free to halve the recipe. It makes enough for a large feast with some left over to freeze for later.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 480 g all-purpose white flour, plus more for dusting
  • 750 g cake and pastry flour
  • 710 g of water (Slightly less or more water may be needed to achieve a smooth dough that is soft and pliable)

Filling Part A:

  • 670 g organic pork butt (or Boston butt, which comes from above the shoulder blade)
  • 670 g organic pork shoulder (which is below the butt, on the front leg quarter)
  • 40 g light soy sauce
  • 40 g chicken stock
  • 4 g toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Filling Part B:

  • 645 g tiger prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 10 g light soy sauce
  • 6 g toasted sesame oil
  • 4 g grated ginger, including juice
  • 3 g Shaoxing wine
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper

Filling Part C:

  • 750 g Chinese chives
  • 225 g scallions
  • 90 g cilantro
  • 425 g zucchini
  • 235 g chicken stock
  • 30 g vegetable oil
  • 27 g light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt

Dipping Sauce:

  • ¼ cup black vinegar
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Preparation

For the dough:

Mix both flours in a large bowl with clean fingers. Add 3/4 of the water and mix and knead the dough with your hands until it becomes a dry, shaggy mass. Add the remainder of the water to the drier parts of the flour mixture and continue kneading it in the bowl until the dough just comes together into a ball, the flour has been incorporated, and the bowl is relatively  clean. Transfer to a table and knead just until the dough seems evenly hydrated and there are no more pockets of dry flour or wet dough. Do not overmix, though: it should not be smooth but rough-looking. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours to rest. My family makes this in the morning and lets it rest while we go to the market for fresh ingredients. If you leave the dough longer or overnight, knead it again, as the gluten will have relaxed too much and there will not be enough structure to hold the filling properly. If you notice the dough is too stretchy or soft, re-knead it until it firms up.

For the filling:

The process of making the filling is divided into 3 parts. The results from each part will be mixed together before filling and technically, you could combine them all at once, but my mother swears that the flavor is much better when each part is done separately. She also says that it ends up being the perfect marinating time for each component when it is done separately, since the ingredients in Part A must be marinated longer than B and C.

Part A:

Chop the pork into a coarse minced texture by hand. My mom uses a cleaver on a butcher’s block, cutting the meat into thin slices, then into small cubes. She removes any tendons. She then uses the cleaver to pass over the meat several times, folding the mince onto itself to ensure it is all evenly chopped. Chopping the meat by hand gives the filling a better texture when cooked.

Place the meat in a bowl and marinate it by adding the stock, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well with 4 chopsticks used as a whisk and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.

Part B:

Cut the tiger prawns into ¼-inch pieces and marinate them in a bowl with the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, wine, salt, and pepper. Mix and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

A note on Shaoxing wine: This is a common ingredient found in any Chinese grocery store, but sherry cooking wine can be used as a substitute in a pinch.

Part C:

Chop the chives, scallions, and cilantro very finely and place in a large mixing bowl. Cut the zucchini into a 1/16-inch dice and add to the vegetable mixture. Add the stock, vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Combine the marinated pork from Part A and the shrimp from Part B. Mix this very well using the chopstick whisk or by hand. Set aside until you are ready to assemble the dumplings.

A note on Chinese chives: You can substitute regular chives for these, however Chinese chives, which you can find at any Chinese grocery  store, are sturdier, and will have a different consistency after being cooked.

A note on soy sauce: There is a wide variety of soy sauce out there. It would be preferable to use a Chinese light soy sauce, but a regular soy sauce from the supermarket would be a good substitute if you can’t find light soy sauce. Just be sure not to buy a dark version, as the flavor will be too intense.

For the dipping sauce:

Mix together.

A note on black vinegar: This might be a difficult ingredient to find. To make your  own substitution, mix equal parts white vinegar and light soy sauce.

To make the dumplings:

Cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces and cover the bowl with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.

Knead 1 piece of dough until smooth on a floured surface; we use an old wooden board that has been passed down for generations. Cut the dough into 4 strips, and roll each one into a rope about ¾ inch thick, lightly flouring the counter to keep it from sticking.

Cut or rip the rope into half-inch pieces and flatten each with the palm of your hand to create little discs about 1½ inches in diameter.

Using a Chinese rolling pin (or a food safe dowel about 1-inch in diameter) roll out each dough piece into little rounds, as thin as a sheet of linen at the edges and a little thicker in the center.  They will have a diameter of about 2 ½ inches.

Place 1–2 tablespoons of filling in the center of a round. Pinch opposite sides together firmly to create a half-moon dumpling shape. You can use your fingers to pinch different pleated patterns into the dough, but my family prefers a quicker, rustic style that is simply squeezed between the inside thumb and the side of the index finger. As you create the dumplings, place them on a floured sheet pan so they don’t stick together.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. It must be the largest pot you have because the dumplings will need room to move around. Drop the dumplings in the water and swirl them around with a spoon. Cover and wait until the water boils over, and then stir again. Cover and wait once more until the water boils over, and then, using a slotted spoon, remove the dumplings to a serving dish. Serve hot with black vinegar and sesame oil dipping sauce.

A note on freezing dumplings: Dumplings can be frozen for up to 1 month; just add a few more minutes to the cooking time when cooking frozen dumplings. To cook frozen dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, drop the dumplings in the water, and swirl the dumplings in the water with a spoon. Cover and wait until the water boils over, and then add ¾ cup of cold water and swirl the  water again. Cover and wait until the water boils over again. Add another ¾ cup of cold water, swirl and cover. Once the water boils over again, the dumplings are ready.

A note on the measurements: This recipe requires the precision of a scale, unless you have the cooking intuition of a Chinese grandmother. Volume measurements would not be suitable for most of the ingredients and so we, as a family, decided not to include them. Where volume measurements are indicated, this would have been the most precise form of measurement.


Excerpted from The Measure of my Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris by Jackie Kai Ellis. Copyright © 2017 JKE Media Inc. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Servings: 250-300 dumplings

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