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What Are Chinese Dumplings?
Chinese dumplings typically contain both ground meat or seafood and chopped vegetables or herbs, encased within a wheat-based wrapper. They can be square, spherical, or shaped like a half moon or log, and they’re typically cooked by boiling, pan-frying, or steaming.
Meat and vegetables encased in wheat dough have been a staple of Chinese cuisine since before 700 BCE—they’re so ubiquitous that there isn’t really a word for dumpling in Chinese. The diversity among dumpling recipes means that it makes more sense to call each type by a specific name than to lump all dumplings together.
3 Different Ways to Cook Chinese Dumplings
- Pan-Fried. Pan-fried dumplings are cooked by a combination of frying and steaming, yielding a mix of tender and crispy textures. They’re the easiest method for beginners because they can be made with store-bought dumpling wrappers, and there’s no danger of poorly shaped dumplings falling apart in boiling water. To make pan-fried dumplings, nestle dumplings in a well oiled skillet, add a generous splash of water, and cover to steam. When the water has evaporated and the dumplings are fully cooked, leave them in the pan to brown.
- Boiled. Boiling is the most common technique for cooking dumplings in China, but boiled dumplings requires skilled crimping, so that the filling won’t fall out when they’re dropped in a large pot of boiling salted water. The method yields soft, moist dumplings that are usually small and crescent shaped.
- Steamed. A third technique for cooking dumplings is steaming, which involves a steamer basket set above a wok or pot of boiling water. Steamed dumplings can be bigger than boiled dumplings, and the shaping rules are more flexible. (Open-top dumplings, anyone?) To keep steamed dumplings tender, the dough is usually made from very hot water.
5 Well-Known Chinese Dumpling Varieties
There are hundreds of different types of dumplings in China—way too many to list—but don’t let that stop you from getting familiar with a few of the most famous varieties:
- The most recognizable type of Chinese dumpling is probably jiao zi, a northern Chinese variety usually served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce that goes by three different names, depending on how it’s prepared.
- Shui jiao (“water dumplings”) are boiled. They’re usually pleated and crescent shaped, and often filled with ground pork and napa cabbage. Shui jiao are especially popular during Chinese New Year.
- Guo tie, aka jian jiao or pot stickers, are pan-fried. (Guo means “wok” and tie means “stuck.”) They’re often filled with ground pork and Chinese chives and sometimes shaped like long cylinders, open on both ends.
- Zheng jiao are steamed. Their thin, translucent wrappers are often filled with shrimp.
- Har Gow: The dim sum staple of steamed shrimp dumplings with thin, transparent skin that often contains tapioca for extra stretch. Gow is Cantonese for jiao.
- Shu mai are another steamed dim sum favorite. They’re filled with pork and shrimp and feature an open top garnished with crab roe.
- Hun dun, aka wontons, are a type of square boiled dumpling made with egg dough and served in Cantonese noodle soup. They’re often filled with pork and bok choy.
- Xiao long bao: The most famous variety of soup dumpling that’s stuffed with pork and broth and hails from Shanghai. Soup dumplings are typically large and spherical and filled with cubes of gelatinous broth that’s solid at room temperature but melts into liquid when steamed.
How to Serve Chinese Dumplings
Chinese pork dumplings are often served with a soy sauce- and vinegar-based dipping sauce. To make your own, combine three tablespoons soy sauce with one tablespoon rice vinegar, then thin out with one to two tablespoons water. Customize your dipping sauce with a drizzle of toasted sesame or chilli oil, a few slices of fresh ginger, or a teaspoon of sugar.
Homemade Pan-Fried Pork and Chive Chinese Dumpling RecipeEMAIL RECIPE
- 1 pound ground pork, preferably 15-20% fat
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- ¼ cup minced Chinese chives or scallions
- 1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 package frozen round wonton wrappers, defrosted (about 30-40)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or to taste
- Soy sauce-vinegar dipping sauce
- In a large bowl, combine the pork, soy sauce, pepper, ginger, and Shaoxing wine and knead until the filling is sticky and paste-like, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the chives with the sesame oil. Cover and set both mixtures aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to wrap, add the chive mixture to the pork mixture and stir until just combined. Prepare a small bowl of water next to your work surface for dipping your finger while assembling the dumplings. Place a scant tablespoon of the pork filling in the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and lightly paint the top half of the edge of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half, bringing the bottom edge up to meet the top and pinching the center closed. Pinch the edges together, using the ball of your thumb to press out any air, then pleat the seal. Lay the dumplings on a plate or baking sheet and cover with a slightly damp clean kitchen towel while forming the rest.
- Generously coat a large lidded skillet, preferably cast iron, with the vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the dumplings pleat side up in a single layer and pan fry. Once the dumplings begin to sizzle, after about 1 minute, add a ¼ cup water to the skillet and cover. Steam the dumplings until the filling is firm and the wrapper is fully cooked, about 3 minutes. If the pan dries out before the dumplings are fully cooked, add water and continue to steam. When the dumplings are cooked, remove the lid and continue to cook until all the water has evaporated and the dumplings are golden brown and crisp on the bottom. Remove from heat and use a spatula to transfer to plates. Serve hot with a dipping sauce.