Back home, I told the cook girl to boil enough pots of water and to chop enough pork and vegetables to make a thousand dumplings, both steamed and boiled, with plenty of fresh ginger, good soy sauce, and sweet vinegar for dipping. Hulan helped me knead the flour and roll out the dough into small circles.
I admit I was at first impressed by her cooking skills. She worked fast, pushing hard against her rolling stick. She was able to roll out three skins for every two that I made. And she always grabbed just the right amount of meat filling to dab in the middle of the skin, never having to add a little more or take a little off. With one pinch, she closed the dumpling off.
The Kitchen God's Wife, Amy Tan
A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening working on a food truck in Liverpool. My friends Shelly and Mia invited me to make some sweet canapés for the launch of their new venture: Pao! and I spent the day helping with service for the savoury food too. I had a brilliant evening and left vowing to eat more kimchi, occaisionally swap the horseradish for wasabi in my Bloody Marys and learn how to make dumplings from scratch.
I keep dumpling wrappers in my freezer, ready to make prawn and leek potsticker dumplings when I fancy a quick supper. The wrappers are cheap, easy to use and available just down the road from me, but I have long been meaning to make my own, to see if I could tell the difference. On the 6am train home to London, still recovering from my evening in the food truck, I read The Joy Luck Club, and promptly decided that the dumpling plan needed to come to fruition sooner rather than later.
Centred around four Chinese American mothers and their first-generation daughters, the book introduces us to a wonderful collection of characters, brought together around a mahjong board and a table full of food. My love for this story encouraged me to go on a bit of a spree, and the scene above actually comes from Amy Tan's follow-up, The Kitchen God's Wife. It's the shared task of making 'a thousand' dumplings that inspired the recipe below. Although I made these solo, taking my time on a contemplative afternoon, I can imagine making them with my family - a production line of the matriarchal figures I grew up with rolling, filling and pinching the dumplings closed.
This is not food for a quick supper, but it's all the more special for the time you've spent putting it together. Proper slow food (cooked fast).
Pork and Ginger Dumplings
Makes around 30
180g plain flour
80ml just boiled water
1tbsp flour and 2tbsp water (for sealing the wrappers)
200g minced pork
1.5tbsp minced ginger
5 cloves minced garlic
Zest and juice of a small lime
2 large spring onions
1tbsp sesame oil
One large green chilli
1tbsp sesame oil
80ml rice wine vinegar
1tbsp sweet chilli sauce
2tbsp soya sauce
Knife and chopping board
1. First make the dough for the wrappers. Add the flour and salt to the mixing bowl, then pour the water in. Stir it with a wooden spoon to combine and then, once cool enough to touch, incorporate the ingredients with your hands. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rest for half an hour.
2. While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. Chop all filling ingredients finely (except the mince and, obviously, the liquids), or mince them with the microplane. Warm the sesame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and fry the garlic for a minute, stirring to ensure it doesn't brown. Add the spring onions, ginger and chilli, cook for another minute, then add the pork. Cook for five minutes, moving the meat around to ensure it all cooks through. Add the lime zest, lime juice and soya, cook for a final minute and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.
3. Once the dough has rested, knead it for around ten minutes until smooth. At the start, the dough will be hard to manipulate but keep working, stretching the dough out over your bench with the heel of your hand. It will get there. Once smooth, cut the dough into six pieces and return five of these to the fridge, wrapped in cling film.
4. Flour your bench, roll one piece of dough out to a couple of millimetres thick, then cut into rounds with an 8cm biscuit cutter. Set each wrapper aside, covered with a tea towel. You might like to put a bit of greaseproof paper between each one to ensure they don't stick, but I played with fire, and just layered them, then peeled carefully when I came to using them. Repeat the wrapper making process with the rest of your dough. Keep any scraps, re-knead, and cut out again.
5. Once your filling is cool and wrappers have been rolled, mix the flour and water for sealing the dumplings and set up a bit of a production line. Then start filling and closing the dumplings. Place a generous teaspoon of the mixture into the centre of the wrapper. Run a finger, moistened in the flour and water, along the top edge of the wrapper, and fold the other side over the top to create a semi circle.
6. Working from the edge of the mixture, push the wrapper closed, ensuring there are no air holes, then seal the edges. Starting at one corner, pinch the dough between your thumb and forefinger, with your middle finger supporting the dough underneath. Repeat at close intervals along the edge. Store each finished dumpling under a cloth and continue with the rest of the wrappers and mixture. Once you've finished, put a large pot of water on to boil.
7. To prepare the sauce, put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, and leave to simmer away quietly while you cook the dumplings.
8. Once the pot of water is boiling, reduce to a confident simmer, then drop the dumplings in in batches, giving them room to move. Cook for five to six minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Allow to drain, then transfer to a serving plate. Spoon the sauce over the top and serve immediately.