During a trip to Philadelphia a few months ago we were staying at a hotel in Chinatown that was right by the convention center, giving us access to some pretty awesome food (including the Reading Terminal Market) and karaoke. Not two blocks away was a dim-sum spot that I had heard nothing but raves over, and so the morning following a fun night at a fairly famous drag show I took Michael over there for some delicious brunch before we were to head off to the Art Museum. It worked out kind of perfectly because we were a.) hungry, and b.) needed fuel to power us through all of the walking we’d end up doing that day.
We ended up getting lots of different dishes, from cucumber salad to scallion pancakes (SO GOOD), but my absolute favorite were the trays of Shanghai-style soup dumplings. Having only been introduced to them a few months prior at a place near my office, I was eager to show Michael the delights of them and he was in full agreement that they were pretty damn delicious. My only regret of the meal was not ordering more of them, but by then we were stuffed and ready to get on with our day.
Ever since that day I’ve entertained the idea of trying to make them at home, and there are multiple tutorials out there to show you how to do just that, but given the fact that making your own very gelatinous stock is involved, I’m holding off on really diving into that until the winter time, ideally when the weather is lousy and we need a good indoor project to entertain ourselves for the day. We also need to make at least one or two stops to the Lexington Market to stock up on various stock-making supplies, and I would rather wait until it’s cooler out to lug things like pig’s feet and the like across town, for food safety’s sake.
To curb my craving for dumplings, though, I decided to take a chance last weekend and hope that Harris Teeter would have wonton skins in stock so I could make some of the shrimp and chive version out of Lucky Peach’s cookbook. The recipe was generally pretty easy to follow and the filling came together quickly; what took time, of course, was filling and folding the damn things. I spent a solid hour and change folding those damn things late in the afternoon, but it was totally worth it because it freed me up to help with the rest of food prep later as well as pan-fry them early enough in the evening to get some decent photographs.
We’re overdue on a trip up to Towson to the fantastic Asian market tucked away there and stock up on supplies, so I admittedly didn’t have everything called for in the Lucky Peach recipe so I had to punt a bit. The flavors, then, weren’t perfect but given the book’s firmly tongue-in-cheek tone, I figured it was ok to veer off course a little anyway.
I don’t know about you, but inevitably I always end up with more filling than wrappers mainly because the number of wrappers that come in a package seems to vary wildly by brand, and seldom do they ever say how many wrappers they contain therein. When that happens I usually fry up the leftovers and drizzle the filling with soy sauce as a sort of post-wrapping snack, because that is far preferable to over-stuffing your dumplings. You really only want to use a teaspoon of filling because otherwise it will be much, much harder to get an effective seal without the filling exploding all over you and the skins cracking.
Shrimp and Chive Dumplings
Barely adapted from Lucky Peach: 101 Easy Asian Recipes
- 1 pound shelled shrimp, finely minced
- 1 cup finely chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- cornstarch for sprinkling on a sheet pan (I used silicone baking mats which worked out very well if you find yourself out of cornstarch)
- 48 square wonton skins (If you can get round ones, your pleats will come out neater; otherwise, you’re going to have to fudge it a bit)
- Dumpling dipping sauce (see below)
In a medium bowl, combine everything but the skins and cornstarch and stir well to combine. Set up your filling area by having a small ramekin of water nearby next to the surface where you’ll be stuffing your dumplings. Keep the unused sheets under a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out.
To make each dumpling: take a skin, run a dampened finger along all four sides of the skin, and then carefully place a teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold it in half by matching opposing points, gently press down to seal, and then pleat along the edges the best you can. (A few of your dumplings will look ugly as sin, but keep practicing and know that the ugly ones taste just a good as the pretty ones.) Place the finished ones on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment dusted with cornstarch, and when all dumplings are made transfer to the fridge until you’re ready to steam them. (These make 40-48 dumplings depending on how many skins you have, so also try to freeze some to save you some time when filling them fresh is not an option.)
To steam, take out a cast iron skillet (ideally one you can cover with a lid) and place a generous amount of neutral oil on the bottom to fully coat, along with a little more for good measure. Place as many dumplings, pleat-side-up, as you can fit in the pan–but don’t overcrowd. Bring the pan up to medium heat, and when the oil is sizzling add 1/4 water to the pan and immediately cover, letting the dumplings steam for 3 minutes or so. The filling should be firm and the skin have a pasta-like consistency. Once the dumplings lift freely out of the pan remove them to a serving dish and serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Lucky Peach’s Dumpling Sauce
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- a few drops of sesame oil
Combine everything into a small bowl, stir to combine, and serve with dumplings.