It may not surprise you to know that I involve Asian dumplings in a fair amount of my entertaining and social activities. People come over to my house and they get dumplings. I go to parties or pot-luck dinners and I bring dumplings. Let’s just say that I like to share dumplings with others. Spreading the dumpling love also prevents me from getting the dumpling belly – a physical condition brought on by over consumption.
However, you can have your Asian dumplings and eat them too – that is, you don’t have to work too hard to keep the flow of dumplings going. They can be labor intensive but with a little strategic planning and a flexible approach, dumplings can be a no sweat effort and lots of fun. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket:
Make the parts and let people go at them. Make the filling and the dough, then invite others to pitch in with rolling out wrappers, filling and shaping, and cooking the dumplings. Don’t worry about perfect looking, handsome dumplings. Remember that the goal for beginners is to get the dumpling wrapper closed! If they’re not deft wrapper rollers, have them watch the how-to video on rolling out Asian dumpling wrappers.
Be mobile. No, I’m not encouraging you to get a phone app, but rather to take a kit of dough, filling, sauce ingredients and dowel rolling pins to the party. I use a 6-pack fabric wine carrier to keep the sauce ingredients from clinking and breaking. If the tortilla press isn’t available at your destination (or you don’t want to lug yours with you), use a heavy object such as a glass measuring cup or the heel of your hand to flatten out the dough into disks. Pack everything in a sturdy tub (I use an inexpensive restaurant bus tub), with the raw ingredients over ice, and get on the road. Going mobile allows you to bring the dumpling party to others. Give your new and old friends a lesson or two and make it a group activity. Note that if you bring the makings for a steam dumpling, check with the host to make sure they have a Chinese steamer.
Go modular. I purposefully set up the recipes in Asian Dumplings so that you can more or less swap out the fillings. For example, in the first chapter, with exception to the Shanghai soup dumplings which are their own animal, you can swap out any of the fillings for ones used in the recipes of that chapter. And, you can cook your creations by poaching, steaming, pan-frying or deep frying. Serve stuff in broth, if you’d like. It’s like having a mix-and-match, ensemble wardrobe.
Use the fridge and freezer. Like most foods, dumplings are best when made fresh. Many of the fillings and doughs can be made in advance and refrigerated for last-minute assembly. Stuffed bao (chapter 3) and fried dumplings with rich pastry dough (chapter 4) freeze exceptionally well, in addition to keeping well in the refrigerator. Dumplings made from translucent wheat starch dough (chapter 5) and any of the sticky rice parcels wrapped in leaf (chapter 6 and 8) can be steamed ahead and then gently resteamed before serving. Check the recipes for make-ahead and reheating advice. Last week, I used frozen Chinese flaky pastry that was from the book’s January photoshoot. And if you tried the Japanese braised pork belly buns recipe — the pork and buns freeze marvelously!
Pan-fry and refresh. Who doesn’t love pan-fried dumplings? Especially pot stickers. There are restaurants that blanch their dumplings and then pan-fry them for serving guests but that robs the dumplings of their flavor. Often times, the juices get lost. My approach is a no-brainer. I pan-fry the dumplings in advance – all the way through to the end with crisp bottoms (or nearly crisp bottoms – when you can get them off the skillet). Then refrigerate them. To serve, put a little oil in the skillet, add the dumplings, let them sizzle, then add a touch of water and steam them to a refreshed state. You’re just redoing the pan-frying process. The results are really great – practically like new. I took the same approach to the Shanghai pan-fried mini buns (zheng jian bao zi) when I made them as an appetizer for 50 people.
Go forth with little fear and bring Asian dumplings to the world! Enjoy. Feel free to add tips of your own.