My grandfather spent 30 years growing up in pre-World War II China, where the Chinese would make fun of Westerners' appearance by calling them "big-noses." The local farmers could only cook what they had, of course, and that was usually pork, chicken, or wild game. Once, the people of a small town called on his father (my great-grandfather)—who had the only rifle in the area, and who was also legally blind—because a boar was eating all of the crops and attacking their children. Boars are delicious, and hilarious for comic relief in cartoons, but this one was seriously jeopardizing the lives of the townspeople. So, my great-grandfather camped out in this small town for a few days, and waited. When the boar returned, the locals tried to point it out to my great-grandfather (who, remember, was blind). The boar wouldn't approach them; it just ran back and forth about a hundred yards out as my great-grandfather tried in vain to draw whatever bead he could on it.
After a while of this, the lamest game of cat-and-mouse ever played, my great-grandfather lowered the rifle to frighten the boar with a warning shot, fired, and hit the beast between the eyes from a football field away. The townspeople grabbed the boar and roasted it that same day, complete with a dumpling feast. Over the course of the night they all got nice and drunk and serenaded my great-grandfather with "The boar ran into the bullet." The dumplings were delicious.
So now I'm going to teach you how to make pork dumplings.
Dumplings are pretty simple to make, and they don't require you to go to a weird international grocery store or achieve a master's degree in removing a certain part of a fish's ass or anything. This particular preparation, for a really delicious pork dumpling, is even easier than most. There are going to be a lot of Top Chef fans who will poke their heads in to say, "That's not authentic enough!" or, "You should make your own steamer out of Taiwanese bamboo shoots, not Szechuan, idiot!"—but, dammit, how many of their great-grandfathers ever accidentally killed a boar in China? Probably none.
Here we go.
To start, you'll need a few things that you might not keep on hand depending on how extreme a couponer you are.
Decent soy sauce: If you find yourself reaching for the bottom shelf to save 30 cents on a freaking bottle of $2.50 soy sauce please stop and take heed. There is no more effective way to ruin an Asian dish than by including La Choy soy sauce. Do not choose La Choy. It's not even real soy sauce. It's made from caramel coloring and Rob Ford's chin smegma and it will seriously ruin everything. If you already bought La Choy, take it back. It's really that bad. Buy something better, even if it's just a bottle of Kikkoman.
Wrappers: We're not going to make our own dumpling wrappers here, first of all because you've never used a rolling pin before, and secondly because it would take four hours to do that, and you don't have four hours to devote to dumpling wrappers. So, we're buying pre-made. They'll be called "wonton wrappers" on their packaging and are generally found in a different place in every grocery store. Save yourself the time and just ask someone who works there so that he can go ask three other people who work there who will make wild guesses where they are. If possible, check to make sure your wonton wrappers were made relatively recently: The edges should bend a little bit without cracking.
Ginger root: Fresh ginger is cheap as hell, so if you get $3 worth that will be plenty.
Meat: Swing by the meats and pick up 32 oz. of ground pork. You can substitute ground turkey if you like—the turkey will actually absorb the flavor of the other ingredients a little better—but my great-grandfather didn't shoot a turkey so we're using pork.
Sesame oil: This has a low smoke-point, so it's almost useless for searing anything but your thumb, but it adds great flavor to stir-frys, or you can mix it with peanut butter, hoisin, and Sriracha to make your own spicy peanut sauce.
Miscellany: You'll also need minced garlic salt, pepper, at least one bunch of cilantro, and a yellow onion. Also, some booze: Making dumplings is a lot easier than you might think, but it's still a process, and anything that's a process is best enjoyed while drinking.
Now that you're home, open your drink of choice and get started. For my part I will be fucking with Iron Mike Gallego and drinking premixed mimosa. This was $5.99 for a bottle, so it's basically the Pert Plus of mimosas except it tastes a little worse.
On to the dumplings. Begin with the ginger root; for this dish we'll need about two tablespoons' worth. Peeling ginger root is a pain in the ass usually best delegated to children or a cousin you don't particularly like, but it's a whole lot easier if you use the edge of a spoon to remove the grayish-brownish skin from the root. After you peel it you can either mince the absolute shit out of it or just use a grater. Dump the minced/grated ginger in a decent-sized bowl. You're going to be combining all the ingredients in there eventually.
Next, dice up some garlic. Maybe 2-3 cloves worth, or about a tablespoon. Into the bowl.
Dice three quarters of your yellow onion, making the pieces small enough that you won't feel like you should be calling them pork-and-onion dumplings. If they're the size of chocolate chips, that's great, you're done, get the onion in the bowl.
Chop up an entire bunch-worth of cilantro. Hell, make it two if you're feeling wild. You can cut all the way down the stem if you want, but the very bottoms aren't that tasty. Dump this into the bowl. Please note that if you don't like cilantro, you may feel free to substitute some other recipe and talk to your doctor about your defective mouth.
Add the ground pork and give everything a good stir. The mixture should start to smell vaguely like dumplings at this point. As you're stirring, add six tablespoons (or around half a cup*) of the soy sauce, and a tablespoon of the sesame oil. Throw in a pinch of salt and ground pepper, but be careful with the salt, since the soy sauce is basically a more delicious, liquid version of salt, and there's already plenty of that in there.
Stir this mixture around for a minute or two and stick your nose down in that bowl. It should smell really, really good now. I hope you're still drinking.
OK, now's the time to fill the actual dumplings themselves. Grab four plates and fill a small bowl with warm water. Lay a wrapper out in front of you and put about a small meatball's worth of filling in the center of the wrapper. Dip your hand in the water, try not to pee yourself, and trace the outline of the wonton wrapper with your wet finger. By putting moisture on the edges of the wrapper, we're going to make sure they stick together when we fold this thing.
There are any number of ways to fold a dumpling, but the objective here is to seal up the meaty center with an airtight blanket of wrapper. You can fold all of the corners together, or if you have circular wrappers you can fold them in half to make a little coin purse. By this time you are buzzed and very, very hungry from smelling delicious dumpling filling; forget about style points. The quantities listed above will be enough to produce 40 to 50 dumplings; as you wrap them, try to arrange them so that they're not touching each other any more than absolutely necessary, as they have a tendency to stick and can tear when pulled apart.
Here's how my wife does it:
Do whatever works for you. As long as they're sealed shut, no one's going to care too much what they look like.
Unquestionably, the two best ways to cook dumplings are steaming and frying. Frying gives them that wonderful crispy exterior, but steaming is the more traditional way; also, since the dumpling's contents are trapped inside the sealed wrapper, you won't lose any flavor to the water vapor, unlike when you steam, say, a fucking cheeseburger.
If you really want to fry the dumplings, simply pour a half-inch of sturdy oil in the bottom of a pan and set it to medium-high heat. About five minutes per side should do the trick, and they're done. The rest of us are going to steam our dumplings, because this is a recipe for steamed dumplings.
Fill the bottom of a steamer with about 2 inches of water and bring that mofo to a boil. Place some parchment paper down on the upper levels of the steamer so that the dumplings don't stick to it. If you don't have parchment paper, cabbage or lettuce works; if you don't have cabbage or lettuce, just rub some oil on the bottom of the steamer trays; if you don't have parchment paper or cabbage or lettuce or oil, cry into your hands.
(Note: If you don't have a steamer and are determined not to fry your dumplings, you can boil them for about five minutes.)
Once the water's boiling, put the dumplings in the steamer, cover them, and let them cook over high heat for 11 minutes (10 minutes if you're using turkey). While the dumplings cook, it's time to make your dipping sauce. Grab a couple of shallow bowls, cover the bottom of each with soy sauce, then add a splash of sesame oil, a squirt of sriracha, and just a few drops of white vinegar. Stir. Done.
That's it. Remove the cooked dumplings from the steamer when the time's up, let them sit a few minutes to cool, and grab your chopsticks. Simple, delicious, and you didn't even have to kill a boar. Enjoy.
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Eric Sollenberger is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, by way of Northern Virginia. He writes for SB Nation and Uproxx about things that he enjoys as well as other things that he does not enjoy. He was a longtime B-minus commenter on Deadspin who received a star by mistake during a livechat with Doug Glanville. You can reach him @ESollenberger on Twitter, or email him at EESollenberger@gmail.com.
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Image by Sam Woolley.