Dumpling Duds

From far away, they don’t look too bad. But they still were not right.

I discovered something night before last.

When you have a fever, you really shouldn’t try out a new recipe, especially one that requires numeric memory and nimble fingers.

Yes, I have the flu, but I decided that even though I had a fever and was woozy and dizzy and had a screaming headache, that shouldn’t stop me from making potstickers.

I don’t know why I decided this. Probably because I was delerious or something.

And I decided that instead of using gyoza wrappers, which is what I generally do because I was afraid of the dumpling dough, I should make the wrappers by hand. Because what I really wanted were the excellent pan fried dumplings that they make at Shangri-la. But since that restaurant is now about two hours away from where I live, that wasn’t going to happen.

So, feverish and deluded, I tried to recreate them.

And failed utterly.

Now the dumplings that I ended up making were not bad. They just were not good.

And they were ugly.


They looked leperous.

Making the dough wasn’t so hard, or bad as I had imagined it. It was simple, really. It was no harder than scallion pancake dough, which I can make with my eyes closed.

It all went awry when it came to rolling them out and shaping them.


Because I was supposed to roll the dough into a fifteen inch long rope and cut it into thirty pieces, and then flatten each piece into a small disk and then roll out each disk into a little circle, and then fill those with a little spoonful of filling, and then pleat one edge and there we are.

I forgot the thirty part. I only remembered the fifteen part. I cut the rope into fifteen pieces and then wondered why my dumplings kept coming out as these massive freaks of nature.

Zak tried to say, “Maybe the dough disks are too big?”

“No!” I declared. “It cannot be! It said to cut them into fifteen pieces, and I cut it into more than that–more like nineteen pieces, and they are still coming out funny. And for some reason, I can’t pleat the dough today. I don’t know why.”

Gently, my husband suggested, “Could it be because you have a fever and your eyes are glassy and your fingers are shaking?”

“No, of course not!”

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, folks.

Around the time that I pleated the last pathetic glob of dumpling, I looked at the recipe and wanted to bang my head into a wall. Because right there, in black letters it said, both in Mandarin and English, though I will admit to the letters swimming around in my vision: “Cut into thirty pieces.”

Thirty pieces of silver, thirty pieces of dough, thirty dumplings. Oy vey.

So, I fried the little bastards anyway, until they were golden brown and crisp on the bottom, and then added the broth and closed the lid and steamed them until they were done.

And once they solidified, they didn’t look nearly as much like alien life forms.

And they tasted okay, but the filling was too lean, I realized. And the filling was overcooked by the time the extra dough was cooked.

The usual pork I use is from Bluescreek Farms, and it has a good proportion of lean to fat. The local pork I bought at the farmer’s market on Saturday, however, was not fatty enough.

I didn’t cry, but I was frustrated.

And I had a lot of filling left.

So, yesterday, I left it alone, because I still had a fever and had learned my lesson. We had pizza for dinner, needless to say.

Today, I will use the ground pork filling to make Ma Po Tofu for dinner. Waste not, want not.

And, next week, after I teach at Sur La Table in Columbus, we will pick up Bluescreek pork, and I will make pan fried dumplings again, from scratch, and I will post pictures and a full recipe at that time.

And, the next time I am feverish and decide to do something ambitious and stupid, I have told Zak that he must hold a pillow over my face until I change my mind or pass out, thus saving the world from dumplings that look rather like embryonic alien lifeforms.


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  1. Don’t feel too bad…even most Chinese I know don’t make their own dumpling skins regularly, if at all. Mostly because none of us can get them rolled out thinly enough. I think my family’s done it once or twice ever and I’ve made a LOT of dumplings in my life.

    *grumbles at the stereotypical family-run Chinese restaurant, with emphasis on family*

    Comment by etherbish — May 4, 2005 #

  2. LOL!

    I know most Chinese Americans don’t make their own dumpling skins often–the ones I taught never did. But I kind of want to learn to make them because I really like the taste and texture of the handmade ones at Shangrila.

    And interestingly–the Popo at Shangrila doesn’t use a little rolling pin to roll them out–I watched her–she uses a tortilla press!

    And it works! That is what I was using–it would have been fine if I could count to thirty instead of only fifteen! 😉

    Silly me, I know.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — May 5, 2005 #

  3. That’s so neat. I’m gonna have to tell my dad that next time I talk to him.

    Comment by etherbish — May 5, 2005 #

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