Last December, I was able to join M on a business trip to China. One of the highlights of our stay in Beijing, aside from the Great Wall and Forbidden City, was taking a cooking class taught in a courtyard residence in a traditional hutong.
We booked the class with hutongcuisine.com before we left and opted for the class on dumplings. There were only three students in the class and, unlike others we have attended, it was a very hands-on experience.
Our instructor, Chunyi Zhou, greeted us and promptly outfitted each student with an apron, cleaver, cutting board and their own set of ingredients. The way the class works is that each student prepares part of the meal in the morning. It all comes together by early afternoon and then everyone sits down for lunch and enjoys the morning’s preparation. I have included photos in this post, and there are additional pictures in Saveur’s Beijing issue.
I was tasked with making the pork and spring onion dumplings, while M took over the beef and celery version. We gathered around a large wooden table in Zhou’s kitchen and got to work. As we prepped the ingredients, Zhou was there to guide (and correct) us along the way. Who knew that you could only stir the meat mixture in one direction? I’m still not sure why but I listened and obeyed.
After the fillings were ready, we got to work on making the actual dumpling wrappers. We rolled our dough into an approximately 10-inch long log and then cut it into 16 pieces. We then used a special Chinese rolling pin to roll each of the pieces into a thin disk about 3.5 inches in diameter. We put a tablespoon or so of filling into each wrapper, folded the disk onto itself and then pinched to seal.
The pinch and seal was probably the most difficult task, aside from using a cleaver to cut everything. Zhou was right there for encouragement and correction. She decided to get all fancy with the pinch and seal on her dumplings as you can see below.
After class, we went straight to the Chinese supermarket to purchase one of the special rolling pins because we knew we would certainly be making these upon our return–and we have–once. And, although I could eat these dumplings every day, due to their labor intensity, they are probably best reserved for special occasions.
1. You must use a high-gluten flour to get the elasticity required for the dumpling wrappers.
2. Many of the items listed in the recipe are not available at regular grocery stores. We picked up many of our ingredients, including the high-gluten flour, at the Chinese American Trading Company on 91 Mulberry St. in New York.
3. Making dumplings seems intimidating but it is really quite enjoyable once you get the hang of it.
4. They are really delicious!