Friday, February 3, 2012

Chinese New Year Cooking Night: Char Siu (Barbeque Pork or Chicken) Dumplings

Happy Year of the Dragon!

The Chinese year of the Dragon began Jan. 23, 2012. While that's the first day, its not the only day of celebration for the New Year. In fact, the festival lasts 15 days! At my house, we started a little early with a cooking night on the 21st. As a southern girl from Tennessee, I grew up around a few Chinese people but was unfamiliar with customs. Over time, I've learned more and since I enjoy learning about other cultures and especially how their culture ties to food, it seemed critical not to pass up celebrating the New Year this year. I've been learning a few Mandarin phrases from a co-worker in our lab. Mostly basic things like Hi, My name is Tabitha. What's your name?  My favorite "phrase" is the Chinese word for awesome/excellent. I have no idea how to spell it but I can sound it out for you Tie (stretch this out ) Bong (emphasize and say quickly) La (don't use strong emphasis and say quickly). Confused yet?

Short version: The celebration started January 23rd and ends with the Lantern Festival on February 26th. Throughout the festival, many favorite dishes are enjoyed. The most important dish to the New Year celebration in northern China is the dumpling. Why? The dumpling's folded semi circle shape is a symbol of wealth because it is similar in appearance to the tael (its about halfway down the web page). The tael was the standard Chinese weight of high value currency. The tael were used in a similar fashion as gold bricks were used in the United States until the U.S. left the gold standard.

There are probably as many ways to fill dumplings as there are Chinese families. A common filling is a shrimp, ground pork, ginger, scallion and soy sauce mixture. There are variances on this. Some are tasty and some are less palatable for me. When working on my master's degree, my advisor was from a special region in China that made the yeasted dumplings (Bao). He stuck with vegetarian filling but I've made some tasty ones since then that you can check out here. Today's dumpling filling is a spin off of my previous bao recipe. Note: These take a little time to prepare and are best prepared with two people working together. (It's faster and more fun to work on these with at least one other person.) You may feel that you're looking at a ton of filling but you'll be glad. For the effort involved, its worth it to make several at a time. You can freeze them for a short time or freeze the filling......if you don't eat them all first!

Char Siu Dumplings

Char Siu (BBQ Chicken or Pork) Dumplings

Filling Time: 1 hour if you're pushed for time. I like to let it go 3 hours in a crockpot on low though.
Dumpling Preparation time: 2 hours with one person, 1 hour if you recruit a helper. (Its more fun with 2 people.)
Steaming Time: 10 minutes per batch. This will vary based on the size of your steamer and if you're running multiple steamers at a time. I ran 2 steamers at a time holding 7 each and it took me about 40 - 45 minutes.
Yield:  60-82 dumplings

Step 1: Prepare the Chinese BBQ (Char Siu) 

3 c. water
1 lb boneless skinless chicken or deboned pork.*
4 cloves of garlic (minced, I used a microplane to speed up the process)
1 tsp. fresh ginger (minced)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (international section or Asian grocery)
2 Tbsp. sherry, mirin, chinese wine, rice wine vinegar, or sake (international section or Asian grocery)
1 tsp. chinese five spice powder (international section or Asian grocery)

*If you are a vegetarian, a sub of tempeh for the meat and should give you a similar texture.

How to:

1) Combine all ingredients (except the meat and water) together.

2) Add the water and meat and marinate for at least two hours. If your meat isn't covered in sauce, flip it every 30 minutes if you're doing a short marination. If you're marinating overnight, don't worry about flipping the meat. 

a) Place in a crockpot with 3 c. water. Cook in the crockpot on high for ONE hour, followed by 3-5 hours on low. You want the meat to be done and flake away when you touch it with a fork.
b) Cook the meat on medium in a covered pot on the stove. Then either turn it down to low for at least an hour OR dump the mixture into a crockpot and set it on low until you're nearly ready to prepare the dumplings. *I've done this both ways. Its faster doing step b but its all about the amount of time you have.

STEP 2: Filling

(At this point, your meat is done and you're ready to finish the filling and fill the dumplings.)


1 1/2 c. of meat (char siu chicken or pork) 
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced (I recommend using a microplane.)
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili paste (or garlic chili paste) (I use the garlic chili paste with the rooster on it)
  • scallions, chopped finely

How To:

1) Chop the meat finely.

2) Saute the ginger in the peanut oil for four minutes, stirring constantly.

3) Transfer the ginger to a bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients, including the meat. Stir together well and let cool a little (maybe 5 minutes).
Step 3: Prepare the Dumplings


2 packs of dumpling wrappers (They contain about 50 wrappers each and are circular.)
Filling from above
A medium bowl of warm water
1 head of napa cabbage (Peel leaves off and rinse before you start if you don't have a friend to help)

How To:

1) Lay a dumpling wrapper on the counter in front of you. Place 1-2 tsp of filling in the center of the wrapper. (Do not add more than 1 Tbsp but less works a bit better.) 

2) Dip your finger in the water and trace the entire edge of the dumpling wrapper with the water (like the ring of glue on an envelope). If you make homemade dumpling wrappers, you may not need water but for store bought, use water.

3) Fold the wrapper in half and starting from the fold line, flute the edges by folding the open edge in 1 cm sections. Moving along the edge, continue folding/pinching over 1 cm sections to seal the edges of the dumpling together.

Here's a video example of Andrea Nguyen folding dumplings in a slightly different way but they come out quite similarly and very pretty. I was taught by a Chinese lady at work and I think at least seeing a video would help most anyone folding them for the first time if they don't have someone there to teach them.

4) Once you have about 12 dumplings made, go ahead and start boiling water in your steamer pot or wok. Place your steamer above the wok or steamer pot as normal. Then line it with cabbage leaves. If using a wok, leave some spaces. If using a steamer, no spaces are needed. 

5) When the cabbage looks transparent, place the dumplings in the steamer. You can place as many as will fit without touching one another into the steamer.

Kevin confirmed the cabbage was transparent while Worth mixed up the dipping sauce.

6) Cover the steamer and wait 7-10 minutes. (If the wrapper still looks "dry/floury" wait til 10 minutes. I found that my steamer took about 7 minutes but the wok and bamboo steamer took about 10 minutes.)

7) When done place on a plate lined with cabbage leaves. Layer cabbage leaves as you stack them higher to prevent them from sticking together.

8) Continue wrapping and steaming until you run out of filling. Any remaining wrappers may be frozen in a freezer bag for later use. 

9) Serve with dipping sauce, see below.

Becky and Ellen did a great job filling and folding the dumplings!

Here's the present version of my dumpling dipping sauce. Anyone that knows me well, knows that I'm constantly changing my recipes but this one does change less than most.

Tab's Dumpling Dipping Sauce

Time: 3-5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Servings: Enough to dip 60-80 dumplings (perfect for the recipe above)


3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp dry sherry, mirin, or rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil (Don't use the toasted sesame oil for this. Its flavor is too strong.)
1 Tbsp garlic, minced or microplaned
1 tsp chili flakes

How To:

Combine and stir together. Enjoy!


There were about 81 or 82 dumplings made at cooking night. Twelve of us were eating those along with the rest of the meal. There were 2 dumplings left and about 1 tsp of dumpling sauce. These were a huge hit and five people requested the recipe before leaving. I promised to post it and since I was reminded earlier today (thanks, Ellen!), its up for anyone else who wants to enjoy them!

Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Chinese Cooking Night Menu 

Links for recipes posted already are provided. Others are coming soon.

Main Meal:

Char Siu Dumplings (BBQ Chicken or Pork Dumplings) (today's post)
Fresh Spring Rolls
Fried Rice
Beef with Broccoli and Sugar Snap Peas I doubled this recipe to serve 12 and used half sugar snap peas and half broccoli to vary the texture.


Meyer Lemon Ice cream (The texture didn't come out right so I'll spare you.)
Blueberry Pie version 2 (This is our friend Jon's favorite since it was also his birthday!)

No comments:

Post a Comment