If you have already tried some of the recipes on my site, you may be ready to try out some ideas of your own for a dumpling filling. In this article, I offer some tips and suggestions on the basic considerations in making a Chinese dumpling filling, and the range of ingredients that can be used.
Many kinds of ingredients can be used for fillings. The filling can be entirely vegetarian, although usually, it is a combination of a meat and a vegetable. There are also fillings made entirely of meat. Commonly used meats for dumpling fillings include pork, beef, and lamb. Chicken and duck are less frequently used, because they are non-fatty meats which can cause the filling to be dry. If these meats are used, they are frequently paired with lard or vegetable oil to make the filling more juicy. Seafood such as shrimp, crab, fish, and clam are also used, but most of the time, they are not the major ingredient but are used in small amounts to give the dumplings a taste of freshness. For instance, in one type of steamed pork dumplings, some crab egg is added to perk up the dish.
Some vegetables are commonly used in dumplings as the major ingredient. Examples include napa cabbage, Chinese chives, dill, bamboo shoot, white radish, and marrow squash. Other types of vegetables are not seen in traditional Chinese dumpling recipes, but if used appropriately are nevertheless excellent ingredients for fillings. These vegetables include eggplant, cucumber, string beans, and celery.
Most of the time, fillings are made with raw ingredients which have been diced or ground into small pieces. Occasionally, some ingredients must be pre-cooked before they can be used in the fillings. One common example is eggs, which must be fried and diced before use. Some vegetarian fillings require that the vegetables be pre-boiled or blanched before use. The purpose is to remove some of the bitter taste from the vegetables through boiling it briefly.
When making fillings consisting of a meat and a vegetable, the meat must be fully seasoned before adding the vegetable. To season the ground meat, all the required seasonings must be added. In addition, some water is usually also added to the ground meat to make it softer and more juicy. Ground beef, in particular, require plenty of water to soften it. Only when the ground meat is properly seasoned and very moist should the vegetable be added. Before the diced vegetables are added to the meat, they are usually seasoned with salt first. This will cause some juice to leach from the vegetables. This vegetable juice is flavorful, and can be mixed into the ground meat instead of water to give the meat more flavor.
When making the filling, the sequence in which the ingredients are added is important. Typically, oil is the last ingredient added. Also, if green onion is one of the ingredients, it is also usually added last.
When you have finished making the filling, the mixture must be allowed to rest for 10 minutes either at room temperature or in the fridge. This allows time for the flavors to mix well.
The foremost consideration in a dumpling filling is, of course, taste and balance of flavors. One popular way to formulate a filling is to pair a strongly flavored ingredient with a bland ingredient. For example, in the pork and chives dumpling recipe, the strongly flavored chives are paired with the comparatively bland pork.
There are several ways to cook Chinese dumplings, such as boiling, steaming, and frying. The composition of the fillings also varies depending on the cooking method. For example, boiled dumplings should be made saltier, because some of the salt will leach from the dumpling when it is boiled. Steamed and fried dumplings can be made less salty. In addition, delicate flavors like shrimp tend to hold up better with steaming compared to frying or boiling.
In addition to the taste, another consideration when making a dumpling filling is to consider the texture and the moisture. The filling must be moist and smooth enough to shape into a small ball. This way, the filling can hold itself together even if there is a small break in the wrapper. You need a moist and sticky ingredient in the filling in order to hold the filling together and provide some moisture, so that the dumpling tastes juicy. If every ingredient is dry and flaky, the resulting dumpling will be crumbly and flat in texture, even if it is boiled in water. The sticky ingredient is usually some kind of ground meat, although this is not mandatory. For example, some kinds of vegetables, when ground, provide a similar texture to ground meat, and will fulfill the same purpose of binding the other ingredients together and providing texture.
In conclusion, a well formulated Chinese dumpling filling should be well-balanced in taste and nutrition, and be moist in texture.