Wontons and dumplings are two different things. Wonton wrappers are square and thin, whereas dumpling wrappers are round and thicker. Wontons are usually boiled, while dumplings are boiled, pan-fried, or even steamed. But before all of that, I usually make the same filling for both. Everybody has their own filling recipe, but in case you’re interested in mine, here it is. Scale it up or down as you’d like – I usually wrap hundreds and freeze them individually on wax paper-lined racks before bagging them up for storage in the freezer.
- 4 or 5 pounds of ground pork (you can use other meats, but they have differing textures)
- A small-medium head of napa cabbage
- A bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
- A bunch of Chinese garlic chives, minced, or if you can’t find them, garlic paste made with coarse salt (about a tablespoon, more if you really want)
- An inch and a half chunk of ginger, grated
- 3-4 eggs (I use about one per pound to pound and a half of meat)
- Soy sauce
Begin by separating the leaves of the napa cabbage and rinsing thoroughly. Roughly chop and place into a large colander, salting very liberally along the way. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, but a couple of hours never hurt. The salt will draw out the water and wilt the cabbage. Once it’s wilted, rinse thoroughly and squeeze the water out using your preferred method – mine is my potato ricer. Twisting in cheesecloth also works. Roughly chop/mince further, using a food processor if you have one. If the cabbage is still very wet, go ahead and squeeze out more water after mincing. The more water you get out, the better.
While you’re doing all of the water extraction, take the ground pork out of the fridge to let it warm up a little bit, or else you will be very unhappy while mixing the ingredients together. To make the garlic paste if needed, use the back of a knife or, even better, a mortar and pestle to smash garlic up with kosher salt until it becomes a paste. When grating the ginger, keep both the pulp and juice, discarding any stringy bits. Dump everything into a big bowl and mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. You can use a spatula if you really want, but I find it to be difficult. Add soy sauce to taste.
Before filling any dumplings, be sure to taste. Take about a teaspoonful and put it on a plate and microwave for about 30 seconds, or pan fry. It will sizzle and smoke a bit in the microwave – don’t worry, just keep an eye on it. If it’s crumbly or falls apart, add another egg. If it’s not salty enough, add more soy sauce. A good filling will be tasty on its own without the need for dipping sauce.
If you’ve made wontons, they are delicious boiled and then eaten as-is or in soup. I usually make cheater’s soup with Better than Bouillon, a little white pepper, and more sliced scallion (I also have a baggie of them pre-sliced in the freezer). If you want to bulk it up, add some bean thread noodles.
Dumplings are especially delicious when pan fried. Pour a little oil into a cold pan and set over high heat, or medium-high if it’s cast iron. Before the pan gets hot, arrange the dumplings in a single layer slightly separated and pour in enough water to come about halfway up the sides. Cover the pan and let it boil away merrily until the water is gone and the bottoms are browned. If the wrappers had a lot of flour on the outside, they may stick a bit.
Dipping sauce is also infinitely variable, but I keep mine simple with ingredients I always have on hand: 2-3 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar (balance them depending on your own preferences – I’m not a huge vinegar fan), a sprinkling of sugar, some minced garlic (if you use the pre-minced stuff like I often do, the liquid in the jar is perfect), and a dash or more of chili oil if you like spicy. Mix/whisk it all together, though it’ll separate if it sits.
If you have a bunch of leftover filling, you can make Chinese bao zi (buns) with the same filling. I’d add some more soy sauce and maybe a dash of oyster sauce, and then wrap up in a circle of dough and steam each on a wax paper square. You can look for dough recipes if you’re industrious, or do what Chinese-Americans tend to do: buy canned biscuit dough and roll each one out before wrapping some meat inside. They steam up quite deliciously. You can also buy sweet red bean paste (sweet, NOT fermented) and make sweet bao zi.
If you have leftover wrappers, toast them and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, using a little egg wash or maybe butter to make it stick. Also delicious.
Videos on how to wrap them! I use water as the glue, but I guess egg whites would work too.