Jiaozi, Chengdu Style

Well, Memorial Day weekend slipped away for me until Sunday afternoon when I got a chance to get out of town and take the kids to the beach. We ended up having a strange set of guests: a Frenchman (whom I met on an airplane ride home from China) and his family, plus two Chinese families (one that speaks no English and the other that speaks good English).  I was nervous about cooking for two reasons. First, the French are good cooks and I knew the wife would judge my skills. Second, the Chinese-speaking family owned a restaurant in China. What could I make that would make both parties happy?  After all, French people like to eat French food and Chinese people, well, they naturally like to eat Chinese food. What could unite East and West? All this, and supposedly I was on vacation. I just wanted to take the kids to the beach.

Who cares what I made. We ate the most delicious dumplings on Sunday night made by the Chinese restaurateurs. I was shocked at the chef’s method. I have made dumplings with my mother hundreds of times. Thousands of wontons and potstickers have been folded by my fingers. But never have I made these kinds of dumplings—jiaozi, Chengdu style. Get ready—I’m about to fund a food truck for this family because I believe in their dumplings. I’m looking for a good name for a dumpling truck—suggestions?

I can’t give you exact amounts, but here is the method with rough measurements: mince one scallion s five slices of ginger. Put it in a couple cups of water to boil. Strain and pour the liquid (yes, the liquid) over ground pork (or another meat). We had at least two or three pounds because we were cooking for a crowd.  But you would pour less liquid if you use less meat. The meat was not goopy but it was loose. They said they often add egg white (which didn’t surprise me because my mother does the same). Whip the meat and the liquid. Yes, beat it hard and actively! Add salt. Use the round dumpling wrappers and put a tablespoon of meat in the center. There are many ways to fold these but the easiest is just to fold in half. Use water around the edge to seal.  I wasn’t able to fully replicate their folding technique, but believe me, I tried!  Cook the jiaozi in boiling water. To make the secret sauce, heat a couple cups of water and about one-fourth cup of brown sugar. You are making a simple syrup. Add soy sauce, slices of ginger, fennel seeds, three crushed bay leaves and star anise for flavor. In a separate pot, heat a cup of oil plus generous amount of dried crushed red peppers. Heat the oil and stir in the dried peppers to make chili oil.  When the flavor smells roasted, remove from the heat. If six people are eating, create six bowls and strain the soy sauce mixture into the bowls, about one-fourth cup per bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of chili oil with chilies into each bowl for the desired amount of heat. It’s really not that spicy but it will look spicy.  Add cooked dumplings to this soy/chili sauce. Toss in the sauce and serve in individual bowls.  If you follow the method and go by taste, you will find this is one of the most delicious jiaozi and sauces you’ll ever taste! The sauce is very special if you get it right. If you can’t get it right, fear not. A food truck is coming!

P.S. I grilled corn and made fall-off-the-bone St. Louis cut pork ribs for my guests. Both parties were happy with my humble BBQ. I was most impressed by the cheeses my French family brought, and I’m still thinking about eating those dumplings.