Dumpling Engineering: The Filling
The basic dumpling filling uses simple vegetarian ingredients and a bare minimum amount of seasoning. After you've mastered the art of making delicious dumplings with a basic filling, you can experiment with a wider range of ingredients and add meat if you wish.
Obviously we want dumplings to taste great, but dumplings are also an engineering challenge. We have to make sure our filling does not overwhelm the dough wrapping by being too heavy or to wet. The dough has to stick together and not get soggy, or, in the worst case, the wrapping will fail, and we will have a dumpling disaster.
1. How to season the dumpling filling1. Keep the seasonings very simple. Usually I only add salt, sesame oil, white pepper to the dumpling filling. It's tempting to add other strong flavors we like, but using too much of seasonings like soy sauce or oyster sauce makes the filling too wet. This makes it harder to seal the wrapping, weakens the dough, and the dumpling may even fall apart while it's being cooked or served. It's much better to let your guests add other kinds of seasonings and sauces as they wish when you serve the dumplings.
2. Nor do I add garlic, ginger, chilli to the filling. The best dumpling filling comes from the natural flavor of ingredients. It's better to use garlic, ginger, chili together with soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil to make a dipping sauce.
2. How to prepare the vegetables for the filling
1. Choose one type of vegetable as the dumpling filling base – the main ingredient. Usually Taiwanese people use cabbage, white cabbage, or chives as the main ingredient.
2. Wash the vegetables, then allow them to dry in the air. Be patient, because when you chop the vegetables, there should be no water left on them. Excess water will dilute the flavor of the filling. If the filling is too watery, this makes it harder to stick together the edges of the dough wrapping.
3. If you try to get rid of water by squeezing the vegetables too hard, you will lose the crunchiness of the fresh vegetables, and also the natural flavor and nutrition.
4. Chop the ingredients very small, or as small as you can. I learned this secret from dumpling vendors. The finely chopping filling will taste delicate and full of flavour.
5. Think about the flavors that you want to add into filling. Use the nice natural flavors from the ingredients, instead of relying on too many seasonings.
This is how I apply these principles when creating this dumpling filling: Pumpkin and mushroom pocket
1. Use cabbage as the main ingredient.
2. Add cilantro to the cabbage base. When using cabbage, I usually add cilantro, which adds a nice fragrance to the filling.
3. Fresh shiitake mushroom is not only good for adding the aroma, but the texture also acts like a sponge to absorb the seasonings and moisture.
4. Pumpkin gives a natural sweetness to the filling.
5. Glass noodles fill the spaces in the filling. Glass noodles make the filling taste light, and a very good character working together with all the ingredients and also absorbs the seasonings.
Taiwanese people usually use minced pork. You can flavor the meat with a little garlic and salt, soy sauce and rice wine, and mix with the vegetarian dumpling filling.
3. For non-vegetarian dumpling fillings
Only use enough meat to replace 10% or 15% of the basic vegetable filling. This will keep the filling still tasting crunchy and not too heavy.
Read more about this subject here: Dumpling Engineering: The procedure for making dumpling dough