Chengdu Zhongshuijiao (钟水饺) Concocted Soy/Red Oil Dumpling

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zhong's dumplings in red oil

Chengdu Challenge #15: It’s All About the (Zhong) Sauce

If you’ve ever had 钟水饺 (zhōngshuǐjiǎo) dumplings in red oil at a real Sichuan restaurant then you know it’s all about the sauce. While every Chinese cuisine can claim a wonton, jaozi or siumai of its own, only Sichuan floats its famous zhongshuijiao in a sweet-hot special sauce. As such, it kind of blows all other dumplings out of the water.

It’s hard to guess exactly what’s in that special sauce, besides chili oil, but you know it when you taste it. You also know you can’t just throw some soy sauce, vinegar and store-bought chili oil together and get the same effect. No, it’s a little—but just a little—more complicated than that.

Zhongshuijiao, or Zhong’s boiled dumplings, gets its name from the street food vendor in Chengdu who created it some hundred years ago. It is part of the family of snacks—dumplings, noodles, small plates—specific to Sichuan called 小吃 (xiǎochī), or little eats.

cafeteria of xiaochi little eat snacks in chengdu
Zhong Shuijiao lends its name to a famous chain of old-school snack shops in Chengdu serving xiaochi (little eats).
zhongshuijiao dumplings in red oil as part of a snack set
Zhong dumplings in red oil (on the right) as part of a snack set.

Zhongshuijiao is a crescent dumpling, “shaped like a first quarter moon,” according to Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English.  The classic version of Zhong’s creation is made from a round dumpling wrapper, folded in half and filled with a simple minced pork, but you can also use different fillings and/or shape them as wontons—wontons in chili oil is what you often find in the U.S. Or you can even buy them readymade! Remember, it’s all about the sauce.

folding dumplings for zhongshuijiao at the kitchen island
A  great mother-daughter project.

Even though the sauce is the star,  the better the dumpling the better the dish of course. I made jiaozi according to Mrs. Chiang’s recipe, just increasing the ginger. I did not make the wrappers myself because, well, life is just too short and it takes forever. The wrapping itself takes a while, so that is where you want to enlist some help, perhaps making it a family affair as in China. (Though my daughter never made one dumpling in 11 years in China. Was it because kids don’t make dumplings in China, or because foster kids don’t make dumplings in China?)

neat rows of folded shuijiao
Not perfect, but still beautiful and tasty.

Zhongshuijiao’s secret ingredient: Concocted soy

Zhongshuijiao’s special sauce is actually a combination of two special sauces: a chili oil with flakes and a “concocted” soy sauce. Both of these you’ll need to make yourself rather than buy. I’ve already gone on at length about the joys of chili oil. You can find my basic recipe using just chilies and oil here. Or my fancy recipe for Crispy Shallot Chili Oil here. If you decide to go the store-bought route, try Laoganma’s Spicy Chili Crisp, even though it doesn’t really contain enough oil for this purpose. See my homage to LGM here.

homemade chili oil in glass jar
Homemade chili oil is a must for dumplings in red oil.

For the other must-have ingredient, the special soy sauce, you start with Chinese dark soy sauce, which is thicker and darker than “light,” or normal, soy sauce and has a distinct molasses taste from added sugar. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, and Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English was no help, because it simply calls for “concocted soy sauce” without explaining what it is or how to concoct it.

My only cookbook that has the recipe is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plentywhich calls it Sweet, Aromatic Soy Sauce. Basically, it is dark soy sauce simmered with sugar and Chinese spices—star anise, fennel, Sichuan pepper, cassia bark, etc.—until it is syrupy and fragrant.

making concocted soy sauce for the zhongshuijiao dressing
Simmer dark soy sauce, sugar and spices until thick and syrupy.

Once you have the two sauces—which will both keep quite some time—it’s just a matter of mixing it to your desired proportions to create Zhong’s special sauce, generally about 2:1 concocted soy sauce to chili oil with flakes. The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine adds a bit of MSG, and Fuchsia adds a bit of sesame oil. I don’t think it needs either. Traditionally, zhongshuijiao are topped with fresh minced garlic and perhaps roasted sesame seeds. And that’s it! Dumplings in red oil, in your own home.

neatly folded dumpling rows on cutting board with chili oil and concocted soy on side
Two sauces you should always have on hand
zhongshuijiao dumplings in red oil
Yinyang sauces

Chengdu Zhongshuijiao (钟水饺) Concocted Soy/Red Oil Dumpling

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Cooking Sichuan in America
Pork dumplings adapted from Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook; concocted soy sauce adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty.
Yield: 60 dumplings

Ingredients 

  • Concocted Soy Sauce (makes about 2/3 cup)
  • cup Chinese dark soy sauce
  • cup water
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2- inch piece of cinnamon or cassia bark
  • 1 star anise
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
  • 1- inch piece of ginger, peeled and smashed
  • Pork Dumplings (makes about 60)
  • 2 packages round dumpling wrappers
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 15 scallions, minced
  • 3 tablespoons ginger, minced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
  • teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan pepper (see note)
  • 1 egg
  • Chili Oil (see recipes on The Mala Market)
  • Minced garlic
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Instructions 

  • Make the concocted soy sauce by combining all of its ingredients in a small saucepan and bringing to a boil. Once at a boil, lower heat and summer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. It will reduce and become a bit syrupy. Allow to cool, then strain into a container.
  • Prepare dumpling filling by mixing pork, scallions, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, Sichuan pepper and egg in a large bowl, stirring to combine thoroughly.
  • Remove dumpling wrappers from package, but keep them covered with a damp paper towel so they don't dry out as you wrap. Have a small bowl of water nearby. Take a single dumpling wrapper and, using your fingertip, wet the edges all the way around the dumpling, which will help it seal. Put 1½ teaspoon pork filling in the center of the wrapper, fold edges to meet and seal tightly. A simple seal will do, or you can pleat the edges along one side for a fancier look. Sit dumplings aside under a damp paper towel until you have wrapped them all. (At this point, you can freeze a portion of the dumplings if you like, to be freshly cooked at a later date.)
  • Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Put 10 to 15 dumplings into the water, or as many as will comfortably fit in your pot without crowding the dumplings. Using the tried-and-true Chinese method for cooking dumplings, wait for the water to return to a full boil and then pour in enough cold water to completely stop the boil. Wait for the pot to return to a boil, then repeat the process, adding enough water to stop the boil. After the dumplings return to a boil for the third time, the dumplings are done! (Though do test one to make sure. I learned three times in Sichuan, but Mrs. Chiang actually returns the dumplings to boil a fourth time.)
  • Ladle dumplings into individual serving bowls and top with a generous amount of the concocted soy sauce and the chili oil with flakes, generally in a 2:1 ratio. Garnish with a small amount of minced garlic and toasted sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Notes

Ground Sichuan pepper: Sort Sichuan peppercorns and discard any black seeds or twigs. Toast in a dry skillet or toaster oven until pods start to smell very fragrant, but do not brown them. Let peppercorns cool, then grind in a spice grinder or in a mortar & pestle to your desired coarseness. Sift out any yellow husks that don't break down. Sichuan pepper powder will retain its potent flavor and numbing punch for only a few weeks.

Tried this recipe?

 

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for heritage Sichuan ingredients and Chinese pantry essentials.

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48 Comments

  1. “Was it because kids don’t make dumplings in China, or because foster kids don’t make dumplings in China?”
    As someone mentioned, I think, dumping-making is more of a North Chinese tradition – it goes along with the whole wheat-based diet (not so much rice). Many-a Chinese southerner doesn’t know how to fold a 水餃 properly (fewer pleats, plumper, and upright). Hope you make many more dumplings with your daughter in the future!! (So many delicious possibilities, hehe). I’ve actually never used bread flour! At home we just use all-purpose flour and water (usually a 2:1 ratio of of grams of flour:mL of water, but we just go by feel). It’s usually made earlier that day, and then rested for a while so it is easier to manipulate and roll out (a rather leisurely affair). Any leftover dough goes towards making scallion pancakes ^..^ Actually, in my humble opinion, what convenience is gained from using store-bought wrappers is lost in the process of wrapping dumplings – using fresh dough which is naturally sticky and more elastic makes it much easier to wrap the filling. And of course there is the incomparable springy and elastic texture once you eat it…

    Your blog is encouraging me to foray into more Sichuan flavors! I’ve never quite understood the appeal of dumplings in spicy oil (I grew up eating my dumplings with straight vinegar, Shanxi laochen cu if at all possible), but as I grow older, I’m beginning to appreciate all the different possibilities of flavor that are made possible by chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn. Maybe next time I’ll have to try dumplings a new way!

    1. Thank you for the kind and interesting comments. I know Fong Chong ate lots of dumplings/wontons in Southern China, but perhaps her foster family didn’t make them. I know she had wonton soup at school for breakfast every day. I can’t pull that off for her here (at least not the way she remembers it), but I will give the handmade dumpling wrappers a try again, at yours and the others’ urging. 🙂

      Where did you grow up that you ate your dumplings in straight vinegar? I guess that’s typical many places in China. I’ve bought Shanxi vinegar here in the U.S., but it probably wasn’t the good stuff. Thanks so much for writing!

      1. Actually, my family is from Shanxi 🙂 the taste of Shanxi’s aged vinegar [老陈醋] is quite pungent, and may be off-putting to the unfamiliar (or shall I say, unindoctrinated?) It’s certainly more assertive than, say, Chinkiang vinegar, which is sweeter, with a less concentrated flavor. I remember that I couldn’t take Shanxi vinegar “straight” as a child, preferring to mix it with soy sauce and sesame oil. Well, I grew up, and now I can hardly bear to dilute its uniquely complex taste with anything else. Unfortunately, like many other regional or “specialty” Chinese products, many of the versions advertised under its name are dupes or low-quality products masquerading as “the real thing”. Purchasing is rather hit-and-miss, unfortunately.

        A comment on the differences between dumpling and wonton wrappers (I’m no culinary expert and only speak from my family’s experience!) The goal when making wrappers for boiled dumplings (水餃) is to make them somewhat substantial, and chewy – not “thick”, but with heft. That is why we cut each chunk from a long “rope” and roll each chunk out individually into a circle (as Xianhang described). However, when we make wontons, we will roll the dough out into a smooth, almost translucent sheet, as thin as possible, and then cut the sheet into triangles. When cooked, the wontons’ wrappers have very little heft, and are instead very light and slippery, so that they don’t overwhelm the more delicate flavor of the filling. And, unlike shuijiao, which are served “dry” and with a dipping sauce, wontons are served in soup, as everyone knows, which we flavored simply with scallions and black pepper. There’s more that separates a “shuijiao” from a “wonton” than simply the final shaping!

        I don’t know what your daughter grew up eating, but my overly long discussion hopes to demonstrate that there are a myriad of different factors that greatly affect the final product that can’t be described in a single recipe, or list of ingredients. Don’t be discouraged: the wrapper reflects the taste of the filling, the regional tradition, and how the “dumpling” is served. Which is all to say, please continue to experiment! Now, I think I will have to try these “zhong shui jiao”, since they look utterly unlike anything I have ever eaten…

        1. What I love about my blog is the smart comments! Thanks for the schooling in dumplings–admittedly not my forte. I didn’t realize how different the dough procedure is for dumplings and wontons. But I do love to eat them. And now I have to get my hands on some good Shanxi aged vinegar!

  2. OMGGGG!! This is my husband’s most favourite Sichuan dish (atleast one of his top favourites 🙂 Twice cooked pork being the other ).I’ve always wondered how to get the sauce right and your recipe looks exactly like the one we have at our local Sichuan restaurant 🙂
    Would you have a recommendation about the filling for a vegetarian version of this dumpling ? I usually make vegetarian momos (dumpling’s North East Indian cousin,haha) but have always wanted to make vegetarian dumplings. Thank you!

    1. I love that you’re so excited about this! I hope it tastes just like your restaurant’s. I too prefer my dumplings vegetarian, but I don’t really have a specific recipe. I like cabbage or bok choy, bean sprouts and, particularly, shitake mushroom in mine. I need to work out a recipe for that.

      Thank you for introducing me to momos! I’ve been to India, but I did not run across this north India/Nepal dumpling. Are they generally spicy in any way? Wiki says they are normally served with a tomato-based chutney. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momo_(dumpling) Yum! The whole world loves a dumpling. 🙂

      1. Oh,It would be great if you worked out a recipe for vegetarian dumplings! 🙂
        The momos themselves are not spicy (Nepali/North East Indian food is generally not as spicy as food from other parts of India,I think) but the chutney could be spicy,depending on who cooks it.I usually make mine a little spicy,as both my husband and I love spicy food 🙂

        1. Hi Swetha,

          I finally had my first momos this week! There’s a great Nepalese restaurant in Sunnyside, Queens, NY, so I had them there and loved them. I especially like that the dipping sauce of choice for these dumplings is pure chili sauce. This restaurant, Gakyizompe, serves both a mild and a hot chili sauce on the side. For that reason they do remind me a bit of Sichuan dumplings in chili oil. Thanks for inspiring me to search them out!

          1. Oh that is wonderful! I am so glad you tried them 🙂 yes,I am a big fan of the dipping sauce too !

  3. Thanks for posting this fantastic, one-of-a-kind recipe. My wife and I lived and worked in Chengdu 25 years ago and we still miss the Zhong Shui Jiao we used to get not far from Tianfu Square. I followed your recipe for the concocted soy sauce . . . and bam! . . . our taste buds are right back in Chengdu. The flavor is unique and unmistakeable. We can’t seem to get enough of this flavor. Another Chengdu street food I still miss is guo kui, the round fried/baked bread stuffed with savory fillings. There is a recipe online for guo kui but it’s not the Sichuan style that we used to enjoy. Are you familiar with any recipes for that? Thanks again for your great posts.

    1. Hi Glenn,
      So happy that this recipe satisfied your food cravings and memories. It does taste like Sichuan.

      I too love guo kui! I wonder if we are thinking of the same thing, since lots of things seem to have that name. The ones I had were like a sandwich, with a small pita-like bread, but more thin and crisp, stuffed with a meat and “salad.” So good! None of my cookbooks have a recipe for that. Though I did watch one shop make it. They puffed the small pieces of dough up quickly on a hot flattop surface, split it open, mixed the meat, veggies and sauce to order, and stuffed the bread. Is that what you’re thinking of?

      1. Follow-up from Glenn:

        What you describe is a little different from the guo kui we would buy on the streets near Sichuan University. Here’s a link that shows what we used to see:

        Here’s a link to a guo kui recipe that uses lamb and cumin, but in Chengdu the meat was pork:
        http://www.baketard.com/blog/2012/9/14/guo-kui.html

        The paste-filled dough would first be fried on a hot flattop surface then put into a large tandoor-like oven to make them crispy.
        http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/2010/02/griddled-and-baked-guo-kui.html

        I’ve been experimenting at home making these with only so-so results. I think lard may need to be incorporated into the dough to get the right crispiness and crunch. They were a great snack to eat on the go.

        1. Glenn,

          I have had that version too! My Sichuan colleague called it guo kui, though it is called Juntun Pancake in the Sichuan culinary university’s cookbook. You are correct that the recipe does in fact call for lard in the dough. There’s a street bordering one side of People’s Park that is lined with these guo kui stands. I like to take one into the park’s teahouse to go with my tea. Perhaps I’ll try the school’s recipe–though it directs: “Fry the pancakes till golden brown on both sides and then bake in a coal stove till crispy.” Hopefully a Western gas oven will do. 🙂

          1. I should have had Fong Chong translate before I answered. Juntun “pancake” is juntun guo kui in Chinese.

  4. You are seriously my new best friend! I lived in Chengdu for a year, studying at Sichuan University right at Wangjianglu and Jiuyanqiao. I have been missing the food so much! I just went to our local Asian market and started stocking up on everything I need. I cannot wait to try some of these recipes and let you know how it turns out

  5. My favorite restaurant serves these dumplings and I wanted to attempt to make them at home. Your recipe is AMAZING!!!! Mine turned out better than the restaurant. I had to buy store bought chili oil so next time I will try your recipe. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. I love this! So glad you were able to capture–and improve–the taste! Thanks for letting me know.

  6. Hi there,
    I came across this recipe and I wanted to get some clarification around the “15 scallions” listed in the recipe. Does this mean 15 spring onions, finely chopped until they are minced?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi, Linda! Thanks for reading. Are you asking about whether scallions and spring onions are the same thing, or the mincing instruction? This article may be helpful. If they are available to you, the recipe calls for 15 scallions, finely chopped until they are minced. Hope you get a chance to try!