Danjiao (蛋饺) Egg Dumplings ft. Pork and Ramps
Taste of Jiangnan: Egg-Skin Dumplings~~
蛋饺 (dànjiǎo), or egg dumplings, have long been a mainstay of Chinese New Year banquets across the southeastern regions of China. Elders will tell you it’s because danjiao look like lucky gold ingots/”sycees”(金元宝, jīn yuánbǎo). I think the practical reason is that they demand so much attention and time!
See, to make danjiao, you basically have to make a tiny omelet in a ladle, lay a tiny quenelle of pork filling in the middle, and then oh-so-gently fold one edge of the omelet over the over to seal. Rinse, repeat. In my mother’s family, and probably many others, this prep task was the province of the youngest daughter (my mom was the middle child, and so never learned).
These days, you can find egg dumplings in nice-but-not-too-nice restaurants across China, at all times of the year—a prime example of how once-home cooked dishes have made their way into restaurants as the ‘80/’90后 (hòu) generations (i.e., millennials) find themselves alone and overworked in bigger and bigger cities (sound familiar?).
I, for one, support the year-round liberation of egg dumplings in the same way we have successfully liberated good old wheat dumplings from the confines of the traditional 年夜饭 (niányèfàn), New Year’s Eve dinner. Which is not to undersell the ways in which egg dumplings are still luxurious: the delicacy of the egg-crepe wrapper complementing the softness of the filling, the umami flavors of pork and egg boosting each other, and of course… that patient can-only-be-handmade process.
(Seriously, how are the restaurants doing it?)
I was inspired to make danjiao this year while foraging ramps in the Catskills. You may have heard of ramps, a native North American wild onion that pops up east of the Mississippi every spring for just a few weeks. Flavorwise, I love their vibrancy and versatility—hallmarks of any good allium. Perhaps even more than eating them, I love finding them sparkling amidst the leaf litter all across a sunny mountainside. See, many ramp populations in the Northeast have been overharvested, so finding a healthy patch always makes me happy.
Sidenote: If you see ramps being sold with bulbs and roots intact, consider planting the bulb. It will sprout new leaves as early as the following year. (Source: a friend of mine who shall remain nameless “rescues” them from her local big supermarket chain and plants the bulbs in her backyard.)
A lot of fancy chefs believe that ramp bulbs, which are uniquely sweet, are why ramps are worth eating. But a ramp’s leaf is also quite a flavor bomb, and eating just the leaves is much more sustainable than digging up the whole plant. In fact, a ramp leaf’s juiciness and pungency remind me of nothing so much as 韭菜 (jiǔcài), Chinese garlic chives, so if you can’t find ramps where you live (such as on the West Coast), just substitute garlic chives. (This recipe, in fact, is a garlic chive recipe.)
A ramp leaf tastes sweeter and cooks down a bit softer than garlic chive, but you can never really go wrong with pork, eggs and alliums. On the other hand, if you’re committed to using ramps, this recipe is also a great way to taste them in their full glory without needing a whole bunch—just a handful of leaves get you there.
Tip: If you end up with leftover filling, or simply get tired of making dumplings, form the filling into meatballs, brown them all over in a pan, and add them to the soup.
I’ve hewn to a classic pork filling here, but ramps pair just as well with minced tofu or mushrooms (cook them down first) for a vegetarian filling. Similarly, feel free to change up the noodles or skip them entirely for a gluten-free dish. (Editor’s note: danjiao with beanthread noodles in soup, 蛋饺粉丝汤 (dànjiǎo fěnsī tāng), is also a popular gluten-free danjiao noodle dish!)
Any way you make them, the end result is supremely worth it: a whole essay on 鲜 (xiān), freshness/”umami,” in slurpy noodle form. I’m even willing to promise that once you get the hang of making the egg-skin danjiao, the process feels meditative rather than tedious.
I’ve budgeted here about six dumplings per person, which is more than generous with noodles to 垫肚子 (diàn dùzi), pad the belly, but it’s easy to scale up or down. Each egg makes three dumplings, and each dumpling requires about 10-12 grams of filling.
For wheat dumpling recipes, see Taylor’s Chengdu-style Zhong dumplings (钟水饺, zhōng shuǐjiǎo) and Michelle Zhou’s Three-Umami dumplings (三鲜饺子, sānxiān jiǎozi)!
Danjiao (蛋饺) Egg Dumplings ft. Pork and Ramps
For the filling:
- 250 grams ground pork
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ½ tablespoon any rice cooking wine (liaojiu)
- 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 5-10 ramp leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped sub. jiucai (garlic chives)
- small thumb fresh ginger, minced approx. 1 teaspoon
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (Cuizi preferred)
- ½ cup water
For the soup:
- 2 servings dried noodles of choice
- 2 quarts chicken stock or water
- 1 piece dried dulse or other seaweed optional
- 3-5 dried shiitake mushrooms (xianggu), soaked sub. fresh mushrooms
- baby boK choy or other leafy greens for garnish, optional
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the egg wrappers:
- 8 eggs
- 2 teaspoons any rice cooking wine (liaojiu)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon MSG
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
Prepare the filling:
- Place ground pork in a bowl and mix in water vigorously, little by little, using your hand or a spatula. You want to really emulsify the pork with the water until the filling becomes light pink and very fluffy, and the sides of the bowl are smeared with fat (my cooking school instructor in Nanjing said it should look like snot!). Take your time and use some elbow grease—or a stand mixer with the beater WIRE? attachment.
- Once the filling has achieved the right texture, add in salt, sugar and white pepper, and mix again thoroughly. Next, add in Shaoxing wine/liaojiu and soy sauce and repeat. Finally, add minced ramp leaves, ginger and sesame oil, and mix again. Adding ingredients in these stages ensures you are incorporating everything thoroughly and maintaining that bouncy texture.
- Check your work! Fry a little piece of filling in a frying pan and taste; adjust seasonings as needed.
Prepare the soup:
- Add chicken stock or water to a pot (a Chinese clay pot or Japanese donabe is best!) and bring to a boil. Season with salt and white pepper, then add any dried flavorings, such as seaweed or mushrooms, and lower heat to a simmer while you make your dumplings!
Prepare the danjiao:
- Beat eggs in a bowl, then add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
- Turn a burner on medium low, and spray a stainless steel ladle with nonstick spray. Hold the ladle over the flame for a few seconds to heat up the oil. Pour 2 tablespoons of egg batter into the ladle and swirl it around so that the mixture coats the ladle completely and evenly. You’re basically making a tiny omelet in the ladle—it should be thin but sturdy enough to fold. As the egg sets, pour any excess batter back into the bowl.
- Spoon some pork and ramp filling into the center of the ladle (about 10-12 grams) and using your spoon, gently fold one edge of the omelet over the filling. Press the edges to seal. Slide the dumpling onto a plate and set aside, then repeat with the remaining batter and filling. Remember to re-spray the ladle between each dumpling. It’s a delicate operation so it might take you a couple of tries to get the hang of it, but dumplings with cracks or holes are still perfectly OK! Remember, the fillings are not cooked yet so don’t eat the dumplings.
- Once you’ve finished making your dumplings, add noodles to your bubbling soup broth and follow package instructions to cook. In the last two minutes of cooking, lay the dumplings and bok choy/leafy greens, if using, on top of the noodles and cover for the remainder of the cooking time. Keep covered until ready to serve.I like to serve egg dumpling noodles right out of the pot, garnished with slivered ramp leaves or cilantro, sesame oil and a mound of chili crisp.
[…] family recipes from Sichuan in 2021 and are now welcoming Zoe Yang and her mom, Iris Zhao, to share their stories and recipes from Jiangnan—the area south of the Yangtze River, including Shanghai and Jiangsu and Zhejiang […]
[…] For more of Zoe’s recipes and Chinese food history, try her Shaoxing Drunken Chicken and Danjiao Egg Dumplings! […]