No Sweet Sour: Three Umami Dumplings in Emerald Jade Wrappers (Sanxian Jiaozi, 三鲜饺子)
Published Oct 31, 2020, Updated Oct 21, 2023
If you have followed this blog for long, you have probably noticed a conspicuous lack of dumplings. It’s not that we don’t like dumplings, but more that we’ve never mastered making them from scratch. We almost always use pre-made dumpling wrappers in our house, to less-than stellar effect. (Though we usually serve them in a Zhong dumpling sauce, which makes anything taste good.) Besides being less fresh and tasty, they are also drier and significantly harder to work with in folding and pleating dumplings than freshly made dough. But dough is challenging. So I was actually quite relieved to read this piece about three-umami dumplings by our contributor Michelle Zhao. Michelle is known for her dumplings and teaches dumpling workshops to home cooks and chefs in Norway. But even though she grew up in China, she also faced a steep learning curve when she moved away from home and had to make them herself. Read on to learn how she conquered the dumpling challenge—and how you can too.
If you don’t have the immediate confidence or time for the whole project, you can tackle this recipe for emerald jade jiaozi over several tries starting with using the super juicy, three-umami filling in store-bought wrappers; then making your own white dough (doubling the dough recipe); and finally tackling both white and green doughs for dumplings that will wow anyone you serve, including yourself.
Text and photos by Michelle Zhao
I’ve eaten a lot of dumplings (饺子, jiǎozi) without having to make one myself. There are numerous “Northern style” jiaozi restaurants in the neighborhood I grew up in in Kunming. The restaurants have a straightforward menu: water-boiled dumplings with different fillings, side dishes and a soup. The minimum order for each filling is 10. I remember ordering 30 to 40 dumplings for a family of three. They are served together on a large, flat plate, along with dark vinegar, soy sauce, minced garlic and chili oil for dipping.
The dumplings have a thin, slightly translucent wheat-flour wrapper, revealing which meat or vegetable the dumpling contains. My favorite filling is pork and dill. I wasn’t a big fan of Chinese chives when I was a kid, so I always tried to avoid picking it by observing through the dumpling skin: The pork ones have a light, powder-pink color, while the beef ones show a light brown color and pure vegetable dumplings are green. My favorite way of preparing my dipping sauce is a lot of dark vinegar, the acidity giving a nice balance to the meaty dumplings, stimulating more appetite.
I started making dumplings only after moving to Norway. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy at all. Growing up in southern China, where rice is the staple starch, I didn’t learn much about how to prepare food made with wheat flour. Making the dough was a real challenge for me. I struggled with getting the right consistency, sometimes getting it too soft and sometimes kneading it wrongly. Over time, I learned that different flours absorb water differently; therefore, I have to adjust the water ratio. I also learned that different water temperatures affect how soft the dough will become. Even though I had a few disappointing days when my dough did not reach my expectations, I had a rewarding feeling anyway because I never thought I would make my own dumplings. Plus, I was getting better at it each time.
So if you’ve also had trouble making dumplings from scratch, just know that it does get easier as you learn from experience how to work with the dough and wrap the dumplings. It is fine to start with easy folds!
This two-toned, white-and-green dumpling in meant to evoke the color of emerald jade (翡翠白玉, fěicuì báiyù), a natural treasure that symbolizes auspiciousness in traditional Chinese culture. The wrapper is actually formed from two doughs, one made with water and the other with spinach juice as the liquid. You simply wrap the green dough around the white dough, slice the log into pieces and proceed as normal in rolling out the wrappers.
The fillings are inspired by one of the most famous dumpling fillings, three umami flavor (三鲜, sānxiān), which in this case is pork, shrimp and dill (traditionally the third ingredient is Chinese chives, but I prefer dill). Other traditional three-umami dumpling combinations include egg + dried shrimp + Chinese chives or pork + shrimp + egg.
For the pork filling, 30% fat is ideal. You can reduce the fat ratio if you wish, but remember that reducing the fat may result in a less juicy filling. You can adjust the amount of dill depending on your preference, but I like to add a bit more to increase the aromatic flavor.
These dumplings are best boiled or steamed, as pan-frying may cause the color to fade and be less visually striking. Serve them with a dipping sauce of your best black vinegar, soy sauce, chili oil, garlic and green onion.
For more umami dumplings, try Taylor’s recipe for Chengdu Zhongshuijiao (钟水饺) Concocted Soy/Red Oil Dumpling or Zoe Yang’s Danjiao (蛋饺) Egg Dumplings ft. Pork and Ramps!
Three Umami Dumplings in Emerald Jade Wrappers (Sanxian Jiaozi)
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 green onion, green part
- 6-7 large shrimp (16/20 size)
- 9 ounces (250 grams) ground pork (30% fat)
- handful dill, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger powder, divided
- 1 teaspoon white pepper power, divided
- ½ tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup peanut oil, preferably a full-flavored Chinese brand
- 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose or high-gluten flour
- ¼ cup (60 grams) lukewarm water + extra to adjust if needed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (130 grams) all-purpose or high-gluten flour
- 3½ ounces (100 grams) fresh spinach to make about ¼ cup (65 grams) lukewarm spinach juice + extra to adjust if needed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- corn starch or flour for dusting
- Add Sichuan peppercorn and green onion to a small bowl and add ¾ cup boiling water. Set aside.
- Using a toothpick, pick out the visible black line inside the shrimp. Finely chop ⅔ of the shrimp, then roughly chop the remaining ⅓. Transfer to a small bowl and marinate with ½ teaspoon ginger powder, ½ teaspoon white pepper powder and Shaoxing wine.
- In a large bowl, add pork, salt, the remaining ½ teaspoon ginger powder and ½ teaspoon white pepper powder, sugar and both soy sauces. Using a pair of chopsticks or your hand, stir counterclockwise until well combined. Add 2 tablespoons water from step 1 and stir counterclockwise until water is completely absorbed. Repeat several times, until you start to notice the pork became slightly increased in size, smooth and wobbly. By now you should have used approximately ¾ of the water. Discard the remaining water.
- Add shrimp and combine well, always stirring in the same direction. Add sesame oil and mix well. In a small pan, heat peanut oil to 212° F. Do not overheat, as the oil is meant to wilt the dill, not cook the pork. Sprinkle dill over the top of the pork mixture and pour the oil over it. Mix well and refrigerate the filling for at least 30 minutes (or as long as one day).
- Add spinach leaves and ½ cup water to a food processor or blender and puree. Remove from the processor and add water until you have a thin liquid.
- In a large bowl, add flour and salt for the white dough. Add ¼ cup lukewarm water while stirring the flour with a rubber cake spatula or chopsticks. Knead by hand a couple times, gathering up the dough into a ball. It should be relatively dry and non-sticky. If you find the dough is too dry, wet your palm with water then tap the water on the dough to continue kneading; do not add water directly to the dough as you might end up adding too much water. If you find the dough too wet, add one teaspoon of flour to the dough and continue kneading, adding another teaspoon if needed. Let the dough rest about 10 minutes. Then return and knead the dough gently until it is smooth and elastic. This will take 2 to 5 minutes (depending on the flour and temperature). Cover with a thin damp towel.
- Repeat the process for the green dough, using spinach juice as the liquid.
- Both doughs should then rest for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer you wait, the softer it will get, but if you wait too little time, you will have difficulty rolling out the wrapper. If the dough becomes too soft after a long period of resting, gently knead for about 30 seconds. If the dough resists being rolled out, let it rest for a bit longer. Poke a hole with your finger on the dough, and if the dough doesn't bounce back, it is ready.
- Lightly flour your work surface. Roll both doughs into a long log about 1 inch thick in diameter. Using a rolling pin, roll the green dough out into a long, oval shape. The length should be as long as the white log, and the width should be enough to wrap around the white log. Place the white log on top of the green log, spread a small amount of water with your fingers on the top, then wrap it tightly. Roll the log a few times to ensure the two colors are sticking together.
- Cut the log into 30 portions of similar weight, about ½ ounce (13g - 15g). Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others under a damp cloth. Press flat with your palm to form a round disk. Use a rolling pin to roll into a rounded wrapper 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Dust corn starch on both sides (or flour if it is on the soft side) and set aside, covered with a damp cloth.
- Using one wrapper at a time, place one tablespoon of filling in the middle. Hold the wrapper in your palm and fold upward without sealing the dumpling. Make 2 to 3 pleats on each side of the "front," then press tightly to the "back" to seal the edge.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, add one pinch of salt, and add a batch of dumplings. Do not overcrowd the pot. Using a wooden spoon, gently push the dumplings so they don't stick to the bottom. Cover the pot with a lid and return to a boil. Remove the lid once the dumplings are boiling and add 1 cup cold water to the pot. Bring to a boil again and then turn off the heat. Take the dumplings out with a strainer. Sprinkle a small amount of sesame oil on the dumplings.
- Serve with soy sauce, black vinegar, chili oil, minced garlic and chopped green onions to make a dip to your liking.
Tried this recipe?