Dumplings are one of my favorite party foods. They’re crowd-pleasers, easy finger food, and endlessly adaptable. Plus, they’re fun to make! We’ve got loads of recipes and videos that show you how simple it is to make dumplings at home.
We grew up with lots of Italian food (we’re Sarnos, after all), but our mom cooked a bunch of Chinese food too. We feasted on homemade Cantonese and Mandarin hot pots, spring rolls, and egg rolls with fresh sauces like sweet and sour sauce and fermented black bean sauce. I remember as a pre-teen tagging along with my mom to her Chinese cooking classes. That was pretty formative. I loved all the dynamic flavors and smells of ginger, soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, and even chiles. And I really got into the hands-on process of making this kind of food.
To this day, fresh Asian noodles and dumplings are some of my favorite things to make. At my London restaurant, SAF, the head chef David Bailey specialized in pan-Asian cooking and we always had dumplings on the menu: sweet dumplings, spicy dumplings, soup dumplings, steamed, fried, pan-seared every which way with all kinds of dipping sauces and lively garnishes. I love playing with all the flavor and the texture pairings: a chewy filling paired with a spicy dipping sauce, a creamy filling with an aromatic broth, and the colorful garnishes and condiments. Dumplings have this amazing ability to capture a world of flavor in a single bite. That’s what makes them perfect for a restaurant tasting menu—and as party food! When you come to a party at my house, you’re sure to get some dumplings.
To share everything I know, we’re giving you a whole class on how to make dumplings over the next few weeks. The recipes and videos will show you all kinds of dumpling magic. First up is a simple recipe for Dumpling Skins plus a quick and easy Smoked Tofu Dumpling recipe. Then we’ll release new videos and recipes every week. Check back on this page each week to find more recipes and videos. In the meantime, have a look at some of my dumpling tips and tricks below. My top tip? You can make almost everything for dumplings ahead of time! Then when it’s party time, you just finish and serve!
Dumplings are humble food often made at home with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Fillings can run the gamut from roasted vegetables to seasoned tofu and everything in between. Use your imagination. Our recipes will show you some possibilities but be bold and experiment with your own fillings. That goes for seasonings and sauces too. Have fun with it. One of the best things I’ve found are freeze-dried vegetables. When hydrated with broth or another flavorful liquid, they bring super-concentrated flavors to the filling without adding too much moisture and making the dumplings mushy.
If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, I highly recommend picking one up at your local Asian grocer. They’re dirt cheap! Plus, they hold a few layers so you can cook lots of dumplings at once. A food processor also comes in handy for blending up smooth, creamy fillings. For cooking, a heavy bottom pan is essential. Cast iron is perfect but any heavy pan will do. That allows you to get a good sear on the bottom of your pan-fried dumplings, then you add some liquid to release the dumplings from the pan. For serving, a platter and some dipping bowls are all you need. If you want to go all out, Asian soup spoons make a fantastic serving vessel for dumplings and sauce in one bite.
You can find dumpling skins at most grocery stores. Just look for eggless ones. Better yet, make dumpling skins at home. It’s a simple dough of flour, cornstarch and water. Just like sheets of fresh pasta, fresh dumpling skins beat the store-bought stuff hands-down. Be sure not to overwork the dough. It should be kneaded just until the dough ball starts to look a bit smoother on the surface. To keep the dough from drying out as you roll out the skins, cover the dough with a kitchen towel.
As for fillings, the firmer the better. That way you can just pinch some up filling with your hand. If your filling is soft, it helps to use a scoop to keep the filling from getting all over everything. When it comes to folding, please know that dumplings don’t need to be perfect. Handmade dumplings are a show of love and what matters is that you share them with others. Check out one of our dumpling videos to see the folding process in real time. We go through various shapes of shumai and gyoza, some with all sides folded toward the center and others folded over then pleated for that decorative edge. You’ll get the hang of it once you make a few.
This sort of cooking can be like yoga or meditation. Get lost in the recurring motions of making dumplings by hand, let your mind wander, and by the end, you’ll feel refreshed. Doing it yourself is what matters. This is the essence of homemade food. It is an act of love. Don’t rush it. Get into it.
My favorite way to cook dumplings is to pan-sear them in a little oil until deep golden brown on the bottom, then hit them with water or another liquid and cover to quickly steam them. It’s the easiest method to use at home. You can also steam, shallow fry, deep fry, and bake dumplings. If you steam them from raw, just be sure to line your steamer with cabbage leaves or other fresh leaves to prevent sticking.
Keep these simple: a shower of chopped green onions or chives, a drizzle of red chile oil or toasted sesame oil, or a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds are really all you need.
One of the best things about dumplings is that they can be made almost completely ahead! At my SAF restaurant in London, we’d pan-sear 500 to 600 dumplings ahead, refrigerate or freeze them, then steam them to order. You can do the same thing at home. Roll out the dumpling skins ahead and freeze them in a stack. Make the filling ahead and refrigerate it (1/2 quart of filling makes about 25 dumplings). Fill, fold, and cook the dumplings ahead, then freeze them too. At home, I like to pan-sear dumplings then freeze them on sheet trays. When they’re solid, pop them in a zipper-lock bag and you’ll have dumplings at the ready for months. Then all you need to do is pop the frozen dumplings in the steamer for a few minutes and they’re ready to serve. Perfect for parties!