Now's the Time to Throw a Dumpling Party, Here's How
For Chinese New Year, or really, anytime!
Making and eating jiaozi dumplings for Chinese New Year is a timeworn tradition throughout China, but is especially popular in the northern regions. They’re typically boiled and eaten at midnight on Chinese New Year's Eve, symbolizing good luck and fortune. My family, from the southern Sichuan province, rarely made jiaozi at home but, as with many foods and cultures, when there’s migration, new traditions sprout, and surprisingly, making dumplings is a skill I picked up in Berlin by attending my fair share of dumpling parties (a sort of apprenticeship, I suppose?) celebrating CNY with Chinese friends.
While I haven’t yet hosted my own dumpling party, I can attest that they’re a fun, hands-on feast that fit perfectly during the dark winter months when you can’t really eat outside and a plate of steaming dumplings is exactly what you want to eat. With any dumpling party, the key is that everybody can contribute and reap the reward. As Samin Nosrat writes about her hosting philosophy, “If cooking for people is an act of generosity, then cooking with them is also an act of empowerment.”
For me, dumplings are the king of comfort food; nothing beats a plate of steaming, juicy, handmade dumplings right out of the pot, and there’s one thing you can count on for sure with your dumpling party, no matter the size, the dumplings will be gone in the blink of an eye! Here’s what you need to know to throw your own dumpling-making (and eating!) party.
First things first, do this before your guests arrive
You want to plan how many people you’ll invite for the party to plan how many dumplings you’ll need, but a great place to start is with this recipe, which makes about 60 dumplings and can serve 4 to 5 people. Then you’ll want to decide on the fillings; I would recommend one meat and one vegetarian or vegan filling (I will share ideas for these below, and the making of the fillings can be part of your party!)
Chinese jiaozi (Pork and cabbage dumplings)
Do your dumpling calculation planning on about 20 dumplings per adult. It sounds like a lot, but this way you’re properly prepared in the case of some broken dumplings, which there will likely be. Plus, it’s always better to have a few extras than not enough!
From start to finish, making Chinese dumplings can take a few hours, so keep your guests fed by planning and preparing some ready-to-eat snacks like chips and crackers, wasabi peanuts, and white rabbit candies—your local Asian supermarket is sure to have a lot of treasures to offer. If you’re handling all the ingredients for dumplings, ask your friends to buy and bring the snacks and drinks—it’s the least they can do!
Prepare the dumpling dough
For a complete dumpling-making novice, frozen store-bought dumplings wrappers can be a good place to start, but I do encourage you to try making the dough from scratch, especially if you’ve ever made pasta at home. However, a bag of frozen wrappers can be a secret contingency plan if the dough doesn’t work out, but with our recipe you should be all set! Homemade dumpling dough needs to rest for at least one hour, so have the dough prepped and rested before the party. If it’s still early, you can store the dough in the fridge, too.
Pro-tip: While not traditional, if you have gluten-free friends, serve these creative (and vegan!) crispy rice paper dumplings!
Crispy vegan rice paper dumplings
Time to get the party started
Once you’re done greeting your guests (and assigning tasks—yes there’s work to do to this party), the dumpling work stations can get up and running. Start by making different fillings (this can also be done ahead of time if you want to prep a bit more on your own). Two or three options offer variety for dietary and flavor preferences, but you could even do four if you’re feeling it.
There are endless possibilities of tasty things to fill your dumplings with. You can swap out the pork with another minced meat and even the cabbage for another vegetable to your liking (the amounts should be 1:1), and keep the seasoning: soy sauce, sesame oil, spice, and stock. Traditionally, a pork and shrimp filling and the combos of minced beef or lamb with celery and carrot work really well. Chives and mushrooms are also always welcome additions, but seasonal ingredients like wild garlic or even the unconventional kale will work as well. A friend once told me that they used to hate kale until they found frozen kale worked perfectly (and tasted delicious!) in dumplings.
For vegetarian options, I like scrambled eggs paired with vegetables; especially the classic tomato and egg combo, zucchini, or carrot. Glass noodles are great in a filling, too, so you could try stuffing this Korean japchae in your dumplings. It’s important to let any cooked filling cool (not necessarily completely, but as much as you can) before stuffing the dumplings so it won’t break or partially steam the wrappers before you’re ready to boil them. For a vegan option you could use a cabbage and mushroom filling, a spiced tofu and mushroom mixture, or a simple tofu filling.
Once the fillings are good to go, the fun and interactive part has finally come!
Rolling the dough and folding the dumplings
Before you get started on this step, make sure you have a big enough working space for everyone. Assign the specific tasks and different stations to your guests to create a seamless workflow for everyone. Leave the trickier part (rolling out dough wrappers) to the more experienced chefs among your friends, and make sure everyone has the chance to participate in the folding.
The rolling is where the most technique is required. It’s easier if you have a thin, relatively small and short rolling pin; better yet if you have a few of them it can accelerate the process even more. Ask your friends to bring rolling pins, and in a pinch, an empty, plastic wrapped wine or beer bottle will work. If you want to save even more time rolling, you could roll the dough out as a sheet and cut out big circles with a cookie cutter or a glass (similar to when making filled pastas) before filling and folding.
While rolling requires technique, folding is probably the most challenging part of the process. You can either try this classic way or the easier method I used for these wontons. To get even more inspiration, watch this video from one of my favorite Chinese cooking channels to learn 16 different ways to make them! Remember, the main goal here is simply to seal them really well so the filling doesn’t come out when cooking. Don’t dwell on achieving the most perfect pleated dumplings you’ve ever seen, with practice you can definitely get there one day, but for now, it’s more about having fun and giving it your best try!
Cooking the dumplings
Once you have about 20 dumplings wrapped up, you can get started with the cooking. I highly recommend you, as the host, take this over, as you can have a secret reward of tasting the final product while the guests (or maybe, employees at this point?) are still at work at your pop-up dumpling factory.
Boiled dumplings are the OG, however, no party should be limited to just one cooking method: try steaming them in a cute little bamboo basket lined with cabbage leaves or steam-fry (as you do with potstickers or gyoza) for a golden, crispy bottom and tender wrappers.
To bring in the party vibe even more, you could also dress some of your dumplings in an eye-catching crispy skirt (maybe even to match your own?)
Crispy skirt potstickers
Now that “you’ve” done all the hard work, we’ve approached the end of the rollercoaster ride of this dumpling party. While the dumplings are cooking, make your dipping sauces. Below are some of my favorite sauce combinations, but you could also prepare a small DIY sauce station by just taking out all of your vinegars, soy sauces, oils, chili crisps, etc. and letting your guests have a little bowl to make their own. Surely they will be happy to have one more task where they can get creative.
— Minimalistic dip: 3 parts dark rice vinegar + 1 part soy sauce
— Elaborate dip: 2 parts dark rice vinegar + 1 part soy sauce + 1 part sesame oil + 1 part chili crisp + 2 cloves grated garlic
— Pan-fried dumpling dip: 1 part sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce) + 1 part sweet soy sauce
— Fancy add-ins: thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, grated ginger
All the recipes you need
Here is a list of recipes to keep on hand for all the dumpling recipes and fun side dishes to add to the table. Now it’s up to you, get your party started!
Chinese pork and cabbage dumplings
Crispy skirt potstickers
Crispy vegan rice paper dumplings
Smashed cucumber salad
Spicy and sour potato sticks
Colorful chiffonade salad
Published on January 26, 2022