A complete guide on how to cook dumplings. Informative tips on three popular methods: boiling, pan-frying and steaming.
Hope you have enjoyed the journey of dumpling making with me! Thus far we have rolled our wrappers, made tasty, juicy fillings and assembled the dumplings in beautiful patterns. The next question is: How are we going to cook dumplings? I have three options to share: boil, pan-fry or steam.
BOILING: the most popular method
You might know that dumplings are called Jiao Zi (饺子) in Chinese. Have you heard another term Shui Jiao (水饺) which literally means “water dumplings”? Water boiled dumplings are the most popular form of dumplings served in Chinese households (although they are not that popular in Chinese restaurants in the West). I grew up eating boiled dumplings and it remains my favourite method. I love the softness (yet a little chewy) of the wrappers and its “clean” taste.
Add cold water three times
Cooking dumplings in water is very straightforward as long as you know the concept of Dian Shui (点水) meaning “add water”. During the cooking process, you need to add cold water to the boiling water three times before the dumplings are fully cooked. Remember to cover the pot with a lid each time after you add water.
Rinse to avoid sticking
Immediately after cooking, I suggest you rinse the dumplings under cold water for a few seconds. This is to remove excess starch and minimize the possibility of the dumplings sticking to each other. You may skip this process if you are going to serve the dumplings in a soup dish.
How to retain their look
The only downside of boiled dumplings is that they don’t retain their original look very well after cooking (unlike pan-fried / steamed ones). If you care a lot about their look, follow these tips to improve:
- Use flour with a higher gluten level
- Make a slightly firmer dough
- Roll the wrappers a little thicker
Example of boiled dumpling recipe:
PAN-FRYING: If you love them crispy
Pan-fried dumplings have two names in Chinese: Jian Jiao (煎饺) or Guo Tie (锅贴, potstickers). The use of oil makes them tastier and gives them a golden look and a crispy texture ( while part of it still remains soft).
Fry, steam, fry
The actual cooking procedure of pan-fried dumplings is fry, steam then fry again.
- Heat up a little oil over a high heat then add the dumplings.
- Check the bottom part of a dumpling. If it turns light brown, pour in cold water (enough to cover ⅓ of the dumplings). then immediately cover with a lid.
- Uncover when the water evaporates completely. Cook another 30-60 seconds to crisp up.
Advice on frying pans
If possible, use a pan with a thick, heavy bottom. This is to ensure the even distribution of heat ensuring that every dumpling can be cooked to a similar golden colour. Non-stick pans work better. If not, make sure you use a little extra oil and don’t move the dumplings until the bottom part hardens.
Example of pan-fried dumpling recipe:
STEAMING: The easiest way
Steaming is the third way to cook dumplings. It’s as healthy as boiling. It’s a widely used method, particularly in Southern China. In Cantonese dim sum restaurants, all types of dumplings are steamed in cute little steamer baskets. I love this method partially because it requires the least effort and attention.
Effortless cooking method
To steam dumplings: place dumplings in the steamer basket then set your timer and relax. It couldn’t get simpler! However I would still like to offer a few tips:
- To prevent dumplings from sticking to the basket: You have three options: Place a slice of carrot (or a small piece of cabbage / lettuce) underneath each dumpling; Coat the basket with a thin layer of oil if you are using a metal steamer; Line small pieces of parchment paper under each dumpling.
- Remember to place the basket in when the water comes to a full boil.
Cooking time may vary
Some steamed dumpling recipes call for different types of dough therefore require different cooking times. For dumplings with wheat flour based wrappers, the suggested steaming time is around 10 minutes. If you are steaming dumplings with starch based wrappers, eg. Har gow (crystal prawn dumplings), reduce the cooking time to 6 minutes or so.
Choose a nice dumpling pattern
Steamed dumplings have a pretty appearance as the steaming process causes very little change in the shape of the dumplings. So if you choose to cook your dumplings this way, I suggest you pleat the dumplings nicely (watch the video tutorial in my post on “Ten way to fold dumpling”). After all, we often eat with our eyes first!
Example of steamed dumpling recipe:
Cook dumplings in three ways
- Fresh homemade dumplings
- Oil, for pan-frying method only
- Sliced carrot, for steaming method only
How to boil dumplings
- Bring a pot of water to a full boil over a high heat. Gently slide in dumplings.
- Push them around with the back of a spoon to avoid sticking. Cover with a lid.
- When the water comes back to a full boil, add about 120 ml / 0.5 cup of cold water then cover.
- Repeat the procedure twice. When fully cooked, the dumplings should be plump and floating on the surface.
- Transfer the dumplings to a colander. Briefly run tap water (make sure it’s drinkable water) over. Drain and serve immediately.
How to pan-fry dumplings
- Heat up a little oil (just enough to cover the surface of your pan) over a high heat. Place in dumplings.
- When the bottom part of the dumplings becomes golden brown, pour in cold water (enough to cover ⅓ of the dumplings). Cover with a lid.
- Uncover when the water evaporates completely. Cook another 30 seconds or so to crisp up.
How to steam dumplings
- Scatter carrot slices in the steamer basket, then place dumplings on top (This is to avoid sticking. You may use parchment paper or coat the steamer with a little oil).
- Bring the water to a full boil, then place the basket in.
- Cook with lid on over a medium heat for around 10 minutes (The time may vary depending on the type of the wrappers, please see note 3).
I hope this guide helps you to cook dumplings. For more inspiration, check out my previous dumpling posts :
- Home made dumpling wrappers(饺子皮)
- How to make great dumpling fillings (饺子馅)
- Ten ways to fold dumplings (包饺子)
A little note: I have created a Youtube channel under the name “FlavorQuest China“. Subscribe if you often use Youtube for cooking inspiration. I’m gradually creating more video recipes and will share them on Youtube.