Great fillings are essential to successful dumpling making. This guide offers ideas, tips and troubleshooting tricks. Four dumpling filling examples are also included.
What makes a great filling for dumplings? I would say: ① A nice balance between the main ingredients; ② A great combination of flavours; ③ A moist, juicy texture. In the second part of my Ultimate Dumpling Guide, I’m sharing numerous tips to help you to achieve those goals. Four different filling recipes are also provided, including vegetarian and vegan versions.
Chinese regional dumpling fillings
In different regions of China, dumplings are filled with different combinations of ingredients. Let me name a few popular ones.
- Zhong Shui Jiao (钟水饺, Sichuan spicy dumplings from Sichuan cuisine) are made of minced (almost pureed) pork and served with a spicy sauce.
- In Northeast regions of China, pork and Chinese sauerkraut dumplings (猪肉酸菜水饺) is a local specialty.
- The most famous dumpling dish in the historic city of Xi’an is Hot and sour dumpling soup (酸汤水饺) in which dumplings are filled with beef and yellow Chinese chive.
- Beijing families enjoy pork and Chinese leek (猪肉大葱水饺) filling.
- In the coastal province of Shangdong, people take a lot of pride in their Bayu dumplings (鲅鱼饺子) which call for Spanish mackerels.
- The famous Cantonese dim sum dish Har gow (水晶虾饺) are semi-transparent dumplings filled with prawns, bamboo shoot and water chestnut.
- Steamed crab roe dumpling (蟹黄蒸饺) is a delectable speciality of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province.
- In Chinese Muslim community, lamb dumplings (羊肉饺子) are very popular, usually paired with carrot or Chinese cabbage.
What to use in dumplings?
When it comes to dumpling fillings, there are so many choices. Use your imagination to mix and match whatever ingredients you fancy.
Apart from meat, fish and seafood that are used in the regional specialities I mentioned above, vegetables play a very important role. They are either mixed with meat / fish / seafood or stand on their own. Chinese cabbage, Chinese chive, fennel leaves, courgette, carrot, daikon, stem lettuce, aubergine, tomato, cucumber, celery, spinach, coriander, bamboo shoot…… The list goes on.
For vegetarian versions of dumpling fillings, egg and tofu are popular sources of protein.
- Eggs are scrambled before cutting into small pieces and mixing with other ingredients.
- To make tofu filled dumplings, drain as much excess water as possible beforehand (You may do so by putting a heavy object onto the tofu block). If using soft tofu, it’s better to blanch it in boiling water for a few minutes. This will help it stay in shape without getting too mushy.
There are a few more special ingredients that I’d like to recommend for dumpling fillings.
- Dried shrimp (虾米) or dried papery shrimp (虾皮) provides a delectable fishy flavour. Add a little if you think your filling tastes rather bland.
- Shiitake mushroom (香菇) is a magical ingredient also. Its unique umami taste can effectively elevate the deliciousness of your filling.
- Wood ear mushroom (木耳) doesn’t have much flavour on its own but it’s great at offering a springy texture.
- Water chestnut (荸荠) has a sweet, earthy taste and a crunchy texture. It’s one of my favourite addition.
- If you love the taste of herbs like coriander & dill, add a little to your filling.
How to make it moist & juicy?
When preparing meat based fillings, the most common problem home cooks face is how to make it moist and juicy. I have a few tips to offer.
INCLUDE FAT CONTENT: I would recommend no less than 20% of fat, for example for pork fillings. If you can’t find ready to use minced meat that has a high percentage of fat, buy some nice cuts of meat then mince it yourself: with a cleaver or a food processor (I found a good article that clearly explains “How to grind your own meat in the food processor”).
ADD COOKING OIL: If you prefer non animal fat, add some cooking oil instead (rapeseed, sunflower, vegetable, peanut, etc.). My favourite way is to heat up the oil then pour over chopped spring onion / ginger. It really brings out the best flavour!
“BEAT” LIQUID IN: This process is called Daxian (打馅) in Chinese which literally means “beat the filling”.
- The liquid can be water, stock, liquid that you squeeze out from salt-wilted vegetables or water in which you have soaked shiitake mushroom.
- Add the liquid of your choice gradually into the meat while constantly swirling the meat in one direction.
- Add seasoning for the filling during this process.
- You would be surprised how much liquid the meat can absorb. Usually for 250g / 9oz meat, I add about 6 tablespoons of liquid.
- The well “beaten” meat should be sticky, soft but with no sign of any liquid.
MIX WITH MEAT ASPIC: This is the secret weapon which makes the famous Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (小笼包, Soup dumplings) super juicy.
- The meat aspic can be made of pork rind, beef tendon or chicken (with bones in).
- Simmer the meat in water (with some spices if you wish) for 1-2 hours, then drain. Leave the clear liquid to cool then store in the fridge to firm up. Please refer to my post on “Pork rind jelly (肉皮冻)” for cooking instructions.
- Chop the aspic into small piece then mix into the dumpling filling. Use immediately otherwise store in the fridge for later use.
How to fix a wet filling
It’s important to make the filling moist. However, you might encounter another problem when using vegetable(s): the filling is too wet thus makes dumpling assembly challenging. To minimize the potential problem, I suggest you:
If preparing a meat and veggie filling:
- Add a little salt to chopped vegetable(s) then leave to rest for 10 minutes or so. This will help to draw out extra liquid. Squeeze before using.
- Mix meat and the vegetable(s) at the last moment when you are ready to assemble the dumplings. This is to reduce the chance of more liquid coming out the vegetable.
If preparing a vegetable filling:
- Use the same method explained above to draw liquid out of the vegetables.
- Add chopped mung bean vermicelli or sweet potato glass noodles to the filling. They are great at absorbing moisture. Scrambled eggs is another option which does the same job as well as providing another layer of flavour.
If the filling does get too wet:
- Tilt the mixing bowl to allow the liquid to flow to one corner.
- Use a spoon to squeeze the filling before placing onto the wrapper.
In any case, you need to follow another two rules:
- Do not leave the filling to sit for too long before assembling the dumplings.
- Once the dumplings are ready, cook them straightaway or freeze them immediately for later use. Otherwise the moisture from the filling would make the wrappers wet and therefore easy to tear.
How to season the filling?
The regular seasoning for dumpling fillings includes salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ground Sichuan pepper / Chinese five-spice powder, white pepper, etc. A dash of sesame oil is always a good addition (but not so much that it overpowers the main flavour). Some people prefer adding a pinch of sugar to balance the saltiness.
Finely chopped spring onion and/or minced ginger are often added to the filling, especially for meat based ones. Some ingredients, such as Chinese chive, have a very strong aroma, therefore you wouldn’t need much seasoning. Some salt and a few drops of sesame oil are enough.
When you add salt to the filling, always consider if you are going to serve cooked dumplings with a dipping sauce or not. If you are including a dipping source then you will need to cut down on the salt.
▼ VIDEO RECIPE
Hope you have enjoyed reading my tips on dumpling fillings. For more dumpling recipes, have a look at the following posts