Nothing like those floating-on-stew versions. These are delicate morsels of pork and leek wrapped in thin dough “skins” and steamed for the people of Chongqing to eat on their way to another busy working day – and so much healthier than our traditional English fry-up. You can see (https://youtu.be/rTcgbQwDLsw) my very poor efforts to make them despite the help of a dumpling professional.
Wang Yi, our hostess for the day, introduced her aunt, Yinyishu, who has worked in a baozi shop for over 25 years. It is tough work that starts at 3 in the morning as her customers want their breakfast at about 6.00 a.m.
The dough for the Jiaozi dumplings is just flour and water with a pinch of salt while yeast is added for the baozi version. The fillings are very similar: finely minced pork, ginger and lotus root pieces plus leek in the jiaozi and spring onion in the baozi.
The shaping of the dumplings was the difficult part. The risen baozi dough was the most straightforward: small circles of dough rolled thinner all around the edge and then simply folded in half over the filling and pinched closed. But the jiaozi confounded everyone: the same small circles with thinner edges that were somehow rolled and pinched over the middle of the filling while the whole dumpling was rotated in the other hand. They were just too soft and delicate for my sense of touch to decipher. Yinyishu couldn’t stand my ineptitude and finished the lot! Even Julia, from the local Rotary Club who was helping with translation, had difficulty.
And further thanks to Hanying who allowed us all in to her kitchen for the dumpling class. Her apartment is in one of a group of blocks surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens in Chongqing, the largest city in the world. It was a privilege to be in her home and to hear the children playing outside, neighbours chatting on a bench in the sun and the soft buzz of traffic in the distance. Her kitchen was completely familiar in layout and design – every feature I’d recognise from my own but just tiny to match the smaller stature of Chinese people. I felt rather like a giant looming over her and could sit on the work surfaces as if they were high-stools.
The whole day was a perfect experience of life in developing China: the modern vibrant environment alongside cuisine that still has all the traditional skills and flavours.
For years/decades, I’ve yearned for one of those pointed oval tins for raised game pies (the type with clips at either end). Just one of those longings for a classic piece of cooking equipment that carries breaths of nostalgia and tradition. When I had the chance, I’ve scoured antique fairs without success but my longing was finally more than satisfied this Christmas by friends Sue and Joan. Heaven knows why these tins are so wildly expensive!
My own version of hot water pastry to make the game raised pie included: strong white bread flour added to the ordinary plain; rubbing in butter; adding lard dissolved in hot water. A quarter of the pastry was set aside for the pie lid and the rest went in the tin. I pressed it out and gradually raise it up the sides. Just like trying to mould hot greasy and slithery plasticine! It kept oozing back down the sides of the tin and gathering at the bottom –it would have been better allowing it to cool more so it didn’t sag like Nora batty tights!
Pork gave bulk to the filling: sausage meat and mince seasoned with mustard powder and ground allspice. Pork is also important in adding a little fat to keep the game moist – in this case, partridge (skinned and bones removed) marinaded with a little white wine.
By the time I’d struggled with the pastry, rather roughly layered in the meat and topped off with the lid, I was running out of cooking time. But, even though I had to switch the oven off 30 minutes early, leaving it in the residual heat did the trick. I confess that one side was a bit scorched (too near the gas), I failed to do the egg glaze and the jellied stock added later didn’t reach all the parts required or set firmly enough – it sounds like a series of disasters. But the pastry was the best I’ve ever made and the filling was deliciously moist. Definitely an experiment to be repeated in rather slower time to do more justice to that excellent tin.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for another classic pork dish, look no further than this week’s video (https://youtu.be/s9ssUcVIIto) which features the first of three versions of sweet and sour spare ribs from my time in Chongqing in China. This was the recipe from the professional chef with two more homely versions to come.