Unless you are well-versed in Sichuan cuisine, chances are that you are wondering what, exactly, a Zhong is. Zhong were introduced into my life just two weeks ago – well, I've eaten them for years, but was utterly unaware of their actual name. To me, they were just Chinese dumplings. Alas, my introduction was actually based on a misunderstanding.
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine approached me, wanting to know if I would like to have some of the Zongs his wife had made. I looked at him with question marks in my eyes and my friend proceeded to explain to me what Zong were.
A week later, I found myself riding my bike with my wife and my daughter. Along our route, we stopped at one of my favorite little restaurants for a quick bite. The restaurant specializes in, you guessed it: Zhong. Except, of course, that they don't call it that. Rather they go by the generic designation “dumpling.”
Now, even if you don't know anything about Asian dumplings, you probably realized that I spelled the dumplings my friend's wife made without an “h” while the other dumplings have the letter “h” in them. There's a reason.
Zong are a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. These dumplings are very, very good.
However, the dumplings at my favorite Sichuan restaurant were quite different: They were not wrapped in bamboo but instead, were made of dough.
I love this particular kind of dumpling and thus, decided to do a bit o research on them. This, in turn, revealed that these lovely dumplings were Zhong... Thus, I set out to replicate what I had received at this little restaurant.
A quick glance at a generic description revealed that Zhong were created during the late years of the Qing Dynasty of China. These special dumplings are made of pork wrapped in dough. The dumplings are then boiled and are served with a sauce made of sugar, garlic and soy sauce.
Alright – that sounded like it was perfectly doable – and so I went to work...
Naturally, these dumplings are mostly beige. They are delicious without very strong flavors and thus, are generally suitable for picky eaters.
1 lb. ground pork.
4 cloves garlic, minced.
1 egg, beaten.
3 Tbs. Chinese chives or green onions, finely chopped. Reserve about 1 Tbs. for decoration.
2 Tbs. reduced sodium soy sauce.
1 1/2 Tbs. sesame oil.
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced.
1 small carrot, coarsely shredded.
½ cup green cabbage, coarsely shredded.
50 dumpling wrappers (these are round, not the square Wanton wrappers).
roughly 1/2 cup Canola oil for frying.
1 cup Sugar.
½ cup Water.
½ cup distilled White Vinegar.
3 minced Garlic cloves.
1 tsp. Salt.
3 tsp. Garlic-Chili Sauce/Sambal Olek.
3 Chinese Chives or 1 Green Onions, finely chopped.
Let's get started:
In a large work bowl, mix raw pork, garlic, egg, the chives/green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger until thoroughly combined.
Lightly flour your work space (I use a large wooden cutting board).
Place a number of the dumpling wrappers on a lightly floured work surface – I generally do about eight to ten of them.
Carefully spoon about 1 to 1 ½ Tsp. of the filling in the middle of each wrapper.
Top the filling with a little bit of carrot and a little bit of the cabbage.
Make sure you do NOT overfill the dumplings. It's better to “underfill” them and be able to seal them completely than it is to overfill them and end up with a giant mess when they break apart during the cooking process.
Wet the edge with a little water and crimp together forming small pleats to seal the dumpling.
Repeat with remaining dumpling wrappers and filling.
Place each completed dumpling on a lightly floured surface, making sure they don't stick to each other.
When you are done, turn to the Dipping Sauce:
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vinegar, garlic, and salt.
Stir and bring to a boil
Keep stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved completely.
Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes – or until the mixture starts to attain the sticky consistency of syrup.
Once the mixture is nice and sticky, turn off the heat and add the garlic-chili sauce.
Stir until well-incorporated.
Add the chopped Chinese chives or green onion.
Please note that this sauce gets really, really sticky once it starts to cool down. I find that it is easiest to serve it slightly heated in order to make dipping much easier.
While the dipping sauce is simmering, start cooking the dumplings:
First, place a large skillet filled with water over high heat and bring to a slight boil.
Next, heat 3 Tbs. Canola oil in a separate large skillet over medium-high heat.
Place 8 to 10 dumplings in the pan and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side.
When the dumplings are nice and golden, remove them from the skillet with the oil, let some of the oil drain, and add them to the skillet with the boiling water.
Cook the dumplings in the water for 5 minutes.
While the first batch is cooking in the water, add some more oil to the pan and start browning the next batch of eight to ten dumplings in the oil.
When the first batch has cooked for 5 minutes, remove them from the water, drain, and add to a large metal or ceramic bowl. I tend to stick the bowl with the dumplings in the oven (at about 350 degrees) to keep dumplings warm while I make the remaining dumplings. However, you can simply cover them in the bowl or serve immediately, if you are so inclined.
When all dumplings are done, arrange about eight per person on a plate and sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbs. of chives/green onion on top.
Serve the dipping sauce on the side or drizzle some on top.