Tuen Ng Festival (Dragon Boat Festival) is held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and this year falls on 28 May. While many in Hong Kong know that "Chung Zi - 粽子" (glutinous rice dumplings) are traditionally eaten during Dragon Boat, and the story behind this tradition, how many of you know how to make your own? WOM spoke to several leading experts about these traditional dumplings and present their comments, tips, a recipe, and a step-by-step guide to wrapping.
A Few Facts
Traditionally, dumplings are wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves, while corn, banana or pandan leaves are sometimes used. Each leaf will impart its own flavour and smell.
Glutinous rice is always used and may be pre-cooked or soaked before use. Fillings may be sweet (green bean, red bean, or jujubes) or savoury (char sui, Chinese sausage, Chinese black mushrooms, salted duck eggs, chestnuts, dried shrimp and scallop, chicken).
There is no standard recipe for dumplings. For example, according to Dora Tang, a local gourmand, who still makes her own (a dying art at the home level), the Shanghainese marinate the glutinous rice in dark soy sauce overnight and just wrap it around pork marinated in dark soy sauce then coat it with five spice powder with a piece of fat inside.
Whereas, Cantonese dumplings use green beans without any skin which look like yellow half beans, mushroom, salted egg yolk, and marinated pork coated with five spice, says Mrs Tang. Some add a touch of sophistication with the addition of soaked dried scallop or dried shrimps.
The Taiwanese usually include salted duck egg yolk, mushrooms, dried shrimp, and soy-sauce-braised fatty pork in their dumplings. Whole chestnuts and steamed peanuts are consider optional extras. Dumplings from Taiwan are said to be drier in texture than the ones from mainland China.
When it comes to sweet dumplings the Shanghainese put red bean paste inside soy sauce marinated glutinous rice, but Cantonese change the glutinous rice texture in an alkaline base liquid before wrapping the bean paste inside, then eat it with maple syrup.
The shape can also vary from square to triangular pyramid shapes.
Wrapping and Cooking
Wrapping of the dumplings is considered an art. "A skilful cook can wrap one dumpling with only one lotus leaf whereas for big dumplings I use four lotus leaves plus one big water lily leaf as outside wrapping," says Mrs Tang. She added, that the Shanghainese wrap very tiny dumplings (a mouthful) with one piece of leaf and one piece of string. For a step-by-step guide to wrapping dumplings please go to the end of the article.
To cook the dumplings they are either steamed or boiled for a number of hours; due to their prolonged cooking times, doneness is a constant issue for debate, which has been confirmed through my research. The executive chef of Spring Moon, Paul Lau says, "In order for the rice to be boiled to perfection, the dumplings must be taken out of the boiling water immediately after it has been thoroughly cooked. If the dumplings are left in the water for a prolonged period of time, the rice will become too soggy." While executive chef of Celestial Court, Sui-Kei Chan, says to leave the dumplings soaking overnight in warm water. "Since the rice is not yet cooked thoroughly after the 3-hour boiling process, by soaking them overnight in the warm water they were cooked in, the rice will be cooked with the best texture. It is done with both sweet and savoury dumplings."
This difference of opinion probably stems from the cooking time, which not only varies according to dumpling size but among chefs. Celestial Court boils its dumplings for only three hours, while Spring Moon boil its Lotus Seed Paste Glutinous Rice Dumplings for approximately four hours, and the Glutinous Rice Dumplings are boiled for approximately six hours.
In Taiwan the cooking of dumplings involves soaking the rice in water for at least four hours. Then stir-frying the uncooked rice with shallots, five spice, soy sauce and dried shrimp until its half cooked. Think risotto. Cook other ingredients separately from rice. Wrap rice, then put cooked ingredients inside the rice and finish wrapping. They are then steamed or boiled in water, depending on the region.
According to an old superstition, if a pregnant woman enters the kitchen while the dumplings are cooking, they will not cook properly.
While many of the chefs I spoke to were reluctant to give up their secret recipes some were happy to provide a few insider tips. Chef Lau says that the choice of rice can make a big difference to the finished product. "The choice of high-quality glutinous rice is very important. Some lower grade glutinous rice is mixed with other types of rice that makes the texture less sticky than pure glutinous rice, which in turn makes the dumplings more prone to falling apart when boiled."
Chef Lau also offers some guidance when it comes to the ratio of rice to filling. For Lotus Seed Paste Glutinous Rice Dumplings or other sweet dumplings, he recommends a rice to sweet filling ratio of seven to three. While for Glutinous Rice Dumplings, he recommends a rice to meat, scallop and mushroom filling proportion of six to four. "Of course, this is only a general guideline, personal taste is much more important when making your own dumplings."
Chef Chan says that making a successful dumpling has a lot to do with the way it is wrapped. "It cannot be too loosely done as the ingredients will fall apart. It requires very skilful techniques that result from experience and talent. Therefore, for novices, it's better to use a mould to help."
While many of you may prefer to buy your dumplings, which are for sale at Spring Moon, Celestial Court, and the Lei Garden restaurants among others, those that are adventurous take note of the following.
The Lei Garden Restaurant Group's ingredients for two of its most popular dumplings are as follows. Rice Dumpling with Pork & Ham - glutinous rice, halved mung beans, duck meat, ham, pork, lotus seed, chestnut, egg yolk, dried scallop, salt, sugar, Chinese rice wine, vegetable oil, ginger powder, five spice powder, sesame oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, seafood sauce, and sesame paste. Rice Dumpling with Duck Egg Yolk & Pork - glutinous rice, halved mung bean, pork, lotus seed, duck egg yolk, dried scallop, salt, sugar, Chinese rice wine, vegetable oil, ginger powder, five spice powder, sesame oil.
Celestial Court's recipe for its Bird's Nest with Lotus Seeds Paste Sticky Rice Dumpling is a follows:
Serving: 1 piece
100g Glutinous Rice
100g Purple Rice
12g Bird's Nest
16 Lotus Seed Paste
4 Bamboo Leaves
Method - Mix Glutinous Rice and Purple Rice. Rinse with cold water. Drain and mix with oil. Soak Bird's Nest in cold water for several hours and rinse it. Then put it in boiling water for a short time and remove. Wrap Bird's Nest with Lotus Seeds Paste and roll into round shape. Fold two bamboo leaves to form a funnel shape. Fill half of the hollow with rice. Put a ball of lotus seed paste in the middle. Cover the hollow with the rest of the rice. Fold the leaves up to seal the open side and use two more bamboo leaves to wrap the dumpling tightly with straw to secure. Put the dumpling in boiling water and cook for 3 hours. Dumplings must be under water during the whole boiling process. Leave to soak in the cooking water overnight. Drain. To serve, steam it again until hot. Serve with sugar or syrup.
Image Credit: Homepage, 1, 3 Lei Garden Restaurant Group; 2, 4 Spring Moon; 5 Celestial Court
How to Wrap a Dumpling
All images courtesy of Lei Garden Restaurant Group
Yummy dumplings with stimulating
Interesting to read. Research done in good length. Quite informative. Good job.