Everyone has a favorite side dish to a main meal. It doesn’t matter who you are or what culture you come from, there is always something that people like to have on the side.
If you are from the UK, it is probably bread and butter, if you are from Japan, it is probably a soup or karaage, but for those of us who indulge in Chinese takeaways a bit too much, it is probably dumplings.
These little bundles of steamed goodness have so much flavor and the texture is just unique, a kind of slick, cooked dough.
Normally, we would buy them from a restaurant or a takeout service, but every once in a while someone is in the mood to make them.
Yet, this is where a problem arises, for you see dumplings are made in a specialized bamboo steamer.
For most of us in the west, a wok is about the only piece of east Asian culinary equipment we have in the house, so a bamboo steamer is out of the question.
So, what can be done? Can you make dumplings without a steamer?
Well, the answer is yes, and in this article we will show exactly how to do that.
What Are Dumplings?
So, this may seem like an odd question to answer, but there may be some people out there that don’t know about dumplings, and we also need to talk about the specific dumplings we will be discussing.
A dumpling is a classification for a huge and varied range of dough based dishes.
The basic premise for all dumplings is that a dumpling is a piece of dough that is either wrapped around some kind of filling or is cooked without filling.
The only other condition that may be placed on what a dumpling should be is that they need to be small enough to fit on a plate a few times over, but this is not a defining feature of dumplings, and it is not mandatory.
Anything else about dumplings is up to debate. This is because there are so many dumplings around the world and so many cultures cook them differently.
For example, an empanada is a crimped dumpling with a savory filling either fried or baked, whereas an English or Irish dumpling is a solid ball of dough that is seasoned and placed in a bubbling pot of stew to cook.
The dumplings that we will be talking about today are any of the Chinese varieties.
These dumplings are a thin piece of dough in a circular pattern that is then filled with a heavily seasoned type of filling – normally pork – and then steamed in a bamboo steamer.
These dumplings are incredibly diverse because they can be filled with almost anything, though the traditional ingredients are normally some kind of meat.
Chinese dumplings have always been used as a comfort food and are especially welcome in the long, bitter winter months due to their heat and flavor.
One great thing about these dumplings is that they can be used as any part of a meal.
They are small enough to be a side plate, robust enough that many can be a main course, and they can even be put in soups to give them more body.
Traditional Method: Bamboo Steamer
As stated earlier, these dumplings are most commonly steamed. The way this is done is to get a big bamboo basket that has two layers and a lid.
The dumplings are placed inside on cabbage or banana leaves and the layers are stacked up over a big pot full of boiling water.
The steamer basket is meant to be large enough to slightly overlap the pot’s lip, so steam has no choice to go anywhere but into the basket.
After some time over the boiling water, the dumplings should be perfectly done.
Some people then take these steamed dumplings and fry them in a little sesame oil.
This step adds a little color to the dumplings and also gives them a different flavor, however it is completely unnecessary as the dumplings are delicious on their own.
Ways To Steam Without A Steamer
It is always helpful to have the traditional way of cooking something, as it is regularly the most effective way to do it, but most people don’t have a bamboo steamer.
This should not deter you, however, as there are a couple of other ways of cooking dumplings without one:
A circular cooling rack or a steel steamer – These two things are pretty common household items, but if you don’t have one you could try with a rectangular cooling rack, it will just be a lot harder.
These two items can fit inside a large pot, which suits our purpose perfectly.
Place one of them in a pot, add enough water to fill the bottom, but not enough to touch the rack or steamer.
If using the rack, place a ceramic plate on top of the rack before putting some cabbage leaves down and then your dumplings.
Then lightly cover the plate with foil, just so it isn’t directly in the steam, before putting the pot lid on and boiling.
If using a steamer with a cover around the side, place the dumplings in with or without cabbage leaves and place in the pot before putting the lid on and boiling.
Aluminum foil balls – If you don’t have a steamer or small cooling rack, you can make do with aluminum.
Make some tight aluminum balls scrunched together and place them at the bottom of the pot.
The balls need to be able to hold a plate securely and not move in boiling water but be big enough to hold the plate above the water.
Then it is the same procedure as before for the cooking rack section.
Put a plate on top of balls, put down cabbage leaves, dumplings, lightly cover with foil and then lid on top before boiling.
Dumplings are a wonderful treat or meal to have, but the lack of equipment puts people off.
Well, I’m here to say that this should not stop you and with some preparation and patience, you should be able to enjoy dumplings whenever you want.