Fiery. Simple. Delicious. That’s the winning combo that makes these Sichuan pork dumplings rewarding. Filled with full-flavored, coarsely ground pork, and coated in a seriously fiery, high-umami sauce, they’re grand for a spicily satisfying lunch or supper.
I’ve come to think of these dumplings in much the same way I consider soft-boiled eggs with hot, buttered toast – simply delicious. And, in the often daunting, complicated-looking world of Chinese dumpling-making, I’d rank these in the how-to-boil-an-egg class of difficulty.
So, if you’ve never made dumplings in the dim sum style before, these are a great, confidence-boosting way to make a really successful start.
Deliciously typical of Sichuan cuisine
When it comes to Chinese cooking, my little bits of knowledge come almost entirely from Ken Hom. Over 40 years ago, he began introducing Asian cuisine to an entire generation of home cooks who loved the food but knew pretty much zero about how to cook it.
Even today, one of his early books, ‘Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery’ is still regarded by the great and the good of the culinary arts as one of the absolutely must-have cookbooks.
Ken Hom's Chinese Cookery is chock-full of easy-to-prep recipes that stay true to the flavors that make Chinese cooking so delicious.
As for the cuisine of Sichuan, here’s what he says about it: “Sichuan’s robust recipes are famous in terms of taste, textures, colors, and aromas.”
Well, our dumplings and their traditional red chili oil sauce certainly tick all those boxes – big time.
The dumplings are filled with a straightforward but intensely savory mix of nicely fatted, coarsely ground Boston butt, (a.k.a. pork neck/shoulder), plenty of finely sliced spring onion, ground Sichuan peppercorns, grated ginger, Shaoxing wine, and a little sesame oil.
You’ll find that those flavors each keep their own identity really well, and there are two reasons why they do that.
First, the filling’s variety of distinctive tastes is completely sealed within a very thin, protective pastry shell – a classic wonton wrapper.
Second, the cooking time is really short, just a matter of minutes in a big pan of barely boiling water. That’s all it takes to cook the pork so that it retains all its juiciness, to slightly soften the spring onion, and to infuse the pork with the warmth of ginger, the smokiness of sesame oil, the slight astringency of Shaoxing wine, and the unique, slightly numbing, peppery-warm, salty-citrus hit of those Sichuan peppercorns.
Unique? With a numbing, warming, peppery hit of salty citrus? Yep. That’s the very unusual, hard-to-pin-down taste profile that makes these so-called peppercorns unique. Combine them with chili peppers and you get something which is known in Chinese as málà – numbing and spicy. And málà is very much a defining feature of Sichuan cuisine.
And then there’s the dumpling’s essential chili oil sauce
This is salty, spicy, aromatic, tingly, garlicky, sharp, and caramelly sweet. Those fine characteristics come from light and dark soy sauce, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, rice vinegar, plenty of garlic, and some dark brown sugar. But, delectable as those lovely ingredients all are, they’re really only here in a supporting role.
The fiery star in this sauce is Chinese chili oil, super-charged with fresh, finely mashed Thai bird’s eye chilies. And that doesn’t even take those fresh serranos used as garnish into the equation. To put it mildly, this sauce is hot – capital ‘H’ hot.
Poured generously and piping hot over the cooked dumplings, the effect is shockingly delicious and astonishingly satisfying. The immediate, umami-packed scorch of the sauce is in startling, eye-widening contrast to the dumplings’ silky, mildly wheaten-flavored wrappers and the rich, porky savoriness of the filling.
One fold, two seams, done.
To keep things ultra-simple, I used square, store-bought, wonton wrappers / skins. Now, to make these dumplings in a possibly more authentic Sichuan-style, you could use circular wonton wrappers to seal the fillings inside a plump crescent-shaped shell with delicately pleated edges.
But square wrappers make things easier and quicker. Put some filling in the wrapper’s centre, wet its edges with water, and fold the wrapper over the filling to form a triangle. Pinch the two open seams together to seal them shut and you’re done – in way under 60 seconds.
Finishing touches. Curly, green scallion leaves, sliced green serrano peppers
These are optional, but I do like how fine they look scattered over the sauced dumplings. Apart from that, I’m also won over by the sweetly mild, oniony crunch of the scallion leaves, and the crisply fresh, fairly gentle, fruity heat of those thinly sliced serranos.
It’s up to you, but I reckon these dumplings definitely deserve them.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Steamed Shrimp Dumplings With Fiery Dipping Sauce: Another exceptional dumplings recipe.
- Daltjie Chili Bites: This spicy appetizer may not look like much, but trust us – they explode with flavor.
- Japanese Quinoa Soup Bowls: Full of exotic tastes. This soup makes a terrific meal on its own.
Sichuan Pork Dumplings in Red Chili Oil Sauce
For the dumplings’ wrappers
- 24 wonton wrappers Store-bought is just fine. The ones I used were 3 ½ inches / 9 cms square, and came in a frozen pack of 50. Store-bought is just dandy, but do bear in mind that they take about 2 hours to defrost at room temperature – and that’s exactly how you should defrost them – slowly, at room temperature.
- 1 tablespoon flour for dusting your dumpling-making work surface
- 2 tablespoons cold water in a little bowl – for wetting the wrappers’ edges just before you seal them shut
For the dumplings’ filling
- 12 ounces Boston butt whole then coarsely ground. Pork neck works too. I chopped the pork into a rough 1/3-inch dice and then gave it a few pulsing blitzes in the food processor.
- 8 spring onions or scallions, white and palest green parts thinly sliced into little disks. Keep the crispest green leaves for slicing into long thin strips for garnish.
- 1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns finely ground in a pestle and mortar
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 teaspoons plain cold-pressed sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
For the chili oil sauce
- 8 fresh red Thai bird’s eye chilies finely diced, seeds and all, and then mashed to a pulp in a pestle and mortar. The ones I used were each about 2 inches long.
- 4 tablespoons Chinese chili oil store-bought. The bottled variety from Lee Kum Kee does the trick for me.
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar I used Muscovado but Demerara is just fine.
- 1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns finely ground in a pestle and mortar
- 2 star anise whole then lightly crushed
- 1 stick cinnamon lightly crushed. The stick I used was about 2 inches long.
- 2 heaped tablespoons fresh ginger root grated skin and all
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and very thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons water
For the garnish
- 2 green serrano peppers sliced into 1/8-inch disks, seeds and all.
- 6 green scallion leaves or spring onion leaves. Slice these into long strips about 1/8-inch wide and drop them into a little bowl of cold water. That’ll make the strips curl up into pretty spirals.
Making the chili oil sauce
- I’d start with this so that its flavors have a little time to meld together while you make the filling and prep the dumplings.
- So, in a saucepan large enough to easily hold all the sauce’s ingredients, stir together the two soy sauces, rice vinegar, brown sugar, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and water.
- Set your pan on a medium-high heat, so it slowly comes up to a very gentle boil. As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low and let the pan just barely simmer with a few stirs for 15 minutes. Slow-and-low, you’re aiming here to pull the flavors out of the peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic. So, watch the heat to be sure you keep the pan at a gently rolling simmer during those 15 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and strain it through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl. Discard the solids caught in the sieve and return the strained, still-hot sauce to its pan.
- Now add the mashed bird’s eye chilies and Chinese chili oil to the sauce and give the lot a good stir. The pan can now sit until you’re ready to heat it ready for serving as soon as your dumplings are all cooked.
Making the dumplings’ filling
- In a good size mixing bowl, steadily stir all the ingredients together until you get slightly chunky. paste-like mix. This will take a couple of minutes of steady and slow stirring so that all the ingredients – especially the water and sesame oil – are combined into a glistening mixture that holds itself together. That’s it. You’re now all set to form your dumplings.
Making the dumplings
- Dust the flour lightly over your work surface – this will help stop any of the wrappers sticking to the surface.
- Slice open your pack of defrosted wrappers so that you can peel them off the pile one at a time.
- Set a wrapper onto your floured surface and spoon 2 heaped teaspoons of filling into the middle of the wrapper. Use your fingers to form the filling into an oval-shaped mound that runs diagonally across the center of the wrapper, leaving a ½-inch space at either end of the oval.
- Use a fingertip to lightly wet a ¼-inch strip around the wrapper’s sides. You’re now ready to fold and seal your dumpling.
- Fold the wrapper over the top of the filling, so you form a triangle – with the filling sitting at its base. Now, with the filled wrapper still sitting flat on your work surface, use your fingertips to gently press the two open sides together and seal the dumpling shut. Good. Almost done.
- You now want to make sure that those two sides really are sealed shut. So, pick up the dumpling and cup it in the palm of one hand so you can give the seams a little extra pinching together with your free hand’s thumb and forefinger.
- Set your now tightly sealed dumpling on your platter under the damp cloth, and move on to the next one.
Cooking the dumplings
- You’ll need a big saucepan for this so you can cook the dumplings in as few batches as possible. Each batch should consist of as many dumplings as will fit in a single layer in the bottom of your big pan.
- Ok. Fill the pan two-thirds full of water and bring it to a good rolling boil over high heat. Now drop the heat to low so the water is running at a steadily rolling simmer.
- Use a slotted spoon to lower each dumpling in your first batch into that simmering water. The dumplings will drop the water’s temperature a little, but it’ll come back up to that rolling simmer in a minute or two. As soon as it does, let the dumplings cook for another three minutes – done.
- Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and set them aside on a warmed plate. Don’t worry too much about draining them off completely through the slotted spoon; any excess water will help keep them warm on the plate – and stop them from sticking to it – while you cook the next batches.
Serving your Sichuan Pork Dumplings in Red Chili Oil Sauce
- First thing to do is to heat the sauce. So, set its pan on high heat, bring it to a boil, give it all a good stir, and turn off the heat.
- Now place six dumplings in each diner’s nicely warmed bowl – I used big soup bowls. Pour a quarter of the piping hot red chili oil sauce over the top of the dumplings.
- Sprinkle the garnishing curly scallion / spring onion leaves over the top, together with a few slices of the serrano peppers. Serve at once.