Friday, February 8, 2013

Chinese New Year Dumplings: A Culinary Celebration

Many countries have traditional festivals and China, with its long history, is no exception. With Chinese New Year just around the corner, what better way to usher in Year of the Snake than by sampling the culinary delights of this east Asian nation. Given the importance of food in Chinese culture, it's not surprising that dishes imbued with special symbolism play such a major role in New Year celebrations, with 'lucky' foods such as noodles, which represent a long life; spring rolls symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to gold bars; Peking duck symbolizes fidelity; fish symbolizes wish and abundance; and dumplings signify family reunion. Fun to eat, surprisingly uncomplicated to prepare and mouth-wateringly delicious, what better place to ring in Chinese New Year than celebrating with dim sum and dumplings at Pearl Harbourfront.

Pearl Harbourfront is tucked away on the second floor of Queens Quay Terminal

Tucked away on the second floor of Queens Quay Terminal, the light filled 6,000-square foot interior of blonde woods, cream-hued walls and floor-to-ceiling windows provide a simple yet sophisticated backdrop for enjoying steaming baskets of Har Kau, Siu Mai and delectable dumplings, or jiaozi. People in northern China typically eat jiaozi on New Year's Eve, because the word means 'bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new' in Chinese. Dumplings are generally made before midnight and eaten during the last hour of the old year and the first hour of the Lunar New Year, for is there anything more satisfying than a well-made Asian dumpling?

Pearl Harbourfront menu with selection of dim sum

The essential cup of hot green tea

And for others, the essential Tsingtao beer

Pearl Harbourfront offers many kinds of Jiaozi, which can be divided into various types depending on how they're cooked: Boiled dumplings, Shuijiao, literally means 'water dumpling'; steamed dumplings, Zhengjiao; and pan fried dumplings, Guotie, which are more familiarly known as potstickers in North America, or Gyōza in Japan. Traditional fillings include pork, beef, chicken, fish and shrimp, which are usually mixed with chopped vegetables such as cabbage, spring onions, leek and garlic chives, and at Pearl are often served with soy sauce-based dipping sauces and little dishes of hot mustard and chile sauce.

Pan fried dumpling with shrimp and onion a.k.a. 'the hockey puck'

Pearl's delicious steamed scallop dumpling

Siu Mai - steamed pork dumpling

Har Kau - steamed shrimp dumpling

Fried Crispy Shrimp Rolls

Steamed Spinach Dumplings

Fried Shrimp Toasts

Shrimp Cheung Foon

Pan Fried Chicken Dumpling

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf

Crispy Spring Rolls

Steamed Peanut Dumplings

With Chinese New Year celebrations starting this Sunday, what better way to usher in the Year of the Snake than by trying this recipe for Shrimp, Pork and Mushroom Shuijiao. Put a coin inside one of the dumplings and the person who gets the coin will be the luckiest one in the coming year!

Shrimp, Pork and Mushroom Shuijiao
Serves 4-6
Recipe and photo courtesy RasaMalaysia

Dumpling Filling:
1 small wood ear mushroom
6 oz ground pork
4 oz shelled and deveined raw shrimp, cut into small pieces
2 canned water chestnuts, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped green onion, plus more for garnish
20 round wonton wrappers

1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp Chinese Shaoxing rice wine 
1/2 tsp sesame oil
3/4 tsp chicken bouillon powder
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1/8 tsp white pepper
Salt, to taste

Soak the wood ear mushroom in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes, then cut into thin strips.

Make the filling by combining the wood ear mushroom, ground pork, shrimp, water chestnuts, green onion, ginger, and all the seasoning ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. This will firm up the filling and make it easier to make the dumplings. 

To assemble the dumplings, place a wrapper on the palm of your hand and spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into the middle, being careful not to overfill. Dip your index finger into a small bowl of water and dab around the outer edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the dumpling over into a little half-moon shape and finish by pressing the edges together with your thumb and index finger to ensure that the dumpling is sealed tightly and there's no leakage. There should be no air bubbles as they'll cause the dumpling to rupture when you boil them. Repeat for all of the remaining wrappers and filling, placing them on a floured surface or baking sheet as they're completed and covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from becoming dry and brittle.

Bring a pot of water to boil, then gently transfer the dumplings into the boiling water in batches, and cook until they float to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain the excess water, and cover them to prevent them from becoming dry.

Bring the chicken broth and water to boil in a large pot. Add the white pepper and salt to taste. To serve, transfer 3 to 4 dumplings into a decorative bowl, top with some warm broth and garnish with chopped green onion. Serve immediately.

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