If we played by the rules, we'd have a dumpling party in February, when families and friends traditionally gather to wrap, boil and devour dumplings as they ring in the Chinese New Year. But we're going to follow the lead of the Cheng sisters, Hannah and Marian, who grew up partying with dumplings all year long.
A few weeks ago, the sisters opened Mimi Cheng's, a bright, whitewashed restaurant in NYC's East Village with a tiny menu (three savory dumplings, one sweet)—and a line out the door. They named the shop after their mother, who always stocked the family's freezer with her dumplings if she was going out of town, carried dumpling-packed coolers to the girls in college and threw countless impromptu dumpling-making parties.
"Of course, we always knew which ones we'd folded versus which ones our mom had folded," Hannah explains, "because ours would look all janky." Not anymore. The sisters are now expert wrappers (and pan-fryers). Sitting side by side on a picnic bench, chatting and waving to passersby on Second Avenue, they nimbly fold the kind of even, elegant pleats you'd see on a fancy school uniform.
Once pan-fried, the pudgy little dumplings are almost translucent. Soft and steamed at the top, crisp and deeply golden on the bottom. The pork and cabbage filling is hot, sweet and juicy, seasoned with scallions and ginger. Sound like something you'd like to master?
Don't be intimidated: To throw your own dumpling party at home, make a couple of fillings, like our delicious pork and chive (see the recipe), and chopped shrimp delicately flavored with lemongrass (see the recipe), and buy some good quality wrappers—the Cheng sisters favor super-thin, fresh rounds from Twin Marquis, a Brooklyn-based company that sells all over the country.
At the restaurant, the Chengs serve their mother's top-secret dipping sauce, a dark vinegary mixture with a silky texture, but a simple combination of half a cup of soy sauce, half a cup of black vinegar, a tablespoon of sesame oil and two teaspoons of toasted white sesame seeds also does the trick.
Now, invite over your friends and remember that wrapping is thirsty work. Set up a table with plenty of cold beer (we like Evil Twin's Bikini Beer) to fuel your pals, in addition to the fillings, some spoons, a few bowls of water for sealing wrappers and paper-lined sheet trays for the finished dumplings.
An assembly line might sound efficient, but this is about being social, enjoying each other's company, taking your time. So don't worry too much about speed. Get everyone to make dumplings from start to finish and cook them in small batches, so you can eat them all together, hot and crisp, the second they're out of the pan.
Even the janky ones will taste great.