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Dumpling Skins (Jiao Zi Pi)

For the dough:
7 cups flour (approximately 2 pounds)
1 3/4 cup water

Measure about 5 1/2 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. Set aside the remaining flour, which will be used to flour your work surface. Using a pair of chopsticks (or wooden spoon), slowly add water, while mixing with the flour.

Knead the dough in the bowl or on a floured work surface until it becomes smooth and elastic, 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should not be sticky (too much water) or dry and crumbly (too little water). If need be, add more water or flour in small (1/4-cup) increments to achieve desired texture. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

To form the wrappers: Break off a sizable chunk of dough and roll between your palms to form a long, thin log, about 1 inch thick in diameter. Break off 1-inch chunks from the "log," then flatten the chunks with the palm of your hand, dusting both sides with flour. With a rolling pin, roll each piece into approximately 3- to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Makes about 90 rounds.

Note: It's hard to beat homemade dumpling skins, but if you're short on time, commercially made frozen ones are available in the Strip District at Lotus Food Co., 1649 Penn Ave., 412-281-2989. After frozen wrappers thaw, use water or egg white to help seal the dumplings when wrapping.

To fill the dumplings: Place about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each wrapper. Fold wrapper in half to form a half-circle. Pinch to seal the top center of the dumpling. To pleat, bring the bottom right corner of the dumpling skin to the center, and pinch to seal. Repeat. Pinch to seal any openings on the right side.

Turn dumpling so that its previously unpleated left corner is now the right corner. Take the right corner up to the center and repeat pleating procedure described above. Pressing with thumb and forefinger, seal the length of the pleated edge one more time.

Place dumplings on floured nonstick baking sheets. Dumplings may be prepared several hours in advance before cooking. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Cooking instructions for boiled dumplings:

In a large stockpot (or pot large enough to hold 45 dumplings), bring 6 quarts of water to boil over high heat. Carefully slide the dumplings from the baking sheet into the boiling water. Stir once to prevent sticking. As soon as the water returns to a boil, add 1 cup of cold water. When the water boils again, add another 1 cup of cold water. Repeat two more times. Turn off the heat.

Gently remove dumpling with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Transfer dumplings to a platter and serve immediately with preferred dipping sauce.

Reheating boiled dumplings: Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet. Pan-fry dumplings, covered, over medium-low heat until heated through, or bottoms are lightly browned.

Cooking instructions for pan-fried dumplings (guo tie):

Heat a 9- or 10-inch nonstick skillet until hot. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, tilting pan to spread evenly. Cook dumplings in batches of approximately 20. Arrange dumplings in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd. Add 1/2 cup of cold water, cover, and cook over high heat for approximately 2 minutes to sear bottoms. Check to see if bottoms are slightly browned. If all the water has evaporated, add a little more to the pan, cover and cook over medium-low heat 10 to 12 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. Gently loosen dumplings with a spatula to check whether the bottoms are golden brown. If not, pan-fry, uncovered, until bottoms are crisp and browned. Transfer to a platter, and serve immediately.

Combine two or three of the following, and serve as a dipping sauce: hot chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar (distilled white, black Chinese or rice wine) and minced garlic or scallions.

Thomas Kuo of North Hills

Sunday, April 09, 2000

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