Andrew Zimmern's Texture Tip For Perfect Dumplings

Chef, TV personality, and author Andrew Zimmern is known for his affinity for Chinese cuisine, and he uses that knowledge to share a helpful tip for creating the perfect dumplings. Shared with fellow television chef Rachael Ray, Zimmern says that one cruciferous vegetable is crucial to making delectable dumplings: cabbage. He reveals that to achieve a good texture the cabbage should be "steamed, cooled, squeeze-dried, and very well minced" before being mixed in with other ingredients (per Rachael Ray).

Napa cabbage, the base for everything from kimchi to Osaka-style okonomiyaki, is a great choice for any dumpling filling. This leafy vegetable has a crinkly appearance, soft texture, and mild flavor. Plus, it has a higher water content than other cabbages, which will leave your stuffing naturally moist.

To follow Zimmern's advice for making perfect dumplings, simply roughly chop the Napa cabbage and steam until it's wilted — about five minutes. This can be achieved through a quick zap in the microwave with a splash of water or in a steamer basket on the stovetop. Once it has cooled, give the cabbage a thorough squeeze to remove excess water before cutting it into a very fine mince.

Fat is also key to a tasty filling

Traditional filling typically consists of vegetables, meat, and aromatics. In Andrew Zimmern's ideal dumpling, the main vegetable is obviously cabbage, but your filling's meat choice is just as important as the veggies.

Dumplings commonly use fattier meat, such as ground pork with 20% fat, to keep the filling juicy. If this mixture is overworked with warm hands or near a hot stovetop, the fat can seep out and leave you high and dry. Zimmern's advice for preventing this is to mix some crushed ice in to emulsify the fat. If you don't have finely crushed ice, you can also nestle your mixing bowl into a larger bowl of ice water. This will keep your dumpling filling chilled while you mix, preventing the fat from escaping.

If you're using leaner meat, such as turkey or chicken, consider boosting the fat content with a spoonful of beef tallow or chicken fat (schmaltz). For those cooking a vegetarian version, a dab of refined coconut oil is the way to go. Since it's solid when cold, it will adhere to the filling better than other vegetarian options such as canola or sesame oil, which could leak out. 

Unflavored gelatin set in a seasoned broth can also add moisture. This technique is used to create soup dumplings because the gelatin melts during cooking and releases the broth inside of the wrapper. Adding just a few spoonfuls to your filling can result in a deliciously juicy bite.

Wow-worthy wrapping tips

The final tip for excellent dumplings is to not go overboard with the filling. "Underfill everything. That's the secret to wrapped foods," says Andrew Zimmern (via Rachael Ray). When stuffing the dumplings, use a rounded measuring spoon (either a teaspoon or tablespoon depending on wrapper size) to ensure a uniform amount of filling. This will help with consistency across all the dumplings.

Cooking the fresh ingredients, like vegetables, before stuffing is essential to avoid a soggy dumpling. Following Zimmern's technique of steaming, wringing, and then chopping the cabbage removes any excess water that would end up ruining your wrapper's texture after cooking. This extra step can also be used to caramelize aromatics, like onions or garlic, that benefit from a few minutes of cooking.

You can mix up homemade dumpling dough or use store-bought wrappers. If you go with the latter, you can choose between thin, medium, or thick dumpling wrappers. Large and thick dumpling wrappers are easiest to fold for beginners but may add some cooking time if your recipe calls for a thinner variety.

Dumplings will dry out quickly, and this can lead to cracking that causes your filling to spill out during cooking. You can either only make a few dumplings at a time before cooking or store them in a container covered by a damp cloth while you create the rest. This is easiest if you set up an assembly line of friends and family, turning this meal into a true dumpling party.