The Home Chef is a series that uncovers closely guarded recipes of the city’s most notable chefs, so that you, amateur home-cook, can, too, recreate restaurant-grade meals in the comforts of your own kitchen. Makeshift tea-towel aprons at the ready. A dear friend (or furry pup!) appointed as designated taste-tester. Served with a sweet chef’s kiss, naturally. Bon appétit!
Perhaps one of the most nostalgic dishes in Asian cuisine is the dumpling. Meticulously stuffed and wrapped in bite-size packages either steamed, fried or boiled with a filling of your choice. No need for debates with friends on what to order; it’s all up to you! Japan has the gyoza, Korea has its mandu. And in Chinese culture, there’s a whole rainbow range of tasty assortments: The wonton. The xiao long bao. The dim sum stalwart, har gow.
But it’s not the dumpling’s varied spectrum that bestows a beloved status to the humble snack –– though a mere suggestion of a dumpling meal will guarantee approving nods all around. At the heart of it, dumplings are the very consummate example of food as a shared experience. From meals spent huddled around a plate of dumplings with your own personalised soy-vinegar dip, to being in the kitchen faced with a table of dumpling essentials –– marinated minced meat, a ramekin of water, a stack of dumpling skin –– picked accordingly to a precious, passed-down recipe. Then, the most obvious. The precise, step-by-step guide to finessing the very perfect dumpling, recited only by memory and endlessly tweaked and edited through each generation: A measured spoonful of filling, a finger-dip of water to trace the edge of the flour-dusted dough and then, the careful one-two-and-three tuck and fold for that distinct beautiful braided border.
It’s a collective memory shared across the households of many. Including Chilli Fagara’s chef Chan.
“When I was a child, I would wrap and cook them with my family in Chong Qing to celebrate Lunar New Year, and enjoy them together as the clock struck midnight,” Chan recalls. “My father worked as a chef serving Sichuan cuisine for his whole life, so he was the one who taught me how to fold the thin round circles of dough and fill them with our favourite ingredients.”
But while tradition is what has kept these tasty packages alive and popular today, it is chef Chan’s expert knowledge and innovation when making dumplings that has kept the dish exciting.
“There are timeless classics I especially enjoy wrapping and cooking together with my daughter Tracy,” Chan explains, “But I also love creating new variations. The ones at Chilli Fagara are all inspired by my favourite ingredients that I ate growing up in Sichuan.”
These variations include a veggie-friendly version with wood ear mushrooms slathered in peanut sauce, vinegar and the restaurant’s signature spicy numbing chilli oil. More recently, a chilli-infused ice cream chocolate dumpling wrapped within a soft mochi coat was created exclusively for Mid-Autumn.
With over 50 years of culinary experience, chef Chan is expert on knowing which flavours work best. Most times, it’s the simple classics for a true taste of home. “Dumplings are part of our culture here in Hong Kong — they are the ultimate comfort food. Most of us grew up with dumplings being served at the dinner table, prepared by our grandmothers and mothers. There is real nostalgia in every plate of dumplings,” says Chan.
What she says next rings especially true: “There is no such thing as a bad dumpling!”
Chilli Fagara’s Chilli Dumplings
At the Sichuanese spot, it’s the chilli dumplings that drive it home for Chan. In fact, the restaurant currently serves a recipe she grew up eating. “The traditional Pork and Vegetable Dumplings in our Artisanal Chilli Sauce are based on an old family recipe handed down through generations, and have become a true mainstay on our menu,” says Chan. “They truly represent the taste and feeling of home for me.”
But in the name of true tradition, it’s not just dumplings that are handmade here. The chilli oil is, too. A careful balance of hot peppers with the accompanying entourage of tasty condiments, the chilli oil fulfils each flavour subset of the Chilli Fagara concept: Ma (numbing), La (burning) and Tang (neutral). Chef Chan’s fiery condiment is made in a selection of heat levels, but all are perfect partners to her dumplings. “We ensure all ingredients and flavour of our in-house made chilli oil are fresh and fragrant. For me, it’s also essential to use the most aromatic chilli oil with an intense red colour, since in addition to the flavour, texture and freshness, I believe the presentation of each dish is very important,” she finishes.
A friendly tip from chef Chan to fearless home cooks mulling over this recipe in preparation of Sunday night dinner with family: Size matters. “The key to great quality dumplings is using the freshest ingredients and a perfect filling-to-dough ratio,” says Chan. Too little filling? It’ll disappoint with mostly dumpling skin. Too large? Your dumpling skin will burst during cooking, and precious flavours will be lost. So practice for the perfect teaspoon-size scoop and air-tight dumpling skin folds.
Ingredients for Dumplings (Serves 2)
|½ teaspoon||Light soy sauce|
|½ teaspoon||Ginger juice|
|10 dumpling wrappers||Dumpling wrappers|
Ingredients for Chilli Sauce
|1 tablespoon||Chilli Fagara chilli oil|
|½ teaspoon||Minced garlic|
|½ teaspoon||Light soy sauce|
|A dash||Dark soy sauce|
|A pinch||Sichuan peppercorn powder|
|A pinch||Minced green onion|
- Marinate ground pork with light soy sauce and ginger juice and mix well.
- To make dumplings:
- Make a small indent in the middle of the dumpling wrapper and dampen the edges with water.
- Place approximately 1 teaspoon of minced pork filling in the centre of the wrapper.
- Create pleats by carefully gathering and folding the edge. First on one side of the wrapper, then on the other until sealed.
- Prepare a pot of boiling water and cook dumplings at a high heat for around 8 minutes until dumplings float to the surface.
- To make chilli sauce:
- Mix Chilli Fagara chilli oil together with minced garlic and a dash of light soy sauce and dark soy sauce.
- Drizzle sauce over dumplings.
- Garnish with Sichuan peppercorn powder and minced green onion.
Chef Chan’s dumplings are available at for à la carte at HK$98 (Pork & Vegetable Dumplings in Artisanal Chilli Sauce). Vegetarian versions are available too.