As a life-long student of China and a former 4-year resident of Beijing, I like dumplings for New Year, both Western and lunar. We know them here on the menus as "boiled dumplings", but what I'm really talking about are jiaozi (??), which, if I'm not mistaken, translates to English as "lengthy, drawn-out pain in the ass."
I decided to exacerbate the lengthiness of the dumpling-making process by making my own dough and filling it with braised oxtail, a 9-hour process in and of itself. Ambition seems so much less daunting when it's basically inconsequential. Funny that.
Unbleached all-purpose flour
The Oxtail Filling
Virgin coconut oil
Onions, one red and one white
Cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Decent red wine
In This Recipe
First, the filling: now's the time to break out your heaviest dutch oven. Big ol' pot. Start by seasoning your oxtail with salt and pepper and then searing it on high heat in the coconut oil; make sure to get a nice brown crust on each piece. Set the pieces aside.
Roughly chop the onions and toss them and the tomatoes into the hot dutch oven, keeping the heat on high. Let them fry up and brown until they have sweated and developed some color, about 5 minutes.
Throw the tomato paste, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice into the pot; allow all the liquid to evaporate. Once the liquid is gone and the vegetables are nicely glazed, do the same with the wine.
Once the liquid in the pot is viscous and syrupy (10-12 minutes), add the garlic, milk and a bit more salt and pepper. Place the oxtails back into the pot, then add water until the meat is covered completely. Bring the liquid to a boil then turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot.
5 hours later, lift the lid and survey the scene. You should be easily able to fish out the bones by this point, but if not, simply let it cook a bit longer until you can. Once you have fished out the bones, let the tail cook uncovered until the liquid is thickened and no longer covering the meat, about another hour or 2. Taste it, check the seasoning then adjust accordingly. Then off with the heat, on with the lid and shove it into the fridge until you're ready to make the dumplings. You will need to refrigerate the filling for at least 8 hours before making the dumplings!
Now for the dough: Put the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Aim to evenly moisten the flour. It is okay to pause to stir or add water—it is hard to simultaneously do both actions. When all the water has been added, you will have lots of lumpy bits. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add water by the teaspoon.
Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 2-3 minutes. The result should be smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. Set aside to rest at room temperature for 90 minutes.
After the dough is made and rested properly, get yourself set up on a nice big work surface with lots of room to spread out and to put your dumplings once you're finished wrapping them. Bust that oxtail out of the fridge and behold all that solidified fatty tastiness. I didn't really stir it before I started in on the process so that each dumpling would have its own unique concentration of elements.
Dust your work surface and your rolling pin with flour. Take a chunk of the dough, roll it into a "snake" and cut that snake into equal pieces sized according to how big you would like your finished dumplings to be. Chances are you'll probably have to experiment a bit before you settle on the perfect size. Roll each piece of the "snake" into a flat disk. When you think it's thin enough, roll it a bit thinner, then place a small spoonful of the oxtail in the center. Dontchya dare overfill that little %$#$! You DO NOT want that savory beef fat leaking out into the boiling water and negating your entire previous day of cooking.
I choose simplicity when it came to the folding part. I simply fold the disk in half and seal. Voilà. I know my limits.
Boil a large stock pot full of water and add the dumplings in small batches of 8 to cook for 5-6 minutes. Serve'em right away on big platters in the middle of the table. I leave the dipping sauce to you.