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Welcome to Make/Buy/Zhuzh, a series where we plan a dinner party with three components: one thing you make from scratch, one thing you buy straight off the shelf, and one thing you accessorize to completion.
I’m a big fan of an impromptu weeknight dinner party, and my hack to hosting on the fly is to keep a stash of dumplings in my freezer. As a chef, friends often think that every meal I make is extravagantly prepared from scratch. But I like shortcuts as much as the next home cook, and I’ve culled together a few strategies that make a dumpling-centric meal fun and unfussy while retaining those scratch-made vibes that make guests feel special.
To pull off such a feat, I always serve a mix of store-bought and easy homemade dumplings alongside a bevy of condiments like sweet and sour sauce and a good quality bottle of tamari. Let's be honest: condiments make life worth living. Whether homemade or zhuzhed up from a bag in the freezer, every dumpling is like its own tiny, wrapped food gift — and dumpling night is an easy way to spoil my guests.
Make: Crab Rangoons
Crab rangoons are the viral TikTok sensation that I can’t get out of my head. If you’re tackling homemade dumplings for the first time, these make handy gateway dumplings. They require a very short list of ingredients and come together quickly.
Start with store-bought wonton wrappers, and then quickly whip up a cream-cheese–based filling before filling the wrappers and sealing them shut. These dumplings can be deep-fried or air-fired in just a few minutes. It’s hard to beat the textural satisfaction of their crackly shelled exterior and creamy filling. Fun fact: Most crab rangoons are made with imitation crab, and some are filled with just cream cheese. The good news is that this recipe works with real crab, imitation crab, or no crab at all, so you can always play to your party’s preferences. Here’s how it’s done:
Serving size: 6-8
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (8 oz) crab meat or imitation crab meat, finely chopped (optional)
2 scallions, finely chopped
1½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 package square wonton wrappers, about 40
4 cups neutral oil, for frying
Sweet and sour sauce or duck sauce, for dipping
Mix together the cream cheese, crab meat (if using), scallions, Worcestershire, and garlic powder. The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance.
Place 2 teaspoons of the cream cheese filling into a wonton wrapper. Dab the edges of the wrapper with water, and then bring the four corners of the wrapper up towards the center, pressing the edges of the dough together and folding it into an “X” shape at the top. Make sure all edges are firmly pinched closed. Alternatively, you can form the rangoons into triangular shapes by folding one corner of the dough towards the opposite corner, and pressing the edges firmly together. Transfer the dumplings to a lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a lightly damp towel so they do not dry out as you prepare to fry them. Repeat until all dumplings are filled; you should have about 35-40 dumplings.
To deep fry: Add the oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium until the oil reaches 350°F. Fry the wontons 4-6 at a time in batches until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the crab rangoon onto a paper towel–lined plate to drain off any excess oil.
To air fry: Preheat the air fryer to 350°F. Spray the air fryer basket with oil, then add the rangoons in a single layer with a little room between each rangoon (you will need to air fry in batches). Spray the tops with oil, and air fry each batch of rangoons for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Serve hot with dipping sauce of your choice.
Buy: Soup Dumplings
Soup dumplings are a two-course meal wrapped up in one tidy package. There’s nothing quite like piercing soft dumpling dough and slurping up flavorful broth before biting into a meaty filling. Even as an experienced cook, there are some dishes I prefer to leave to the experts, and soup dumplings fall squarely into that category. The process of encasing liquid in dough does not involve actual sorcery, but it does require a ton of labor, like making a congealed bone broth for the filling that melts when it's heated.
Fortunately, frozen dumpling manufacturers have done all the work for us. Soup dumplings have become so popular you can now easily find high-quality options at many local grocery stores. Serve your steaming store-bought dumplings with some good soy sauce and black vinegar for dipping, and watch as your guests delight in one of life’s great food joys.
Zhuzh: Crispy Skirt Potstickers
Have you ever bravely faced a plate of sad wrinkly microwaved potstickers? There’s a solution to elevating your frozen potstickers at home: Pan fry them with a flour slurry and you end up with a “crispy skirt” — a latticed web of golden brown crust that connects the dumplings and adds crunch to each bite.
To make these restaurant-style potstickers, all you need are a frozen bag of dumplings and a few pantry staples. Start by heating a 12” nonstick pan with a good glug of neutral oil over medium heat. Add 10-12 potstickers to the pan, arrange them so there’s a tiny bit of room between each dumpling, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
While that’s happening, whisk together a tablespoon of flour with a tablespoon of cornstarch, and combine that with a half cup of water. Stir until it forms a slurry and pour the liquid into the pan. Cover your dumplings with a lid, and let everything steam until the water has mostly evaporated and the dumplings look translucent, about 5 minutes.
Open the lid, and continue to cook until all the moisture evaporates and the skirt is golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. You know it’s done when the skirt easily lifts off the pan at the edges.
Turn off the heat and get ready for the last dramatic step: Carefully take a plate larger than the skillet, place it over the top, and flip the pan over so the lacy skirt is now on top. Bring the plate proudly to the table and let your guests break into its shell (like creme brûlée!). Yes, it’s satisfying, but it's also so tasty that no one will guess that the dumplings came out of the freezer.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Stylist: Mary Rupp
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros