The Beer Lover's Table: Orbit Nico Köln-Style Lager and Spiced Chinese Dumplings

Chinese dumplings and lager: they go together like milk and cookies. Preferably a lager that’s effervescent, not too boozy, with a finishing bite of bitterness: just the thing to cut through the dumplings’ oiliness, and to counterbalance all that salt. And while your local Chinese restaurant’s go-to might be Tsingtao, you can do one better with something carefully crafted and made a little closer to home. Orbit Nico, for instance, which washes down these dumplings like a dream.

Technically, this beer might not be the best illustration of lager’s Chinese food affinity. Described by the brewery as a “Köln-style lager” – it can’t call itself a Kölsch, thanks to the style’s geographical indication – this funny hybrid of a brew straddles the lager-ale divide. While it undergoes a period of cold storage that typifies lager production, it’s made with top-fermenting ale yeast.

Stylistic quibbles aside: what you need to know is that lager-like Orbit Nico is mighty drinkable, with a nice twang of lemon, a touch of grassiness, and a pleasingly dry finish. Time to get cooking.

I know what you’re thinking: homemade dumplings? Nah, that’s what takeaway’s for. But bear with me here: making these is no more complicated than turning out a batch of said cookies. The filling, a fragrant mixture of lamb, pork, soy sauce, ginger, and a generous amount of spices, takes only minutes to prep. And thanks to the totally legit option of pre-made dumpling skins – you might also find these sold at Asian grocery stores as “wonton wrappers” or “gyoza wrappers” – a few quick folds and you’ve got the perfect little meat parcel ready to go.

Pro-tip: you’ve made a whole batch, chuck ’em in the freezer and have dumplings and lager whenever you want them – no delivery fee required.

Spiced Chinese Dumplings
Yields 56 dumplings

250g minced lamb
250g minced pork
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 bunches garlic chives or spring onions, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 tsp soy sauce
5 tsp sesame oil
1 56-piece packet dumpling wrappers
To serve: additional soy sauce, Chinkiang black vinegar, Sriracha

To a large bowl, add the lamb and pork followed by the ginger, garlic chives, eggs, salt, sugar, rice wine, spices, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix until all ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture is uniform. It should be fragrant and quite wet.

Before you fold your dumplings, prepare a small bowl of water and a clean cutting board or other work surface (and don’t forget to keep a good amount of kitchen roll nearby). Lay your first dumpling skin flat on the work surface and fill with roughly 1 ½–2 teaspoons of filling. It’s better to err on the side of less filling, as over-filling your dumplings may cause them to leak when cooking.

Wet your finger in the bowl of water and run around the circumference of the dumpling wrapper to moisten. Fold your dumpling in half so it’s a half-moon shape and lightly seal the seam. Now, beginning from one end, pinch and fold over so you make a small pleat. Continue until the entire edge of the dumpling is pleated, which ensures that it is well sealed (and looks pretty, besides). Continue until all your dumplings have been made.

While you could boil or steam your dumplings, my favourite cooking method is a combination of pan frying and steaming, which makes for juicy insides and a nicely crisp, browned bottom. In a small, non-stick frying pan (the non-stick part is important here!) add approximately 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and a wee splash of vegetable oil. Heat until oil mixture is hot. Add dumplings (8 is a good number for one portion) and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until bottoms have browned.

Now, pour in just enough water to come roughly halfway up the sides of the dumplings. Cover and cook for approximately five minutes, until dumplings have swelled and are tender. Remove the lid and, if water remains, swirl the pan gently until it evaporates. I like to leave the dumplings in the pan with the residual oil for an extra minute or two here, so their bottoms get crisped up again.

To serve, prepare a small dish of one part soy sauce to one part Chinkiang black vinegar for dumpling dunking. And don’t forget the Sriracha!

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen.