The Beer Lover's Table: Cheeseburger Dumplings and Drop Project Shifty Shifty DDH NEIPA

This month, I was reminded that cheeseburger dumplings exist. I was spending an evening aimlessly browsing Instagram’s hollow wares, and suddenly, there they were: making an appearance in a post shared by J Kenji López-Alt, a cross-section photo revealing their bellies full of melting cheese and beef fat. It was enough to arrest me mid-scroll.

Cheeseburger dumplings have actually been on my to-cook list for several years, ever since I read about the ones at Mimi Cheng’s in New York City. As others noted in the comments under López-Alt’s post, Chinese restaurants in the US have long made them as a way to appease picky customers. And in my native Philadelphia, a similar concept – the cheese-steak dumpling – is also a fixture on city menus.

It took seeing them in the wild once more to finally take cheeseburger dumplings from back-of-the-brain fantasy to real-life dish, and I’m so glad I did – they are viscerally, animalistically good, the gaminess of the meat enrobed in melting cheese, sweetened with caramelised onions and the crackle of numbing Sichuan peppercorns. It is hard not to pop one in your mouth and let out a reflexive, guttural groan of pleasure, even as the molten cheese scalds your tongue. They taste excellent – and truly, uncannily like Philly cheesesteaks – alone; with some burger sauce on the side, they are smashburger perfection in a new form.

Recently, I had a playful argument with a friend about how to pair New England-style IPAs with food. He thought they were too potent to go with anything; I vehemently disagreed. Alongside bold dishes that have their own sweetness and tropical flavours – like the prawn and mango curry in our cookbook, The Beer Lover’s Table – I find that, despite their relative thickness and sweetness compared to West Coast IPAs, they still have enough oomph and punch to counteract rich, fatty, salty dishes like these dumplings.

Drop Project’s excellent Shifty Shifty DDH NEIPA – a carnival of mango, with a nicely musky pungency, and a whisper of the savoury underneath – was a case in point. I soon lapsed into a blissed-out ritual: swig, pop a dumpling in the mouth, repeat. It was pleasure unfettered and, despite the time that goes into making these  dumplings (this is a weekend-project cooking, no question), I already know I will return to them, and to this pairing, again and again.

Cheeseburger Dumplings
Makes approx. 60 dumplings

For the dumplings:
2 tablespoons olive oil
30g butter
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
500g high-welfare beef
or vegetarian mince
8 slices American cheese (I used Dairylea), finely shredded
5-6 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
Approx. 60 dumpling wrappers
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil

For the burger sauce:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha mayonnaise (substitute with ½ tablespoon sriracha and ½ tablespoon additional mayonnaise)
1 ½ tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard (I suggest French’s)
1 teaspoon pickle brine

1. First, caramelise the onions for the dumpling filling. Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter; once the butter has melted, add the onions. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes, or until softened. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting to avoid scorching the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for roughly 50-60 minutes, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

2. Make the filling. In a large bowl, add the mince, American cheese, spring onions, Sichuan peppercorns (if using), two teaspoons of salt and the reserved caramelised onions. Mix thoroughly, preferably with your hands.

3. Prepare your dumpling-making station: Have the bowl of filling and your dumpling wrappers handy, a small ramekin of water and paper towels to wipe your hands on. To make each dumpling, place a wrapper in your palm and spoon roughly 2-3 tablespoons of filling in the centre, in an oval shape, leaving a margin around the edges. Dip your finger in the water and run around the edge, which will help it seal; fold and pleat in your preferred manner (search online for “24 ways to wrap dumplings” for inspiration). Place the finished dumplings on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and repeat until all the filling is used.

 4. To cook the dumplings, place a large, lidded frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the sesame oil and vegetable oil. Once hot, add a batch of dumplings; I can fit 10-12 in my pan comfortably, without crowding them. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the dumplings are turning golden-brown on the bottom. Add approximately 100ml of water, turn the heat down to low, and place the lid firmly on the pan. Steam undisturbed for 6 minutes.

 5. While the dumplings steam, prepare the burger sauce: add all ingredients to a small bowl, and mix well.

 6. After the 6 minutes are up, remove the lid – the dumplings should look plumped-up and cooked-through. If there is remaining water in the pan, turn the heat up to high, and, swirling the pan, cook it off until just the oil remains. Keep the dumplings in the pan and allow them to re-fry for 2-3 minutes longer, until their bases are once again crisp. Repeat with any remaining batches of dumplings.

 7. To serve, divide the dumplings between plates and serve with small ramekins of burger sauce on the side.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers - like this one - every month.