Friday, April 19, 2013

Dumplings

On one of the final episodes of that Food Network classic, "Worst Cooks in America," the worstcooktestants are tasked with making dumplings - Chinese siu mai and wontons and Japanese gyoza. As I was watching, I thought to myself, "if those mostly-incompetent people can make an edible dumpling, a mostly competent person like me can, too!" Honestly, they made it look very easy, right down to the little pleats on the gyoza.

Gyoza, or jaiozi, in Chinese, has been my family's favorite Chinese restaurant appetizer forever. No Chinese meal was complete without them. And they had to be fried. Potstickers, they're called. One can, of course, steam them, but my favorite part of the dumpling is the crisp bottom part of the wrapper. Mmm.

I recall making jaiozi with a friend some years ago, and it seemed like a huge production. She had made the filling in advance, so it was the dumpling-forming and cooking that were intimidating to me at the time. But now that I look back, vaguely remembering that she insisted on boiling them in a large pot of water before frying, I see that we made them incorrectly. Especially since many of them fell apart before they even made it to our mouths.

I think she was mostly paranoid about using raw ground pork in the filling, but she needn't have been.

A quick online search brought up myriad variations on that filling. Some used cabbage, some didn't. Some added shrimp. Bobby Flay's recipe (found in his Throwdown cookbook) called for hoisin, chile paste, 5-spice powder and allspice. No wonder he lost. I decided to go with a more simple combination of ingredients: ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions. I did borrow an ingredient from Chef Flay's dipping sauce: black vinegar. The result was interesting, but the slightly molasses-y flavor of the vinegar was a bit overpowering. Much better was a more traditional sauce made with soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and scallions. I've supplied the recipe for both; you may decide you like the vinegar sauce. Flay uses hoisin (and a thousand other ingredients) in his, in place of the sugar and soy, which may work better than my substitutions if you don't mind a thicker sauce.

In any case, dumpling making was much simpler than expected. The round wrappers are pre-made and sold in 12- or 16-oz packages at your neighborhood Asian grocer. If you can only find square won ton wrappers, you can cut them with a large round cookie cutter.

Potstickers

1.5 lb ground pork
1 T chopped scallions
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 t chopped garlic
1 t finely minced cilantro
salt
1 16-oz package round dumpling wrappers
oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, plus a generous pinch of salt. You can taste for seasoning by cooking a bit of the meat in a little hot oil. Remember that the dipping sauces contain soy and will be salty, so don't overdo it.

Prepare your area for dumpling assembly: have a clean cookie sheet or two covered with parchment, a Silpat, or a clean tea towel nearby, plus a small ramekin of water, the bowl of filling, and a teaspoon.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place it into your left palm (right, if you're left-handed). Dip a finger in the water and use it to moisten the edge all the way around. Use the spoon to place a blob of meat into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper into a semi-circle. If there's too much meat, take some out at this point. Pinch the middle edges of the dumpling together and then make a pleat to one side of the middle using only the side of the wrapper facing you. (In other words, the dumpling is pleated only on one face.) Add another pleat or two (if they fit) to that end, then repeat the pleats on the opposite end of center. Gently squeeze the edge of the wrapper to make sure it's closed and that there are no air bubbles, and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all wrappers and/or meat are gone.

(For a visual aid to pleating dumplings, check out this video of Chef Anita Lo doing just that. Dumpling making starts at about the 2 minute mark. Before that time, she demonstrates making the dumpling wrappers themselves. She's a bit fancy; I found it easier to pinch the wrapper closed in the middle and make 2 or 3 pleats on either side.)

To cook dumplings: Add a tablespoon or so of neutral cooking oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add a layer of dumplings. You can fill the pan, but don't crowd it; the dumplings should not overlap. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a nice golden brown. If the pan seems to be getting too hot, turn the heat down a bit. Once the dumplings are brown - don't turn them! - add a quarter cup or so of water (more or less, depending on the size of your pan and number of dumplings). Cover the pan and cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the dumplings should be shiny and somewhat translucent on the top (non-browned) side. If you're concerned about the pork being cooked, cut a dumpling in half and check. If they're not cooked, add a few tablespoons more water, cover the pan, and cook until additional water has evaporated.

Remove cooked dumplings to a plate and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 1

3 T black vinegar
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T light soy
1 T light brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

Dipping Sauce 2

2 T light soy
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

If you've made more dumplings than you can eat at one sitting, put the remaining dumplings, still on the cookie sheet, in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer. When you cook them, you'll need to leave them on the heat for a bit longer.

Posted on Minxeats.com.
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