The Compleat Dumpling
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using shop-bought wrappers, a true boon to the time-pressed. However, as good as they can be, they are also entirely different from the handmade deal. The readymade one-type(or at best, several types)-fits-all approach is completely acceptable so long as you're prepared to overlook the fact that there's a right wrapper (is it a hot water dough? is it enriched with egg? is it based on wheat starch or rice flour rather than all-purpose plain flour? is it paper thin or the thickness of a dollar coin? the list goes on) for every type of dumpling.
Eventually realising that nothing can live up to the taste of memory, but that shouldn't stop one from trying to come close, I finally gave it a go. And another. And then some. As with all things requiring some semblance of dexterity, practice makes perfect. Or in my case, not perfect but at least easier, less intimidating, and more approachable. So much so, I've even begun to actually enjoy the process. The Compleat Dumpling, as I like to think of it, is by no means The Perfect Dumpling of my sepia toned recollection, nor will it ever be. It is, however, most certainly honest and delicious - few things yield as generous returns with so modest an investment of effort. W came home last Friday from a work trip and I wanted supper to be a simple yet luxurious affair.
Crab & Scallop Soup Dumplings
Not a dumpling floating in broth (unless you choose to ladle some over after it's been steamed), but broth in a dumpling - seeming magic courtesy of pork stock. Highly reduced and left to chill to a gelled state, this fairly firm aspic is then diced and incorporated into the filling. The wrapper dough is pasta-like in that the flour is mostly hydrated by egg yolks rather than water. Steaming the finished dumplings, each coddled in its very own little lidded bowl, not only cooks the wrapper and filling, but reverts the stock within to the state of broth.
Potstickers with Hand-Chopped Wagyu
Beautifully marbled wagyu is hardly necessary or authentic, but it does make for an incredibly juicy filling. Chopping by hand ensures the right texture; the food processor or blender reduces the beef to a paste-like pulp that isn't appropriate for the loose, moist stuffing needed for guo tie (or gyoza, its Japanese cousin). Hot water dough makes for a slightly glutinous texture, a wonderful wrapper with a subtly resilient bite that stands up to the part-pan-fried, part-steamed cooking method which results in tender dumplings with toasty golden bottoms. The malleability of fresh dough also allows for greater ease of manipulation; the requisite form, a plump pillow, is smooth on one side and pot-bellied on the other thanks to a series of tiny pleats which also ensures a pretty arc of an edge, and sits flat on its bottom.