Monday, December 19, 2005

The Compleat Dumpling

I took the longest time to work up the nerve to make my own dumpling wrappers. Which is sort of odd, given that it is no harder or easier than making pasta, an exercise I really enjoy. Simply put, my trepidation stems from the fact that I am Chinese - it's always easier to plunge headlong into the food of a culture other than one's own given that there are no deeply ingrained ideals to live up to. My grandmother is a formidable cook. If she can make it herself, she will make it herself. What this means, apart from a great childhood spent alongside her kneading, rolling and pounding away in the kitchen, is that I know whatever I care to attempt to reproduce will always fall short of my remembrance of those dumplings past.

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.

27 Comments:

Blogger The UnProfessional Chef said...

This looks most excellent J! I was thinking too that perhaps my resolution for 2006 should be to cook something more closely related to my Asian roots too.

1:49 pm, December 19, 2005  
Anonymous Clare Eats said...

YUM!!!!!

I heart soup dumplings ( I just knew that was how to do it!) and gyoza MMM!!!!

Memories can be hard to live up too, but I definately don't think you need to be hard on yourself!

1:53 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger Paz said...

I'm glad you decided to give it a try again. Looks delicious. I'd love to have a bite. ;-)

Paz

2:55 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger debbs said...

okay, i think it's time for me to definitely head back into the kitchen and get cooking again!

do you need an apprentice??

3:54 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger MM said...

I know what you mean. The pressure of producing authentic cuisine to the standards of our grandparents is staggering. Have always loved all your food and if you ever need a food tester, call me!!! Droool.

4:44 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Beautiful and thought-provoking story, J! Sadly, I don't think I've ever had Chinese dumplings - and I don't have any Chinese friends in Edinburgh either, so it will be a long time before I can put a flavour to your gorgeous pictures:)

5:11 pm, December 19, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Hi Joycelyn - such a beautiful post and beautiful dumplings! I *am* Japanese but you know we eat all sorts of dumplings and it's one of the things I really miss since I came to the UK. Soup dumplings are my favourite! I started thinking that I'd like to learn Japanese cooking properly, your wonderful posts have definitely helped me to feel that way, so thank you...

6:32 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

I'm glad that you got around to attempting the wrappers yourself, J. It's hard to tackle really deep-seated traditions, I think. They look simply delicious.

11:44 pm, December 19, 2005  
Blogger Gustad said...

i looove soup dumplings. there is a place in chinatown, nyc that makes good ones. it's been while since i have gone. now i will go soon. i think it's called shanghai joes

3:04 am, December 20, 2005  
Blogger michelle said...

I'm incredibly impressed, once again. Thank you for sharing your story - it can certainly be difficult to try to live up to memory, but my dear, no matter what, you've done it beautifully!

5:33 am, December 20, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi J, you have made me realize that I definitely do not have enough experience eating dumplings. Every time I see them they look delicious, and yours of course are gorgeous!

9:20 pm, December 20, 2005  
Blogger Anthony said...

The thought of using gelled pork stock is quite lovely. [sigh]. And couldn't agree more on handmincing - food processors, terrible terrible. I miss having two cleavers.

12:26 am, December 21, 2005  
Blogger eatzycath said...

again, i'm at a loss for words - home-made dumpling skins! ...[no words] [just a gaping "O" mouth] :)

12:53 am, December 21, 2005  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Hi J,
I know exactly what your talking about! The German kind of dumplings aren't comparable at all (much easier to prepare AND very bland visual appearance), but I spend countless hours watching my grandma making them during my childhood. Everyone of her daughters and her grandchild (me) tried to re-produce them over and over again, but no one really succeded. Nostalgia stikes again :)

3:07 pm, December 21, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi the unprofessional chef, thanks! me too; really want to learn how to cook chinese food properly...

hi clare, thanks! i think half the fun of soup dumplings is cutting into the skin and watching the hot broth spurt...

hi paz, thanks! for many reasons, i find dumplings very comforting to eat...

hi deb, anytime ;)

hi mm, thanks for your kind note; it's especially intimidating when said grandparent is a fantastic cook!

hi pille, the closest analogy i can think of are khinkali or pelmeni, except the flavourings are ginger, spring onion, soy sauce, sesame oil etc instead of caraway and paprika!

hi keiko, thanks but you're much too kind...being so far away from japan, i can only imagine you must miss the food dearly; i would love to see your posts on japanese cooking!

hi nic, thanks for your kind words; i procrastinated, worried and plain obsessed about it for far too long, so it was high time...

hi gustad, thanks for dropping by; shanghai joes sounds great! good soup dumplings are hard to come by

hi michelle, thanks! in my head, fill-in-the-blanks is always tastier, more beautiful, more larger-than-life...

hi michele, thanks! dumplings are the stuff of addiction - can never stop at one...

hi anthony, gelled stock is true trickery...re:cleavers. you wielding two cleavers in a mincing flurry must be quite the performance to behold!

hi cath, i think the very first time i attempted it i broke out in cold sweat for fear of impending disaster...

hi nicky, grandmas are a very tough act to follow, aren't they? i think part of the enjoyment, for me anyways, is imagining she's right there next to me as i'm making them, hopefully nodding with approval rather than shaking her head in disbelief!

5:12 pm, December 21, 2005  
Blogger Gustad said...

Thanks for the comment J. glad you like the site. I love yours as well… I’ve been visiting yours for about 3 weeks now. Come back often!

10:27 pm, December 21, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Hi J, there is something so deeply satisfying about producing dishes that come from our own culinary background. I could turn out a million perfect macarons but not feel the same warm glow of pride that comes from making a perfect chocolate chip cookie... Great job!

1:09 am, December 22, 2005  
Blogger cin said...

I'm Chinese too but never knew that there were all these diff wrappers to go with diff fillings. As we moved to Australia when I was younger, I didn't have the opportunity to watch my grandmother cook, so thanks for sharing your memories, J. The dumplings that you made look utterly delicious as well as beautiful.

2:46 am, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Vivilicious said...

Hi Jocelyn, once again, your post leaves me hungry and itching to cook. I too started tackling dumpling skins a while ago. Initially due to necessity (they were hard to come by where I live, well good ones anyway). So I called family members up for tips and long-distance help. It has taken time, but my suijiao and guotie are now not too bad. Still a long way to go, but then I think that my aunts, etc. did this regularly for decades whereas I am just a novice in comparison. Well-done!

6:20 am, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Robs said...

Awesome. The food you make is simply amazing. The food just shows how much effort you put in. Am I raving??? Yes I am! I love your food!

8:36 am, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Melissa CookingDiva said...

Simply delicious! I love all your photos. Hugs and Happy Holidays from Panama!

2:47 am, December 23, 2005  
Blogger pseudo chef said...

J - that first picture is just so delicious :).

Hmmmm.

10:11 am, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

The dumplings looks sensational! I can just imagine the wonderfully tender skins wrapped around a heaping spoonful of savory filling.

The wagyu gyoza sounds most appealing.

12:57 pm, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Cathy said...

Hi Jocelyn! Your dumplings came out beautifully! I can only imagine what made-from-scratch dumplings might taste like, as nearly all I've ever tasted were frozen store-bought!

9:54 pm, December 26, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi gustad, most certainly :)

hi melissa, thanks! glad you know how i feel; it's so much easier to pick up a cookbook and cook-by-numbers rather than through instinct and intuition

hi cin, thank you; i don't think my childhood would have been quite the same without my wonderful grandma cooking so many wonderful things...

hi viv, thanks; am sure your dumplings must taste fantastic! i know exactly what you mean; it's daunting to know it takes decades to perfect something so apparently simple...

hi robs, thanks; good cooking is trouble, as they say ;)

hi melissa, thanks; glad you like the pictures

hi pc, thanks!

hi reid, thanks! the wagyu was a tad extravagant, but money well spent

hi cathy, thank you! i daresay they are worth the bother and effort

11:02 am, January 03, 2006  
Blogger Claudia said...

girl, you make not only the chocolate specialties i love but the Japanese/Chinese specialties i adore above all in earth. I can't imagine someone like you in real life. Can't wait to make one f your courses one day. It is really a plan...

Cheers.


C.

8:33 pm, November 23, 2008  
Blogger Gonzalez Lewis said...

WOW (impressed look). Your version looks so yummy.

Here I bought a sauce pack for mapo tofu so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.
http://yummiexpress.freetzi.com

4:28 am, August 21, 2009  

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