Ever wake up to find that you have passed out on the floor surrounded by packages of dumpling wrappers, chopsticks, a greasy plate and a bit of pork dried to the corners of your mouth? And maybe the cat was licking your face? Nobody? Just me? Then you, my friend, have never had a proper dumpling. The problem is once you’ve them, you can never accept anything but the best. Chicago has nothing in the way of decent dumpling joints, and when I don’t get my dumpling fix, I have been known to kick the elderly, vote Republican and eat a few babies with my leftover dumpling sauce. It is pretty much a bad situation for all parties involved. These aren’t just any dumplings I am looking for, but pan fried pork dumplings similar to soup dumplings in that they spit out hot pork broth at the first bite. I first tried this in Australia, where they were accompanied by a traditional dumpling sauce of Chinese black vinegar and soy sauce with a small dish of chiles cooked with caramelized onions. Yeah. I am already getting a bit of shock from the drool seeping into my laptop keyboard. A little electrical current never hurt anybody. These were the dumplings of destiny. You might remember them from such blog posts as this one and this one. When I moved back home to Chicago and couldn’t find any similar dumplings, I complained. A lot. I am pretty certain there was an organized protest in Chinatown, followed by a few letters written to my legislators, and I think a dumpling fundraiser sponsored by Eric Estrada (don’t ask), but I can’t be too sure. The hunger weakened me. Then my lazy ass decided to seek out a proper dumpling recipe and make it myself. Thanks to an Asian classmate of mine and this recipe on epicurious.com, I had a pretty good start. After hitting a local Asian grocery store, I was ready to attack. Warning: this is a long-ass recipe. Don’t try to pump it out for a quick dinner one night. You can, however, split the recipe up over a day or two, or just make a bunch of dumplings, freeze them individually on a sheet pan, and store then in the freezer in freezer safe bags. The dumplings can be cooked from frozen without even defrosting! I started out by making the broth that would burst out of the dumpling. The concept is pretty cool–you cook a stock down so it is reduced and intensified in flavor, and you set it with some powdered gelatin so you have meat jello. Cut it into squares, place some in your dumpling, and when they get hot, the gelatin melts and turns back into delicious stock that makes the dumpling juicy. If you make a proper stock, you can probably skip the gelatin if you let it reduce enough, but I used it just to be safe.
I didn’t have a lot of time the day I made this, and the recipes asks you to basically spend 6 hours on making a stock for ONE PART of the recipe. No thank you. So I started with already made chicken stock (homemade that I had on hand), and threw in the flavoring ingredients (the mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, etc.) and some chunks of smoked ham I got at the local deli. Porky goodness followed. Then I made the filling, basically ground pork (used some locally raised free-range pork) with Asian flavors like soy sauce and rice wine (see recipe for exact ingredients). I omitted the garlic and shrimp, and put a ton of ginger and green onion in them. One of my Asian mates taught me to really knead the meat and box it, which made the mixture a bit lighter.
The recipe suggested using Shang-hai style wrappers, which I found frozen in my local Asian store. Supposedly, they are thinner and can get crispier, which I am all about.
Then I set up my dumpling wrapping station. It looked a bit like this:
and like this:
Then I started to wrap. I placed one wrapper on top of my damp towel-lined tray, brushed water around the edges and put a teaspoonful of the pork filling in the center. Then I placed a few meat jello cubes on the meat, and topped it off with a bit more meat to sandwich the jello in there.
Then I pressed the edges together and crimped them, so it looked like this:
I later found out that these edges didn’t get as soft during cooking as I would like them to, so I switched to the half moon style of folding seen here with my veggie dumplings. This allows me to fry them on two sides! More crispy goodness per square centimeter! I’m still working on the veggie recipe, so I’ll post one when I finish.
I froze what I could, and started cooking the rest. A little oil into the pan, and I browned the dumplings on both sides.
Then I lowered the heat and threw in some water with a bit more oil, and covered for 2 minutes.
I took off the lid, poured off any excess water, leaving just a tiny bit in the pan. The heat went up, and water evaporated until just the oil was left, giving the dumplings a final crisp on their bottoms. I made a quick sauce of Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, some chiles and caramelized onions. Hot damn, this is a good sauce.
And then, I ate it. I ate a lot. I ate so much, I’m pretty sure I passed out for a bit, woke up and started eating again. Look at these bad boys. Can you blame me? Eat them piping hot out of the pan if you want to enjoy them at their height.