Monday, January 16, 2012

Week 2: Chinese

For whatever reason Chinese is always about dumplings and wontons.  So for this week's challenge that was the clear choice.  Unfortunately, I've never done anything of the sort, so it was also experimentation time.  And, because I'm me, I decided it was time to try out a bunch of styles at once.  I decided to throw together pork and beef fillings, thin and thick casings, and to deep fry, pan fry, and steam a selection.  If that sounds like a ton of extra and unnecessary work just for the sake of experimentation, it was.  It was also 100% worth it.

Ok, lets start with the fillings.  Ground meat (pork and beef) was the starting point, and I tossed some finely diced cabbage and green onions.  Most recipes I found called for fresh ginger, unfortunately I was unable to find any at the store, so powdered ginger went into the mix, along with some sesame seed oil and dark soy sauce.  A bit of corn starch to bind it all together, and the filling mixture was born.

The dough also came in two parts.  The first was some store bought wonton wrappers, mostly because I don't actually know how to make them, and I figured I was in deep enough as it was.  The second was a fresh dough to go around the dumplings.  2.5 cups of flour, and about 3/4 of a cup of warm water combined into a simple dough to go around the dumplings.  Then came the involved part, wrapping them.

By the time I remember to take a couple of photos, I had finished wrapping all of the fresh dumplings and had moved on to the wontons.  It took a couple of tries on the dumpling wraps to get the proper pleat present in every dumpling I've ever had from a restaurant, but in the end I figured it out.  The wontons were easier, I went for a mixture of purse style and classic wonton style (both pictured above).  Some of them were pan fried, and the rest deep fried.

It took about 3 hours, but I finally had all 100 or so dumplings and wontons wrapped and ready to go. 
My trusty cast iron dutch oven was converted to a deep fryer, my steamer basket was finally used for its intended purpose (instead of as a strainer or cooling rack) and the ever present non-stick pan was ready to go for pan frying.

The end result was an unquestionable success, although there were a couple of lessons learned along the way.  First is that wrapping dumplings will take just as long as it sounds, maybe longer.  Second, you want to almost over-season the fillings.  They can handle a bit more salt, ginger and flavor than you expect, and its definitely worth it.  Finally, I learned that that wontons and dumplings are delicious, but are really are best when made in huge batches, its almost not worth it otherwise.

Some leftover duck sauce and a bit of homemade dumpling sauce (soy, sesame oil, vinegar and ginger) topped off the meal.  Everyone was quite pleased with the attempt and its definitely something that's going in my bag of tricks for special occasions, but its just too much work for anything more frequent.

Up next week:  Soup, I think I'll try a different experiment, but maybe something a bit less labor intensive.

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