13 February 2013

Food Lab 21: Dumpllings

Happy Year of the Snake!

Mad Kitchen Scientist has been hankering to play around with Chinese mother sauces, so with Chinese New Year taking place this past weekend, we decided to make dumplings and homemade duck sauce.

We decided to lab:
  • Steamed v. potsticker cooking
  • Homemade wrappers v. bought
  • Rice paper v. wheat based wrappers
  • Jam-based duck sauce v. cooked fruit-based duck sauce
In vegetable, lobster, and pork varieties.

We had ALL KINDS of fillings ready to go - finely chopped pork, finely chopped lobster, bok choy, Chinese mustard greens (which were DELICIOUS), Napa cabbage, red pepper, jalapenos, reconstituted Chinese black fungus, reconstituted shiitakes,  carrot, scallions, garlic, ginger, cilantro, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, mushroom essence (the shiitake soaking liquid boiled WAY down), ginger juice...I might be forgetting something. As usual, we an "an absurdity" (The Executive Committee's term for Food Lab overindulgence) of ingredients.

The wrappers are relatively easy to make. We followed this guy's instructions, both on the recipe and on the process for filling them:

As far as the ingredients mix, he's right: you can put anything you like in there. You do need to cut things up REALLY finely, though. We even tried pulsing some of the pork mixture in the food processor. It made the dumplings easier to stuff, but it didn't taste as good - we lost the differences in texture from the meat to the veg. Like making ravioli, you need less filling than you think you do. No, even less than that.

We also found that the wrappers started drying out pretty quickly, which made them a little harder to manipulate and, particularly, seal. Next time we do this, we'll have the filling completely made up in advance, and one person will roll and cut and the other will fill and close. The process needs to move a little faster.

The bought wrappers were a bit larger (just a factor of we didn't have a larger cutting round) and more uniform in size. They come heavily dusted with corn starch, and we ended up dragging them through water before filling so we could close them and get the edges to stick together.

Ultimately, there wasn't much of a taste difference between the bought and homemade, but making them is so easy and fast, I don't know why you'd bother to buy wrappers.

The biggest taste difference came in the cooking method. The potsticker method described in the video was VASTLY superior to just a plain steaming.

We also had our first true disaster: the rice paper. In theory, it should be easy to make. You combine rice flour and water to a paste-like consistency, spread on cheesecloth or a metal screen, steam for a few minutes, remove from your cloth or screen, allow to dry, voila.

One small problem: we could NOT figure out how to get the cooked dough off the screen. We tried everything and nearly ruined our metal screen in the process. What little we were able to peel off intact ended up in gelatinous globs.

This lady makes it look simple, but I'm thinking there's something she's not telling us:

The Executive Committee speculated that she might make ALL the rice paper in the world, being the only one who knows how to do it. You'll notice that there are MANY recipes online for what to put in rice paper, and almost none for how to make it. We now know why.

On to duck sauce. The formula there is pretty simple, too: fruit (either cooked or in jam), soy, rice vinegar, seasonings to taste. The jam-based version won, hands down. The cooked fruit based version was bland by comparison, and even boosting it with some sriracha didn't help. And it's simple to make: a mix of fruit jams (apricot, plum, fig - really, your choice), garlic, ginger, soy, rice wine vinegar, chilies, whir it up with your immersion blender or food processor, finis. Also, tasty.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out what was probably the best thing made: Chef Spouse came up with a blood orange Mai Tai that was out of this world. He used the recipe from In the Land of Cocktails, (Bruce McAlpin version), but replaced the grenadine and orange juice with blood orange juice. Also, he didn't bother making orgeat punch, using the plain orgeat syrup instead. Finally, he added a float of really outstanding dark rum to the top. Mai Tais can be cloying and chemical tasting, but this one was AMAZINGLY good. It may become one of the official summer drinks of the house.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Put me down for one of those mai tais! Sounds delish