Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pork and Prawns - Homemade Meat Dumplings

Dumplings Madness!

Mmm.... mmm....dumplings! I have been craving for some good, homemade dumplings for weeks and I even had dreams about them in my sleep. Truth be told, my constant craving for dumplings came about from watching too much of the Beijing Olympic on TV. Yes, the Olympic actually inspired me to do some physical exercise, not in the gym though, but in the kitchen. The Beijing Olympic was one magnificent show, and I was amazed that China was able to pull it off, because frankly, I had my doubts. I visited Beijing in 2005 when they were still constructing all those buildings and structures and the city was quite a mess. But I am glad China was able to successfully host the Olympic this year. I hope to be able to visit Beijing again in the near future and to further explore my heritage. But for now, I am content with enjoying my homemade dumplings. I love the succulent flavor of these pork and prawn dumplings and the soft dumpling skins that melt in my mouth when they are served warm in chicken broth. I enjoy them even more when I have them fried and crispy and then served with dipping sauce that consist of sesame oil, black vinegar (or balsamic vinegar), and "sambal olek" (Indonesian style chili sauce). Mmm....mmm.... is right on!

Making and eating homemade dumplings conjured up my memories of childhood in Jakarta when my family and aunts and uncles would get together on Sunday afternoons at my parents' house; with my mom and aunts sitting around the dinner table and preparing homemade dumplings, wrapping the fragrant mixture of pork and prawns sprinkled with spices and herbs, while chatting about mundane topics and gossiping about other relatives, while the kids, which included me, would run around the house and chase each other. In fact, the recipe I use for these dumplings is based on what my mom uses when she makes them: mainly pork, prawns, garlic, ginger, green onions, and black mushrooms. I think she also uses chives sometimes and I've made some with chives before too and they were good! This time around though I decided to use napa cabbage instead of chives just to see what they would taste like, although I'm not sure if my mom ever used napa cabbage...hmmm... I'll ask her later.

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground pork
  • 1/2 lb. fresh prawns, peeled and minced
  • 2-3 green onions, finely minced
  • 1/2 of napa cabbage or 1 cup chives, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. finely minced ginger
  • 3-4 cloves of finely minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp. dry black or Chinese mushroom, rinsed with hot water, dried and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp. Chinese cooking white wine
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil or any vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp. chicken broth (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. chili oil (optional)
  • Dumpling wrappers (preferably thin ones)
Note: It is quite simple to make the wrappers at home. The ingredients only consist of flour, water and a dash of salt. But the real trick is in the kneading of the dough. Since I am quite particular with the thinness of the wraps, I decided to forgo the risk of ruining my homemade dumpling experience by purchasing 3 packs of ready-made dumpling wraps from a Chinese supermarket. And I am glad I did!

  • Put the pork and minced prawns in a bowl and season with salt and white pepper and mix together. Add the canola oil and cornstarch and mix thoroughly.
  • Stir in the garlic, ginger, chopped cilantro, black mushrooms, napa cabbage, green onions and shallot.
  • In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper, Chinese cooking wine, chicken broth and chili oil and stir into the meat mixture and mix thoroughly until well blended. Prepare the wraps and take a spoonful of the dumpling mixture and place on each wrapper, wet the edges with liquid from a mixture of 2 tbsp. water and 1 tsp. cornstarch and stick one end to the other and wrap.

Once the dumplings are all lined up and ready to go, it is now time to cook them in whichever way you like. The recipe above will produce about 40 at once. I usually freeze some of the dumplings made for later use. When freezing them, make sure they do not stick to each other otherwise the skin will break when you defrost them. To prevent them from sticking together, wrap them in wax paper in batches, and then store them in sandwich-size zip lock bags to freeze. When defrosting, it's better to take them out from the freezer the day before and move them inside the fridge, and then let them defrost naturally instead of using the microwave.

I have the dumplings prepared in two ways:
1. In Chicken Broth - Put the dumplings into boiled water and bring to a first boil. Add a 1/2 cup of water after it is boiled the first time and then let it boil again for the second time or until the dumplings float to the surface and you can see the prawns turn pink. Leave them to boil for a couple more minutes to make sure the chicken meat is well cooked (I am always cautious when it comes to meat cooking), and then drain. Place the cooked dumplings in a bowl and sprinkle with canola oil to make sure they don't stick together. Put them in a bowl of chicken broth and sprinkle with green onions and/or cilantro. Serve with a favorite sauce. Hmm....

2. Fried - Heat oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Prepare 1 tbsp. of flour dissolved in 5 tbsp. water and set aside. Once oil becomes hot, place dumplings in the pan and let sit for a minute and then pour about 3-5 tbsp. of plain water and cover. Let them cook for about 5 minutes and turn them over and cook for another 5 minutes. Add more water if necessary to prevent from burning. Add the water and flour mixture one spoonful at a time to the pan and cover for a few minutes more, and turn over a few times until reaching the desired crispiness. Turn off the heat and let sit for a few minutes in the pan. Serve with a favorite sauce. Hmmm....mmm....mmm.

Note: Apparently using the mixture of water and flour keep the dumpling skins crispy without being burnt. I found out about this technique while observing a cook at a Chinese Dumplings restaurant. All I can say is that I tried it, and it worked. It was a hit indeed!

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