Brothers and sisters, I have seen the light! All these years, these years of reading Calvin Trillin (the poet laureate of dumplings) and fake nodding as my Manhattanite friends (ones who grew up here) debated dumpling dives, I faked an interest that didn’t really exist. You see, I didn’t really get the big deal. What’s so great about dumplings? Aren’t they just glorified ravioli, greasy gut-bombs that you dip in soy sauce and that make you feel gross and un-full and desperate for a salad? This, of course, is sacrilege in the food world but my confession here is a precursor for an absolute conversion that came about because of a little web show called Working Class Foodies.
Rebecca Lando, the show’s star, along with her boyfriend/collaborator/director, Kit Pennebaker, invited me on a trip to Flushing, Queens for a Chinese food adventure. We were joined by VendrTV host, the exuberant Dan Delaney, and my good friend Diana. After a fun day of gorging–lamb sandwiches, duck buns on the street, and, the best, dumplings in an ice cream shop called White Bear–I met up with Rebecca and Kit to recreate those dumplings in their kitchen. All of this is captured in the following, beautifully-shot video:
The dumplings we ate in Flushing were really exquisite–hot, mysterious, and very satisfying–but the dumplings we made at home were revelatory. Why were they revelatory? Because they were so ridiculously easy! And really delicious!
As a testament to how revelatory this experience was, the very next night I decided to make dumplings again, this time for Craig. To start, I made two dipping sauces (Rebecca made two too, you just don’t see them both in her video):
The one on the right is the one you saw her make in the video: a simple combination of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chopped ginger and sliced scallions.
The one on the left was her attempt to replicate what they put on the dumplings in Flushing–a spicy mixture of fried garlic, chiles and sesame oil. Rebecca made it look so easy and it is, in fact, very easy; in a skillet, fry chopped garlic and red chile flakes (or broken up chiles) in a neutral oil (I used canola) just until they’re dark golden brown, but no further (you don’t want them to burn):
Put the fried bits in a ramekin and then stir in toasted sesame oil:
Let that sit and you’re done: two sauces in 10 minutes.
As for the dumplings, watch how easy. In a bowl, combine one pound of ground-up pork, a chopped up knob of ginger…
…a chopped clove of garlic, a bunch of sliced scallions, and a big splash of soy sauce. Mush it all around (not too aggressively or the dumplings will be tough) and you’re done! (I skipped the leeks and they were fine):
You may notice in the above photo the secret weapon: wonton wrappers. These are what make the process so incredibly simple and rewarding. Lay out your wonton wrappers, wet them around the perimeter, scoop in using two small spoons about 1 Tbs of filling, and then seal them shut.
They don’t even have to be that beautiful, as you can see here:
[Note: the really messy one on the upper right is from when I was just using my fingers to do it; the ones on the left are from when I switched to spoons.]
Here’s the process close up:
Just make sure, when you fold it over, to seal tightly and to push all the air out that surrounds the meat. Got that?
But something happened to me as I was making these dumplings: I ran out of wonton wrappers (Rebecca gave me her leftover ones, which is why there weren’t that many left) and I still had a lot of meat left to use. What did I do?
I took a bowl, I dumped flour in it. I added water and stirred around with my hand. I didn’t measure. I just added enough water so it became a dough; then I kneaded it a little on the floured counter, broke off little balls, flattened them into pancakes and added the filling. That’s right, last-minute spur-of-the-moment HANDMADE dumplings:
It was a bit insane how quickly I made that dumpling dough. And the handmade dumplings were definitely better than the wonton wrapper dumplings, they had a better texture (though the wonton wrapper dumplings were pretty great too).
Anyway, once you’ve made all your dumplings (store them on a parchment lined cookie sheet as you make them), bring a few inches of water to a boil (I salted the water) and dump in a bunch of dumplings:
Wait five minutes, they’ll start to float, and then test one by cutting in on a plate to see if the pork is cooked.
If it’s a grayish pink, that’s ok; but if you’re nervous, cook an extra minute or two.
And that’s how you make dumplings: they are ready to eat.
As you can see, I served mine with a salad: I just bought a mesclun mix at the store, and tossed with the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and some of the fried garlic chili bits.
The best part, though, is that you can keep boiling dumplings until you’re full and whatever you don’t eat you can freeze. Just stick the cookie sheet with the dumplings on them in the freezer, wait an hour, and then remove the dumplings to a freezer bag. There you go: next week’s dinner.
Thanks so much to Rebecca and Kit for including me on their dumpling adventure! I’m forever a changed man, a dumpling convert through-and-through. Hallelujah.