Monday, February 25, 2013

Pan-fried Sweet Potato and Pork Dumplings



It's time for another challenge from the Creative Cooking Crew! This month's theme is Meat and Potatoes. Unlike last month's Vegan theme, I was actually really excited about this challenge from the start! I originally brainstormed doing a pork stew studded with veggies and served in individual dishes topped with crusty mashed sweet potatoes. It would be perfect for winter. But for whatever reason, I just didn't feel excited about it. It sounded delicious, but it just seemed so... predictable.


I liked the idea of putting pork and sweet potatoes together. I've made a delicious Sweet Potato Pork Pie before and thought it was a great combo! I just needed a different plan. I saw these Creole Potstickers on Creole Contessa's site and suddenly it hit me. I would make dumplings! I LOVE making dumplings. I'm not sure why it hadn't even occurred to me before!


Personally, I find nothing more satisfying than making a dumpling completely from scratch. That includes making the skin. No offense, but when I see people claim they are masterful dumpling makers and then whip out store-bought skins, I am less than convinced of their dumpling skills. There is a world of difference between store-bought dumpling wrappers and homemade ones. A world!


Homemade skins can either be made with a flour dough or a wheat starch dough. The wheat starch dough yields snow white, slightly translucent morsels that are typically steamed. The flour dough results in an opaque dough that can be dyed different colors with vegetables. It can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or even deep-fried. Each dough has its benefits. For these particular dumplings, I really wanted to pan-fry them so the flour dough was my obvious choice.


The result of using homemade dough for these dumplings is a combination of chewy and crispy textures that can never be matched otherwise. It provides a wonderful textural contrast to the soft filling. In this case, the filling is heavy on sweet potato flavor. The pork is more muted, but honestly I'm very happy with that. The sweet potato really is the star here, along with some Chinese five spice powder, a mixture of pepper, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves. It walks the line between savory and sweet and can be used in either application.


The Chinese five spice adds a great layer of flavor to the filling along with chives, mirin, and soy sauce. The filling is on the sweet side, even though this is technically a savory dumpling. To finish it off, I created a dipping sauce that showcases a perfect balance between salt, acid, and spice. As a result, a mouthful of these dumplings dipped in the sauce is a flavor explosion that hits every part of the tongue. These dumplings, if I may say so myself, are quite extraordinary.


Pan-fried Sweet Potato and Pork Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
(Dough and Assembly from Asian Dumplings)

Filling:
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato
4 oz ground pork
2 T. minced chives
1 1/2 tsp. mirin, sake, or rice wine
1 1/2 tsp. tamari, or soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Chinese five spice powder

Dough:
10 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. sriracha

Canola or peanut oil, for pan-frying

To make the filling: mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and chill until needed.

To make the dough: place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To make the dipping sauce: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. The sauce can be prepared several hours in advance.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log and cut into 16 pieces (cut in half, then cut each half in half, and so on to create pieces that are even in size. The tapered end pieces should be cut slightly larger). If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portion of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking).  Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping a 1/2-to-3/4-inch border on all sides.

To make "pleated crescent" shapes (as photographed), make the first pinch between index finger and thumb, then fold over the front edge to form the first pleat and press it against the back edge. Continue pleating the dough in this fashion until making the final pleat and then settle the dumpling on a work surface and press the edges to seal well.

Alternatively, to make "pea pod" shapes, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well. Place on your work surface and press gently to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat. Fold the sealed edges of the dumpling to make a series of pleats from one end to the other.

Place finished dumplings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and dough, spacing out dumplings about 1/2 inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (about 1/3 cup water). The water will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the water is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp.

Serve with the dipping sauce in a communal bowl or in individual dipping sauce dishes. Enjoy!




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