Monday, July 21, 2014

Chinese Chive Dumplings

I'm a dumpling fiend. If I had to pick a single food that I'm most obsessed with, it would have to be dumplings. I could eat them day and night, in any form, from any region in the world, from Asia to Europe and beyond. I've shared quite a few varieties of dumpling recipes here in the past, including the likes of pierogi, manti, and har gow. I've also shared lots of unusual dumpling creations such as Buffalo chicken dumplings, General Tso's chicken dumplings, and sweet potato and pork dumplings.

One of my favorite dumplings to get when I go to dim sum is pan-fried Chinese chive dumplings. They are made with the traditional translucent white dough used in the majority of steamed dumplings at dim sum establishments, but it is actually pan-fried, which really sets it apart from the others.

Chinese chives aka garlic chives

The filling is a combination of Chinese chives (aka garlic chives) and fresh shrimp, and in the case of the version I made from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen, there's also the option of adding some finely chopped dried shrimp, which adds a deeper shrimp flavor.

Dried shrimp

Since I have some dried shrimp in my freezer, I included this optional element and really enjoyed the intensity of the shrimp flavor, but a friend who also enjoyed the dumplings thought it was a bit too strong for her. Use your judgement, and since it's a specialty ingredient you would need to stake out in an Asian market, don't feel so bad if you skip it, but I personally love its inclusion!

This particular dough, made predominantly with wheat starch is incredibly easy to work with but very finicky when it comes to cooking. It's much easier to flatten and shape than traditional flour-based dumpling wrappers but dumplings made with wheat starch dough must be cooked before refrigerating or freezing, so plan on steaming all the dumplings you make even if you aren't going to enjoy them right away.

I consulted a couple different dumpling/dim sum cookbooks and a lot of websites to see if any share ways to freeze Chinese chive dumplings. Typical wheat starch encased dumplings can be steamed and then frozen to be re-steamed later, but for some reason all the recipes for Chinese chive dumplings stated that they don't freeze well. I was skeptical and decided to try it anyway.

Some Chinese chive dumplings recipes have you pan-fry the dumplings exactly as you would with traditional pan-fried dumplings or potstickers, where you place the raw dumplings in a hot pan coated with oil, fry until crisp, then add a bit of water and cover to steam through, and then in this case flip the dumplings over to slightly crisp on the other side. Nguyen's recipe has you steam the dumplings in a steamer and then pan-fry them on each side. I figured if you are fully steaming the dumplings and then pan-frying in a separate step, why not freeze some of the dumplings after the steaming step to see what happens?

I made some of the dumplings exactly the way the recipe stated (pan-frying after steaming) and then froze the remaining dumplings after steaming. Then a few days later, I gently thawed some of the frozen Chinese chive dumplings at room temperature for about 30 minutes (make sure they are covered if thawing in the fridge since it will take longer and they can start to dry out) then re-steamed them in my bamboo steamer basket to refresh them to their earlier state. Once they were glossy and translucent like their predecessors, I pan-fried them, yielding identical copies of the first batch I didn't freeze.

They were identical in looks, but did anything get lost in the flavor or texture? Nope. The previously frozen dumplings had the same chewy and crispy wrapper with the intensely shrimp-and-chive laced filling as its non-frozen cousins. And since these dumplings are some of my favorites (and really easy to make once you get the hang of shaping them), I can see myself making double batches and freezing them for future cravings.

This recipe only makes 18 dumplings, which yields less dumplings than many other recipes utilizing the same amount of dough, but in this case it really is because of the shape. A lot of excess dough is used to pleat these "closed satchels," as Nguyen calls them. I only briefly describe in the recipe how to shape them (Nguyen does a more in depth job in her book) so please check out her video on how to create this shape. In the video she is making Momo dumplings, which use a flour-dough but still feature the same technique as the Chinese chive dumplings.

Chinese Chive Dumplings
Makes 18 dumplings
(Adapted from Asian Dumplings)

1/2 teaspoon light (regular) soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into pea-size pieces (4 1/2 ounces net weight)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 pinches of white pepper (I used black pepper)
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped dried shrimp (optional)
6 ounces Chinese chives (aka garlic chives), trimmed of thicker bottom portion and cut into 1/2-inch lengths (about 1 3/4 cups) (I only had about 4 ounces after trimming them, but still yielded plenty of filling for my dumplings)
Salt (optional)

Wheat Starch Dough:
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) wheat starch
2 1/4 ounces (1/2 cup) tapioca starch
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
About 1 cup just-boiled water
4 teaspoons canola oil

To Finish:
About 3 tablespoons canola oil, for pan-frying
Light (regular) soy sauce, for dipping
Chile garlic sauce, homemade or store-bought (optional)

To make the filling: In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add the raw shrimp and stir to coat well. Set aside. In another bowl, create a seasoning sauce by stirring together the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch, sugar, pepper, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and water. Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the dried shrimp and cook stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the Chinese chives and keep stirring and cooking for 1 minute, or until the chives have wilted slightly. Add the raw shrimp and cook for 1 minute, or until they have just turned orange. Make a well in the center, give the seasoning sauce a stir, and add to the skillet. Cook for about 45 seconds, or until the mixture thickens and coheres. Taste and, if needed, add salt for savory depth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely. You should have about 1 1/4 cups.

To make the dough: In a bowl combine the wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in about 14 tablespoons of the water. Use a wooden spoon to stir the ingredients together (mine actually snapped in half, oops; next time I may use a large metal spoon instead). The dough will look translucent at first and then become mottled, whitish, and lumpy.

Once the water has been incorporated, add the oil. Stir to work in the oil. If the dough looks dry, add a little more water. Aim for a medium firm texture, not a soft and mushy one; work in additional wheat starch by the tablespoon if you add too much water. Press the ingredients together into a rough ball that feels a bit bouncy.

Transfer the warm tough to an unfloured work surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, until snowy white, smooth and resembling Play-Doh in texture. When you squeeze on it, it should not crack. If it cracks, very lightly oil one hand and knead it into the dough to increase the dough's suppleness. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces and put them into a zip-top plastic bag and seal well. Set aside for 5 minutes to rest before using. This dough can be made up to 6 hours in advance and left at room temperature in the zip-top bag.

Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays and baking sheets with parchment paper (perforated preferred for steamer trays), then oil the paper.

Have ready 2 (6 to 7 inch) plastic squares cut from a zip top bag (I leave mine connected on one end to make it almost like a book); smear a little oil on one side of each plastic square to avoid sticking (the inner surfaces if you've left yours connected on one end like mine). Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll it on an unfloured work surface into a chubby 6-inch log. Cut the log into 6 equal pieces. To prevent drying and sticking, dab your finger in some canola oil and rub a tiny bit on each of the ends of the dough pieces, pressing each one into a 1/4-inch-thick disk as you work.

Place a disk between the squares. Apply moderate pressure with a tortilla press, the flat side of a cleaver, or the bottom of a large measure cup, skillet, or plate. You maybe have to press more than once to arrive at the desired size (about 4 inches in diameter). Unpeel the plastic and set the slightly shiny wrapper aside. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. There should be no need to re-oil the plastic between pressings. To prevent the dough from drying, assemble a batch of dumplings before forming more wrappers from another portion of dough.

To assemble a dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Use a spoon to center about 1 tablespoon of filling atop the wrapper, flattening the filling a bit and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Then fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling and create a closed satchel. Try to make large pleats so that the dumpling is not too thick on one side. After pinching the opening closed, twist off any excess dough and discard. If the skin breaks, dab a tiny bit of oil on the area and try smoothing out and patching up the wrapper.

Set the finished dumpling closed side down in a prepared steamer tray. Assemble more dumplings from the remaining wrappers before working on the next batch of dough. Space them about 1/2 inch apart (if using a metal steamer tray, keep the dumplings 1 inch away from the edge where condensation will collect). Place overflow dumplings on the baking sheet with a good 1/2 inch between each and cover with plastic wrap. Once assembled the dumplings should be cooked as soon as possible, because they cannot be refrigerated uncooked.

Steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 7 minutes, or until they have puffed slightly and are glossy and translucent (they will become more translucent as they begin to cool as well). Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate if serving as steamed dumplings.

To pan-fry, remove the trays and let the dumplings cool to room temperature. They can sit for up to 2 hours. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil for a medium skillet or 1 1/2 tablespoons for a large skillet.

When the oil is just about to smoke, add the dumplings, smooth side down, in batches if necessary; it is okay if they touch. Fry for about 3 minutes, or until crisp and tinged golden brown. Flip each over to crisp the sealed (pleated) side for about 2 minutes; reduce the heat if the oil smokes. There is no need to brown the bottom as it will not show. Transfer to a platter.

Serve hot or warm with soy sauce and chile garlic sauce for guests to concoct their own dipping sauce.

After steaming, dumplings can be refrigerated and then re-steamed for about 3 minutes, and then finally pan-fried before serving. Steamed dumplings can also be frozen for up to 1 month, completely thawed in the refrigerator, and steamed for 3 to 5 minutes and finally pan-fried as directed above. These dumplings MUST be cooked before being refrigerated or frozen.


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