Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Chicken & Thai Basil Dumplings


The Olympics are coming! The Olympics are coming!


I am a huge fan of the Olympics, counting down for years until the next one. It's a never-ending cycle of Olympic obsession. I love watching the various sports, but I also just love being patriotic and supporting all of our athletes.


Embracing all of these nations coming together in competition can perhaps be best expressed through culinary exploration. What better way to celebrate our diversity than by cooking and eating foods from around the world.


I plan on sharing more posts leading up to and during the Olympics, including other international recipes, but today let's take a look at a really delicious dumpling that embodies a fusion of traditional Thai flavors in a Chinese-style package.


These Chicken & Thai Basil Dumplings were incredibly popular at New York City's Rickshaw Dumplings in its heyday. The recipe for these beloved dumplings is available in Kenny Lao's Hey There, Dumpling! cookbook.


It does require a bit of advance prep, including preparing the lemongrass marinade and allowing it to sit at least overnight or up to a week. After mixing the strained marinade with the other filling ingredients, it's also a good idea to chill the mixture further before using it. This will allow the filling to be more easily scooped into the wrappers.


With just a bit of planning, you could potentially be eating these dumplings (instead of drooling over my pictures) within a couple days! Not too shabby.


Fish sauce, lemongrass, Thai basil, scallions, chicken, carrots, cellophane noodles, and lime are just a few of the key flavors showcased here. The accompanying dipping sauce also screams traditional Thai, and is very reminiscent of a satay sauce, combining creamy peanut butter and coconut milk, along with spicy nam prik pao, a Thai chile paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand Roasted Red Chili Paste).


I added a bit more nam prik pao to yield a slightly spicier sauce, but even with my addition it was still relatively sweet and creamy with very little spice. The sauce can definitely be tweaked to your taste.


These dumplings are easy enough to make with store-bought dumpling wrappers. There are a few steps involved in their preparation, but if you like Thai flavors, and Chinese pan-fried dumplings, you will adore this combination.


You can also make these dumplings and freeze them on a baking sheet before storing the frozen dumplings in your freezer in a freezer bag or airtight container for cooking at a later time.


What a perfect way to celebrate the Olympics, by pan-frying some of these flavorful, chewy and crispy dumplings for you and your friends.


Chicken & Thai Basil Dumplings
Makes about 45 dumplings
(From Hey There, Dumpling!)

1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) fish sauce
2 garlic cloves
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, smashed, and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 bundle (50 g) vermicelli mung bean noodles (also called cellophane noodles, bean threads, or glass noodles)
1 pound (455 g) ground chicken
1 cup (130 g) very finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup (6 g) thinly sliced Thai basil leaves (use regular basil if you can't find Thai basil)
1/4 cup (25 g) finely chopped scallions
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons sriracha
2 1/4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (1-pound/455-g) package round dumpling wrappers
Spicy Peanut Dip (recipe follows)

In a food processor, combine the sugar, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and 1 1/4 teaspoons pepper. Pulse until the lemongrass is very finely chopped. Transfer the marinade to an airtight container and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 1 week.

When ready to cook, strain the marinade through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. You should have 1/2 cup (120 ml). (If you have extra, save it to use as a marinade for grilling chicken, pork, or beef.)

Fill a medium bowl with ice and water. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and drop the noodles in. Cook just until softened, about 3 minutes, then drain and transfer to the ice water. When cool, drain again, then chop the noodles.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, carrots, basil, scallions, salt, sriracha, lime juice, cornstarch, 1/2 cup (120 ml) marinade, noodles, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Use your hands to work all the ingredients together until well-mixed. It’s best to use your hands because you can get everything incorporated into the meat without making the pieces of meat too small.

If you have time, cover and refrigerate the filling until nice and cold, up to 2 days. The filling will be easier to spoon into your wrappers when it’s chilled.

Take out five wrappers and cover the rest with a damp dowel. Lay out the five wrappers like ducks in a row. Wet 1/2 inch of the rim of each wrapper. Scoop a fat teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrapper, shaping it elongated like a football to make it easier to fold. Fold the wrapper in half like a taco and pinch the edges at the top center. Continue folding the dumpling using your preferred folding method (simply press the edges together or pleat to create another shape--I used the "Buddah's Belly" fold from the book).

At this point, the dumplings can either be cooked immediately, covered and refrigerated for up to a couple hours, or frozen.

When you're ready to cook your dumplings, choose a large nonstick skillet with a lid. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Start arranging the dumplings in super-tight concentric circles. Add 3 tablespoons water to the pan (I suggest a bit more than this, especially if you are cooking a large batch at once), set over medium heat, and cover.

Let the dumplings cook, rotating the pan every once in a while to promote even cooking. When the bubbling sound switches to a crackle, lift the lid to peek and see if the pan is dry. This step takes about 7 minutes with fresh dumplings and about 10 minutes with frozen ones (mine took longer than this--I usually use another, more traditional method to pan-fry; you can find it here if you're interested). You may need to continue to cook the dumplings for a few more moments to ensure they are evenly browned once the water has evaporated. (Alternatively you may steam these dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket lined with parchment paper or cabbage leaves.)

Spicy Peanut Dip
Makes about 1 cup
(From Hey There, Dumpling!)

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 1/2 teaspoons nam prik pao (roasted chile jam; see Note) (I used 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3/4 cup (180 ml) coconut milk (I used a small 161 ml can, closer to 2/3 cup)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, nam prik pao, sugar, and fish sauce. Continue whisking and add the coconut milk in a slow, steady stream to emulsify the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You also can adjust the other seasonings to your taste. The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

NOTE: Nam prik pao, an essential Thai condiment, combines a chile-garlic-shallot paste with funky shrimp paste, fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, and tangy tamarind. It’s sometimes labeled roasted chile paste, chile jam, or chile paste in oil. Look for the blend of ingredients above and you’ve got the right thing.

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