Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5-Spice Beef and Carrot Dumplings

I've been craving dumplings. A few days ago I tried making pierogi, the Polish version, which I filled with a potato, bacon, kale and onion mix pepped up by some toasted cumin and fennel seeds. I wasn't entirely happy with how the dough came out (I'll try this recipe next time) but the overall result was still pretty delicious.

Today, I made Chinese-style dumplings. As I'm currently out of range from an Asian grocer, I thought I'd try my hand at making the wrappers from scratch. I found this recipe and was stoked with how easy it was to make. For my first attempt, they turned out okay but I'll need to work on rolling them out. They say to never blame your tools but on this occasion, I regret using my ridged vintage chappati rolling pin. It's important to roll these out right and the ridges didn't allow me to roll the edges out thinly so that when pressed together, the dumpling wrapper isn't too thick.

I'm still pleased with how they came out though, especially the filling, but I'll be giving the homemade dumplings wrappers another attempt soon.


5-spice Beef and Carrot Dumplings makes 36 with above dumpling wrapper recipe

If you're not fussed about making the dumpling wrappers from scratch, visit your local Asian supermarket and find the pre-made jiao zi dumpling wrappers in the freezer. You may be faced with two types/shapes: circular or square. I prefer the circular ones as the square wrappers are actually for wontons and are made with egg (instead of just flour and water). They would work fine, but the square shape creates 'excess' pastry ideal for deep-fried wontons, for the extra crispiness, or in soup, for aesthetics and the egg noodle-like texture.

Fresh/defrosted pre-made dumpling wrappers

300 g quality beef mince
1 medium sized carrot, grated
1 tsp five spice powder
1 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped or grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or minced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 dried Thai bird's eye chilli, crushed/chopped including seeds (or 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes)
1 green onion/scallion, sliced finely from tip to root
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

Combine filling ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. To test for seasoning, heat a small pan on high heat and fry a teaspoon worth of the filling as a wee meatball. Add more salt if required (instead of soy sauce, to ensure filling is not too moist).

My vintage ridged chappati rolling pin wasn't ideal as I couldn't roll out the outer edge thinly enough

If using freshly made wrappers: cut, roll out & fill as you go. Wrappers should be around 8cm/3in diameter, being rolled out from the centre outwards to ensure thinner dough on the edges (what I didn't do). With fresh dough, water isn't required to seal the dumplings, so you should be able to easily join the edges around a level tablespoon of the filling, placed in the centre, as you ensure a tight seal with no air pockets.

If using pre-made wrappers, you'll need to wet the inside edge, e.g. around the filling, with your finger dipped in water as required. Bring the opposite sides of the pastry together, pressing firmly to create a half moon shape, sealing the wrapper tightly around the filling.

My technique for folding dumplings

To fold/finish
There are many different styles of folding dumplings, so just go with what feels natural. This video shows a quick technique for fresh dough, while this step-by-step guide works well for pre-made wrappers - similar to what I do with both fresh/pre-made wrappers. You can easily do a flat-style seal with no folds, but you'll miss out on the textural difference that these make in the finished product.

Press finished dumpling down firmly onto a lightly floured surface to create a flat bottom before placing finished dumplings aside on a tray lined with parchment paper/cling wrap and keep covered (e.g. with cling wrap) to prevent drying out. (I used foil, below, but I wouldn't advise it.)

Leave space between each dumpling to prevent sticking to each other, especially when using freshly made wrappers

To cook, you can steam, pan-fry or boil your dumplings in multiple batches.

To steam
Over simmering water, line steamer basket (ideally bamboo) with parchment paper before placing dumplings with space in-between each one. Cover for 5-7 minutes until filling is cooked through.

To pan-fry
In a large non-stick pan, heat a teaspoon of oil on high. Add dumplings one-by-one into the pan but without overcrowding. Fry for a minute or so, moving them around the pan to fry in the oil, to allow them to heat through before adding 100ml of water (or enough to create a layer of water in the pan), taking care as it will steam straight away. Cover for 5 minutes and then lift lid to allow any residual water to steam off. When you can hear the dumplings sizzle again, allow them to fry for a further 30 seconds and then remove from heat.

To boil
In a large pot of boiling water, add dumplings one-by-one without overcrowding the pot and ensuring they don't touch each other. Turn down to a simmer and cook for around 5-7 minutes, occasionally giving them a gentle stir. Remove with a slotted spoon (they can also be pan-fried at this point after boiling).

The top-right dumplings were pan-fried, while the rest were boiled and then pan-fried to test the difference. Both tasty but the former were a little crispier around the edges. This also shows the resultant chubbiness at the folded edge due to my rolling.   
Pan-fried 5-spice beef and carrot dumplings

Serve dumplings immediately after cooking on their own with Chinese black vinegar or a loose & sharp chilli sauce (like this one). I find the sourness of vinegar complements the 5-spice flavour profile nicely and if not using vinegar, something with equal bite is ideal. A thin dipping sauce is preferable to not add any additional texture to the dumpling, which will be meaty and have plenty of body on its own.

Create a full meal by serving dumplings alongside simply steamed vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce, and rice topped with toasted sesame seeds (or a mix, as I have done).

A simple meal

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