Beyond Potstickers: A Dumpling Lover's Confession
I am a dumpling fanatic. I have yet to find a piece of dropped or stuffed dough beyond the reaches of my adoration.
Whether fried or boiled, baked in the oven or submerged in broth, steamed in bamboo or coasting over a thin puddle of sauce, breaking my fork, spoon or chopstick into a not-yet-unveiled center summons in me the excitement of a pile of brightly wrapped birthday presents. Even if I know exactly what's inside, tearing open the packaging is always half the fun.
When you love dumplings, the entire world steps out to welcome you into its home, setting out platters of spicy empanadas flecked with raisins and hard-boiled eggs throughout South America; brothy bowls of thin and slippery wantons in China; tiny, artful tortellini draped lightly in sauce in Italy, and spicy, petite manti in ayran, a yogurt sauce in Turkey. Really, we're just getting started, so you probably want to sit down and stay for a while.
There are but four features that, to me, define a dumpling, be they called ravioli or pirozhki: A filling--meat, cheese, vegetable or some combination thereof, almost always minced; a wrap, with its varied yet specific folds, crimps, tucks and turns; a preparation--boiled, steamed, pan- or deep-fried, and a presentation-- in a broth, dipped in sauce or mounded with butter-fried onions.
Of course, trying to abbreviate a whole world of pocketed delights into four parts leaves a few things out. Gnocchi, matzo balls and Kentucky chicken 'n dumplin' soup pout at me for omitting some dumpling history.
In the beginning, dumplings weren't filled at all. They were lumps of grain or cereal dough dropped into soups and stews. They evolved into the folded and sealed varieties I have fallen so hard for.
Other dumplings defy strict classification. So Chinese xiaolongbao (soup-filled dumplings), Russian golubtzi (stuffed cabbage) and German kartoffelkloesse (potato dumplings with a small crouton in the middle) stare angrily at me from the corner, tasty hands on delicious hips.
Fear not, I have room in my belly for all of you.
There are two dumpling camps: Those who have made them from scratch their whole lives find it incredibly simple and think it's ludicrous to use packaged dumpling skins or pre-sheeted pasta, and those who have tried to make them for dinner one night and realized they misjudged the prep time by several few hours.
Because most dumplings have four features--a wrapper, filling, preparation and a presentation--they also have four sets of instructions, or enough reason for anyone to dream of cutting corners and buying the first step at the store.
But if you do choose to make your dough at home (and I will not judge you if you do not), you'll realize that there is something homey and simple about most recipes: typically just flour, water and something to enrich the dough stirred in a bowl and kneaded until someone's grandmother says you're done. It's not a quick process, but it can be a relaxing one.
From there, the fillings, cooking and sauces or garnishes come together quickly, as if rewarding you for your elbow grease.
The most important thing to know if you're going to cook dumplings at home is how to flash freeze them, since they so often yield dozens when you only need 10.
Arrange your uncooked confections on a parchment-lined tray, being certain that none are touching, and freeze them through before putting them in a freezer bag. This will not only save you a tremendous amount of freezer space, but you'll find that uncooked dumplings keep surprisingly well frozen, for at least a month, so they'll always be fresh when you want them.
In my kitchen, that's pretty much daily.
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