Saturday, January 28, 2012

dumplings - little pillows of happiness

Wherever you've lived, visited, even fantasised over, there'll always be one or two resounding features in your memory bank that can take you back there in a nano second. For me it's the East and the dumpling. I've eaten not nearly enough in my life, served up just as many again, and dreamt of a disturbing figure in between the two. 

I'm not going to profess to having an ultimate recipe for any dumpling either, I know way too many people who can wipe the floor with me there, and there's as many again who are serious food experts who still leave it to a small handful of professionals. But in the odd occasion where you're too far away from that fantasy place and the need is great, this'll do fine.


Makes 100 

670g plain flour
330ml cold water
1 bai-cai (Chinese leaf, also called pak choi), very finely chopped, sprinkled with salt, left for 30 mins then squeezed dry
225g extra-lean minced pork, organic or free range
10-12 tiger prawns, peeled and finely chopped
4 spring onions, using both the white and green parts, very finely chopped
15g ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
sunflower oil
2 eggs, beaten
soy sauce
Chinese cooking rice wine
sea salt
sesame oil 
Suan zhi (garlic sauce) 
5 cloves garlic
Chinese dark rice vinegar
sesame seed oil 

Put the flour in a large bowl and drizzle water onto it, mixing the flour. Then use your hands to form a large ball. Leave to rest for 30 mins. For the stuffing add the bai-cai to the pork, prawns, spring onion and ginger. Heat 2 1⁄2 tblsp of oil in a wok and when the oil is smoking add the eggs, moving briskly until they are golden and crispy. Add to the pork mixture with 2 tblsp of soy sauce, 7 tblsp of sunflower oil, 3⁄4 tblsp of rice wine, three pinches of salt and a drizzle of sesame oil. 

To make the skins take a handful of dough, make it into a sausage 2.5 cm in diameter and cut into pieces 2.5 cm long. Form each piece into a ball, then flatten, making a disc about 3.5 cm in diameter. Then roll them (all 100) into circular dumpling skins about 7-8 cm in diameter (you can buy these if you must). Put 1 1⁄2 tsp of stuffing mix into the centre of each skin and press the edges together to form a half moon shape with the middle pushed together and the ends open. 

Seal the corners by creating little concertina-like folds as you press the edges together: it is crucial they don't open during the cooking process. 
To make suan zhi chop the garlic and add to the dark rice vinegar with a drizzle of sesame oil. I also add a tsp of brown sugar, 1 tblsp of soy sauce and 1⁄2 tsp of chilli oil. 

To cook the dumplings boil a pan of water and carefully add 20 at a time - they will sink. Using a spoon stir the water (not the dumplings) to create a whirlpool which will encourage the dumplings to float. When they are floating put the lid on and let them cook for 2 minutes. When the water is really boiling add a little cold water and bring it back to the boil. Do this twice more then add a final drop of water. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon. Eat with the sauce - pick up your dumplings with chopsticks and bite off the end to let out the steam.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

mushrooming about the time of year

There isn't much you can do wrong with a mushroom. Some love them (me) some can't get past their apparent sliminess (weirdos) some just go with the flow. As their true wild season comes to a close, one last blast today is in order. Mushrooms on toast for breakfast and a slow braised beef casserole with fat handfuls of every variety I'm able to get my hands on is a fitting Sunday any which way you look at it.

Sunday breakfast has to be where the weekend makes any sense, and filling the house with the smell of sauteed mushrooms, toasted bread and fresh coffee cannot fail to get the day rolling just nicely as in Plan A. Lightly toasted focaccia just because it soaks everything up like the most delicious edible sponge. A pile of evenly sized of the harder mushrooms like pied bleu, hedgehogs and even buttons and chestnuts. Butter, a tiny splash of cream at the end. A fat pinch of really good salt and plenty chopped parsley and black pepper.

Beef will go on shortly and cook throught the day. I'm looking at a fist full of ceps to go with diced shin and a load of garlic, shallots and thyme. A decent bit of red wine in nice and early, maybe spiked with a hit of chilli, and probably farted about with a bit more still. More on all that as soon as I've snoozed off breakfast and pretended to read the Sunday papers.