Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dumplings Both Ways (Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter!) - July 19, 2008

*The pictures are awfully blurry. I was trying to get a few shots in before the carnage. Oh, and I linked to Eating Asia for my description of the black bean chili sauce.*

Many, many, MANY moons ago, Jimmy and I went to a friend’s place for a dumpling party. The host is a good friend of ours, and he wanted to have a get-together with the people who stuck around Kingston this summer. We didn’t know the other guests too well, but it still turned out to be loads of fun. Imagine Asians of various backgrounds trying to figure out the best way to make dumplings. I had to tone down my kitchen nazi tendencies, so I could play nice with the other children.

Usually, my cooking is based on foods that we made together as a family. My mum taught us the basics for almost any dish you can imagine, so it’s just a matter of translating the skills to a new dish. We had never made potsticker-type dumplings at home, jiaozi in Mandarin. The closest thing to jiaozi we made at home was wontons.

We had a couple of varieties: shrimp and pork, pork and celery, and a last batch of the leftover meat. I threw in some ground pork, minced shrimp, salt, pepper, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil to taste. Others at the party minced some onions, garlic, and napa cabbage. I was a little surprised that they all expected me to make the filling, since I had only made jiaozi once before. We may have had garlic chives as well, but I can’t be sure. They all got tossed into the filling, in various quantities. I really wish I wrote this post sooner now.

There’s no recipe for this one either, since it was last summer and I was making it up as I went along.

I should mention that we were all Chinese, but of many different backgrounds. When it was time to wrap the dumplings, everyone had a different technique. I considered taking pictures of this part, but my hands were crusted with flour and filling at this point. I did get to learn a few different techniques from my own. It was funny to see a plateful of our dumplings since each one looked different from the other.

We pan-fried some, and then boiled the rest. It was a nice way to make one dish feel like two different ones. The boiled ones were soft and pillowy. It was super delicious because the dumpling skins absorbed the juices from the fillings. In every bite, I got the dense, salty filling and the slightly sweet tender wrapper soaked with meat juices. The pan-fried ones were completely different—like meeting the other twin. The more rebellious one. They were crispy and chewy, and while they still had the juice-engorged wrappers, the flavours were far more intense. I really enjoyed the contrast in textures. After I got tired of chewing fried dumplings, I would switch to the boiled ones to give my mouth a break.

Since all of us at the dumpling party were from different parts of Asia (Taiwan, Henan, Beijing, and Singapore, just to name a few), we had quite a spread of different dipping sauces. There was light and dark soy sauce, black vinegar, red vinegar, sesame oil, and black bean chili sauce (the one with the stern-faced woman on the label). Each person mixed their own dipping sauce, so the dumplings ended up tasting different to everyone.

A few people had arranged a gorgeous fruit plate for dessert. Yummy! It included cherries, strawberries, pineapple, and watermelon. I remember the watermelon to be super juicy and not mealy, as ripe watermelons tend to get. After eating platefuls of dumplings—which, despite their size, feel like boulders in your stomach at the end of the night—the fruit was a welcome change of pace.

We had friends, food, drinks, and good conversation. Elements of the perfect dinner party. We all got to know each other through our childhood stories about dumplings. I realized that we have a lot more in common with each other than I initially thought. I have no doubt that food brings people together. While it’s nice to hang out and eat with your family, making food and eating with strangers is like discovering a new branch of your family. Once we move out into a larger apartment, I’m going to be a hostess extraordinaire.

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