Next week marks the beginning of Lent, traditionally a period of sacrifice, penance and atonement.
Even if you’re not a religious person, I think it’s a good idea to become acquainted with these concepts, because undoubtedly at some point in your life you’ll experience these things, difficult as they are. And after all, towards the brighter shade of the same spectrums lie indulgence, forgiveness and acceptance.
To me, Lent is a thoughtful period in the spiritual calendar; a somewhat sombre time of reflection on the notions of love and strength of will. But before all that solemnity kicks off, there’s Mardi Gras (‘Fat Tuesday’ in French), which must be celebrated in the traditional manner – with richer, fatty foods on the last night before the Lenten season. Presumably this would use up the last of the goods and also keep people sane during a period of fasting.
I know most people eat pancakes – and believe me, I fully intend to participate in that too – but I thought it fitting to celebrate the beginning of a season of love by making these delicious little pork and water chestnut dumplings.
There’s something very special about dumplings. They always make me think of home; from the initial laughter-filled all-hands-on-deck preparation method and the proud presentation of neat rows of adorable little parcels (with the inevitable teasing about a few of the misshapen practice shots), to the family dinner at night and sharing the rewards with loved ones. There’s nothing more deeply satisfying than biting past the delicate pastry into the juicy filling and the flavour flooding your mouth and seeing smiles all around and thinking I helped to create this moment.
I’m always dazzled by the powerful combination of sweet pork, fiery ginger and sharp vinegar, and amazed by the complexity of flavours in Chinese cooking. Savoury and moreish, these tiny treasures go perfectly with a sharp and sweet dipping sauce.
Pork and water chestnut dumplings – makes 40
For the filling:
500g lean pork mince (see note below)
3 shallots, finely chopped
8 water chestnuts, diced
4 shitake mushrooms, diced
3 tsp grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp corn flour
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 tsp sesame oil
40 x gyoza wrappers
5 slivers of ginger
Black rice vinegar or distilled sugar cane vinegar
Light soy sauce
Just reading the list of ingredients can feel a bit daunting – goodness, is all that really necessary, Kahmen?
The short answer is yes; dumplings are meant to be complex and balanced so every bite is a joy. But the good news is that you can take each ingredient and add it directly to the mixing bowl as soon as it’s ready, so they’re really simple to make.
Combine all the filling ingredients and mix well. Yep, that’s it. Dumpling mix done and no MSG in sight.
If you’re planning to freeze dumplings, dust the tray with cornflour. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I forget to do this and it always ends in torn dumplings and tears the next day.
On a clean flat surface, lay out a set of dumpling wrappers – I think about nine at a time is about right because if you prepare too many they’ll dry out before you can get to folding them.
Lay about a teaspoon of mix in the centre of each wrapper. I find it easier to fold later if you shape the mix into a sausage now.
Dab the rim of the wrapper with water and fold over into a half circle, pinching the edges together. If you like, you can crimp them slightly to give the classic gyoza look. One down, thirty-nine to go.
You can either steam the dumplings for 8 minutes, or you can fry in a medium pan with oil, then add some water to create steam and cover for 4 minutes to help the insides cook.
I haven’t given quantities on the dipping sauce recipe because everyone has their own preference. In general, people recommend that you start off with equal parts vinegar and soy and then adjust to taste. I like a sharp sauce, so 2 parts vinegar to 1 part soy is about right.
NB: Interestingly, dumpling recipes always tell you to use fatty meat and with good reason – the juicier your dumplings, the tastier they’ll be. However, a quick look at the fat content in regular mince was enough to scare me right off, and I opted for lean mince, which you’ll be glad to know turned out just fine.