When I was growing up in Memphis, there were really only two fancy, sit-down, white tablecloth, special occasion restaurants. An old-school, white-jacketed waiter, New Orleans-style place and an elegant Chinese restaurant. My Dad is a big fan of Chinese food, so it was his choice for special meals. My brother and I loved the egg drop soup, which had tiny little carrots floating in it cut in the shapes of ducks and bunnies. The owner told my mom that the chef carved the whole carrot into the shape and thinly sliced the whole into paper-thin floaters. To this day, as my kitchen obsession grows, my mother frequently asks when I plan to learn to properly carve carrot bunnies.
I was probably twelve or thirteen before any other Chinese restaurant opened, and we ate there a lot. Sesame Chicken, Egg Drop Soup, Fried Wontons, Lemon Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Mu Shu Pork. The standard fare in this area, on the menus of the many subsequent Chinese restaurants to open. When I went off to college in Connecticut, my friends and I ordered Chinese food from the local, college-friendly delivery joint. This group of folks were all from the New England and they took over the ordering, choosing their standard choice of dishes. When we laid it all out on the floor of the dorm room, I was flummoxed. Everyone was digging in heartily and I didn’t recognize some of the dishes. Sure beef and broccoli was there, but I’d never seen cold sesame noodles (now one of my favorites) or dumplings before. It had never occurred to me that ethnic food could be regional not just in its country of origin but in its transplanted incarnation as well.
Dumplings have made their way onto Chinese menus in Memphis as totally standard fare now. My nieces are big fans. It never crossed my mind that dumplings were something you might make at home until I stumbled across a magazine article about the process. I didn’t save the article, but it stuck with me for weeks until I just had to try it for myself. I use packaged dumpling wrappers and make a flavorful filling. I like to make a big batch and freeze them to pull out and cook when I’m in the mood. I have to say, I am rather impressed with myself for this accomplishment.
1 pound ground pork
1 medium carrot finely grated
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns (optional)
1 package wonton or dumpling wrappers
Place all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Your clean hands are the best tool for this.
I find it easiest here to set up a little assembly line. Place a small bowl of water in easy reach. Lay some of the wonton wrappers out on the counter, and place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Wet your finger with water and run it around the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together, pressing any air bubbles out and sealing completely. Keep going until you have used up all the filling. You should end up with 35 – 40 dumplings.
Place the folded dumplings on a baking sheet or plates lined with waxed paper. Place the dumplings in the freezer until solid, at least an hour, then transfer to a plastic freezer bag or container. I like to divide into portions of six or seven dumplings in individual bags.
There are several ways to prepare these dumplings:
For fried dumplings: Thaw the dumplings in the fridge. Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet and fry the dumplings until crispy and golden. Remove the dumplings to a paper towel lined plate to drain and serve with soy or ponzu sauce to dip.
For pan-fried dumplings: Thaw the dumplings or cook from frozen. For each 6 – 7 dumplings, bring 1 ½ cups of chicken broth and one tablespoon of oil to a boil. Add the dumplings and continue to cook until the broth has evaporated. The dumplings will cook and brown on the bottom in the residual oil.
Makes 35- 40 dumplings