Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pleating For Mercy

When I lived in North Carolina there wasn't a large Asian community that I can remember, especially compared to the Bay Area, where I live now. Still, my parents quickly assembled a core of Korean friends they met through work or church or at the one Korean supermarket/deli, the one that everyone went to because, well, it was the only one.

At the time I resented having to spend weekends at my parents' friends' houses for drawn-out dinner parties and potlucks instead of going to my friends' dinners and potlucks, but looking back I realize how much my taste for certain foods and rituals was shaped by those evenings. At first everything was really cozy, since most of my parents' friends were, like them, teachers or students at the universities. We would gather at someone's apartment, each family bringing a side dish or beer and, if it was a (Korean) holiday, all the women would help the hostess make mandu. I don't know why the men didn't help make the mandu. They might have been too busy manfully watching TV. (When we weren't gathered for a holiday or birthday, we were usually watching the World Cup.)

Mandu, the Korean word for dumpling, are similar to gyoza in the way they are pleated and stuffed. However they're not usually panfried. I remember we usually steamed them and served them with a delightfully vinegared soy dipping sauce, or we added them to dduk gook, a comforting soup made with a mild clear broth, thin strips of beef and gim (nori toasted with sesame oil and salt), and rice cakes.

While my mandu are probably not strictly traditional since I'm still not entirely sure of the recipe my mom makes, I used:
- 2 packs wonton wrappers
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
- 6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 bundle chives, minced (I like to use my kitchen shears for this; my knife is sharp, but right now I only have a couple crappy plastic cutting boards and trying to get clean cuts on chives just ends up bruising them)
- 1 egg, beaten
- salt and pepper to season
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 - 2 cups fresh shitake mushrooms, diced fine (I tend to use more but I know these suckers are expensive, so I leave the precise amount up to you)
- 2 tablespoons mirin (rice wine) or good cooking sherry
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 a pound fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped (optional)

For the mandu assembly station:
- kitchen shears
- bowl of cold water to seal the wrappers
- bamboo steamers
- cabbage leaves to line the steamers

Yield: roughly 75 mandu

1. Recruit your slave labor. Homemade mandu are labor intensive, which is why they're usually reserved for holidays and large family gatherings.
2. If the wonton wrappers are square, trim them into circles. They dry out, so keep a lightly damp paper towel over the ones that are not in use.
3. Prepare the filling: in a large mixing bowl mix the pork, ginger, garlic, chives, sesame oil, mushrooms, mirin, soy sauce and shrimp, if using. Use your hands to mix or, if this is absolutely unacceptable, a couple forks. You pansy. Once the ingredients are evenly combined, add the egg and mix in to bind.

4. Line the steamers with washed cabbage leaves. Set a pot of water on the stove to boil.
5. Time to assemble! Spoon a small lump of filling into the center of each mandu wrapper, maybe two teaspoons or so. You want to leave enough room around the edges for you to pleat and seal the mandu effectively. To pleat the mandu, dip a finger in the bowl of water and wet the edge of the wrapper, a good thick smear. Don't use so much water that it makes the wrapper soggy, but don't skimp. Fold one side of the wrapper towards the other so it seals very loosely. Then pinch the edge into pleats, moving towards the center, making sure there aren't any openings or air bubbles as you go.
5. Place the mandu in the steamer, taking care to avoid letting them touch each other. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and place the mandu-laden steamers onto the pot. Steam for about eight to nine minutes, until the filling is cooked through but still tender. Serve, and remember: neglecting to feed your slaves can lead to insurrection.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciate the fact that the recipe is for 75. Clearly no fewer than 75 can be consumed in a single mandu event. I can really connect with that.