Sunday, February 17, 2013

Savory Rice Dumplings 元宵 Yuan Xiao

Happy year of the snake! As I mentioned yesterday, I've got a yuan xiao recipe for you. These ones are savory, though there are sweet ones, too, mostly commonly filled with black sesame paste, and smaller, unfilled ones.

After tasting this batch of dumplings and the subsequent meatball soup I made with the extra pork filling I had, I learned something great about dumplings: their skins seal in flavor! The filling in the dumplings was very flavorful and juicy. However, the meatballs in the soup I made with the extra materials were much less flavorful and juicy. All the delicious juices, fat, and seasoning in the meat must have just dispersed into the soup as it cooked. With the dumplings, however, the skins keep the juices and seasoning right in with the meat filling, leading it to end up very flavorful and moist. Makes it worth the effort to make the dough and wrap the dumplings. Alright, actually, that and the fact that you can freeze a bunch for easy cooking later on make it worth the effort.

Hmm, I also read mention here and there of an alternate method of making these rice dumplings. Apparently southern China favors hand folding the dumpling balls while northern China uses a kind of pan shaking method. Supposedly you can put balls of the meat filling in a tray of sticky rice flour, sprinkle water on, and shake the tray until the balls form. I'll have to research that and try it out some time. Could be handy. Also sounds like some wasted rice flour, though.

新年快樂!萬事如意!(Happy New Year! May all your hopes be fulfilled!)

Savory Rice Dumplings 元宵 Yuan Xiao

1/2 lb. ground pork
2 dried black mushrooms/shiitake, soaked several hours or overnight
1 TBS dried shrimp, soaked 30 minutes and minced
1 stalk green onion, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
1-1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

4 cups sticky rice flour
~2 cups boiling water

1-1/2 quarts chicken stock (ideally homemade, but we’re all busy people)
additional chopped green onion for garnish
  1. Squeeze dry the soaked mushrooms (reserve soaking liquid), slice off the stems, and mince the caps.
  2. Place ground pork in a large mixing bowl and mix in 2 TBS mushroom soaking liquid thoroughly into the pork. Add in minced mushrooms, shrimp, and green onions, grated ginger, soy sauces, sesame oil, and white pepper, and mix all ingredients thoroughly together. Set aside.
  3. Place rice flour in a large heatproof mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in about 1-1/2 cups boiling (or just hot—it’s not strictly necessary for the water to be hot enough to cook the rice flour, but makes it a little easier to work with—once it’s cooled a bit, that is) water and stir until well combined, adding water a tablespoon at a time as needed to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and a little sticky, with a play dough-like consistency, if a little stretchier. As the water is hot, I use a dough scraper to mix the dough. You could also use a wooden spatula or other tool. Cover the dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out while you’re making the dumplings.
  4. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, using your fingers, pull off a small ball of dough (about a 1-inch diameter ball) and re-cover the dough while you work. Flatten the ball of dough and work it with your fingers into a ~3-inch disc, leaving the center thicker than the outer areas. You want to do this so that the dumpling doesn’t break so easily there. (I make my discs slightly elongated so that the geometry of pulling and folding the disc into a ball works out better, without so much pleating.)
  5. Spoon about a teaspoon of the pork mixture onto the center of the disc and pull the outer areas up around the filling, bringing the sides together, pleating and folding as necessary, to completely enclose the filling in a ball. Roll the dumpling in your palms to smooth out the ball. Set the dumpling on a baking tray lined with wax paper and repeat steps 3 and 4 to keep making dumplings until you’re out of dough or filling. (When you’re finished, you can put this tray directly in the freezer to freeze the dumplings before bagging them, or just cook them immediately—or both.)
  6. In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add dumplings in a single layer and return the soup to a boil. Gently stir the dumplings occasionally, until they have floated to the surface and subsequently plumped up (several minutes). Transfer dumplings to individual bowls with a little broth, garnishing with chopped green onions (if you prefer a clearer broth, boil the dumplings separately from your chicken stock for serving). Repeat as needed with remaining dumplings. Serve immediately.


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