Mandu (Filled Dumplings)

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Had not expected to be back in Korea so quickly, but ground pork is only 2 bucks a pound at Jia Hua (Chinese Superstore) and a package of 50 dumpling skins - the small ones, sometimes called won ton skins - was less than two. This is one of many recipes that are inexpensive to make but take time; however it is a good way to occupy your hands while you are doing something else, like a movie or language tapes or visiting with friends.

You can stuff many things into mandu - pork is most common, but ground beef or tofu, okara, or that bag of marked down mushrooms can also be the bulk of the filling. (You can also transplant the dumpling skins to another continent and use traditional ravioli fillings, but that is another post.) The key is to have a mixture that is strongly flavoured and sticks together, but without too much moisture - using all vegetables, for example, has resulted in mandu with soggily disintegrating skins for me and if using tofu you would want the firm kind. This time I used 1 lb ground pork, 4 cloves of garlic put through a press, leftover egg whites from the lime tarts, one bunch of chopped garlic chives, and some drained chopped kim chi. You will want roughly two and a half cups of filling for fifty dumpling skins. Set out the stack of skins, a dish of water, and the bowl of filling. Lay out a skin and use fingers to draw a wet frame on it so the edges will stick together; add a teaspoon of filling. Fold into a triangle and close the dumpling, being careful not to trap air inside and to get a good seal on it. They are very good freshly steamed. You can make mandu soup by boiling them in chicken stock, stirring in chopped green onions and a swirl of scrambled egg, and adding salt and pepper to taste - boiled mandu are cooked when they float. Freeze in a single layer before putting them in freezer bags because they stick together very easily, and cook from frozen without thawing or the skins will be too soft to handle.

To fry them, film a very hot frying pan or other shallow pan with a tsp or so of oil and add mandu in a single layer. After about ten seconds of sizzling, quickly pour 1/4- 1/3 cup of water depending on pan size and hold its lid down tight - you will have to fight the steam pressure, but hold down the lid for a few seconds after the pressure has gone down. (And please keep your skin away from the high pressure steam that comes out right from the edges of the pan; it is extremely hot.) Then lift the lid and use your keenest spatula to turn over the mandu, which should be sticking to the pan and be dark brown on that side. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let brown on the other side til cooked through. I like to top with spinach and a drizzle of sesame oil before covering just to cook greens at the same time. Mandu are complemented by salty, sharp or hot sauces - Asian vinegars, soy sauce or chili oils are good, but mustard, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, balsamic vinegar, or tabasco are also worth a try depending on how they are filled. And yes, you can fry them conventionally uncovered in lots more oil (med high heat) and just turn them over halfway through but the steam fry method is way more exciting.