Steamed Dumplings

Arriving at my usual spot late last night I noticed something unusual: the garbage truck had gotten there first. My usual companion had always stressed the importance of getting there just as the trash was being brought out, but I assumed this was to maximize our haul and preserve the freshness of the food, not because the garbage truck would be coming in forty-five minutes. He wasn’t with me that night because he was having trouble with his truck. So I took the train, and the train took way too long. I checked the dumpsters, anyway, after the truck was gone: a few packages of corn pudding were stuck to the bottom, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach, and that it wasn’t worth reaching for corn pudding.

So I walked about ten minutes, not wanting to waste the train fare, to a reliable bagel shop and took a handful of bagels from their vast troves of trashed bagels. Bread is in essentially endless supply, but there’s only so much bread I can eat. Same with desserts. This is kind of a shame because it makes it impractical to bake, and I love to bake. But also because it means healthy food is the hardest thing to find. I foolishly spent ten dollars on lotto tickets and headed home, and took a package of seasoned ground chicken out of the freezer. I used to be afraid to take meat, but meats and cheeses, honestly, tend to be in better condition than most other fresh foods.

I made myself a truffle cheddar and almond butter sandwich on toasted rosemary focaccia and went to bed. All of the food mentioned on this blog, unless otherwise specified, is dumpstered.

Last week I took a shot at making soup dumplings from scratch because I had a package of ground chicken, and really couldn’t think of any other use for ground chicken. The way soup dumplings work is you have some gelatinized broth that you stuff into the dumplings with the meat, and if they’re properly sealed the gelatin melts inside the wrapper when you heat them up and surrounds the meat in a pool of broth. I had some chicken bone broth I had made a few days earlier from the carcass of a rotisserie chicken, then made into soup, then strained back out of the soup because I was unhappy with how the soup turned out. Bone broth is naturally gelatinous, but most recipes call for adding gelatin to regular broth, because that’s much quicker and easier and gives you more control over how much gelatin is in the broth.

But the hard part about making soup dumplings is the wrappers. I have plenty of flour, so of course I tried to make my own dough. You have to make it very thin and yet still strong enough to hold the filling in, then close it with a series of tight pleats. It’s really something that takes a lot of skill and practice and I am certainly no authority on Chinese cooking. I was so bad at this that I used twice as much dough per dumpling as the recipe called for. Most of the dumplings were not fully sealed, the wrappers were very thick, and there was no soup to be found in any of them. They still tasted good.

Because the dough was so thick, I only used half the chicken. So I went out and bought some pre-made dumpling wrappers, which cost two dollars and are absolutely worth it. I used up the rest of the chicken easily and made some good, simple non-soup dumplings and still had about half the wrappers left. Which brings us to this morning.

I had a package of seasoned, ground chicken. The package vaguely referred the seasoning as Asian, but I didn’t know whether this meant I could use it as dumpling filling on its own. Unfortunately, raw chicken isn’t something you can just taste to find out. I took a little ball of chicken and put it in my steamer pot by itself, waited ten minutes, and tasted it. Bland. I was going to have to treat it as though it were completely unseasoned. I added a little onion, brown sugar*, soy sauce*, white wine vinegar, chopped scallion**, minced ginger*, and salt.

I threw in a little of the Quatre Épices my ex brought back from France six or seven years ago. He spent most of his time traveling while we were together and would always come home with a new way of drinking his coffee and a new way of folding his shirts. The ingredients listed are cannelle (44%) (cinnamon), gingembre (24%) (ginger), girofle (cloves), muscade (nutmeg). Basically if you take the French word for a spice and apply English pronunciation rules, you get the name of a new Pokemon. The original recipes I based this on didn’t call for spices, but I like them so I went ahead. You could probably just use a little cinnamon and get more or less the same flavor, since we’ve already put a bunch of fresh ginger in.

The dipping sauce is pretty much just vinegar with ginger in it. The recipe I’m basing it on called for Chinese black vinegar, which I didn’t have, or substituting that for a mixture of balsamic vinegar and rice vinegar, which I also didn’t have. What I had was: balsamic vinegar*, malt vinegar*, and white wine vinegar. The white wine vinegar belonged to a friend who died around this time last year. I mixed them (about half and half white wine and balsamic with just a splash of the malt) with some minced ginger and microwaved it for 30 seconds.

The dumpling wrappers come with instructions on how to put them together. You just put about a tablespoon of filling in the middle, moisten the edge and fold and press. I did a better job the second time, because I was able to use up about ¾ of a pound of filling using the same amount of wrappers that only contained a half pound the first time. Then, they get steamed for about eight minutes. I didn’t have anything to line the steamer with so I sprayed it with cooking spray, which worked fine.

You shouldn’t just stack them up like this, by the way. They’ll stick together. I already knew this but I did it anyway because my landlord was coming up to show me how to drain my radiators.

I’m satisfied with how they turned out. I still have about a quarter of the filling left so I put it back in the freezer. And then, here’s the important part, you need to wash that big steamer pot instead of leaving it in the sink to annoy your roommates, or your family, or if you live alone, your future self.

* All things I bought. Fresh ginger is just one of those things you have to buy. I’ve never seen anybody throw it out. But it’s cheap, anyway.

** I recently started growing my own scallions by putting the cut ends of store-bought scallions in a pot and clipping off a couple of leaves when I need them. I don’t know why I took so long to start doing this. Growing your own herbs is pretty much always worth it.

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