Updated: Apr 6, 2020
It’s been one week since I decided to tuck into self-isolation in my little Bangkok apartment in the clouds. Last Monday, March 16th, I went to school and took the practice exam for the first term of my Thai Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu. The final exam was meant to happen three days later, but by Tuesday the school had announced it would begin Spring break early and final exams would be canceled, due to the protective orders from the government in the face of the COVID19 outbreak in the city. At that time, Bangkok still had fewer than 100 confirmed cases of the virus, and some of us felt it was premature to close the school. A week later, so much has changed and without a doubt I am grateful for the aggressive measures local and national governments are taking to protect all of us in Bangkok from this pandemic.
The funny thing about culinary school is that it feels like I’m choosing to be there more than I’ve ever chosen to be anywhere. I’m paying with my hard earned money and taking time off of working to do this, just for the pure joy of learning to cook this incredible cuisine. I sit front-row-center for every lecture, soak up the Chef instructor’s words of wisdom and genuinely love every minute of it. When our campus closed, we were told we would be skipping the final exams and our grades would be based on our scores in the practical kitchens. To my surprise, I was very disappointed. I’ve never looked forward to taking a final exam and back in my college days, I would have LOVED to hear that a final exam had been canceled. To make things weirder, tests at Le Cordon Bleu are intense, to say the least. They are cooking tests where we have an hour to prepare a complicated dish perfectly, which will be blind judged by a panel of surprise local experts who will decide the grade. The recipe we’re given will only include the list of ingredients, and it’s up to us to recall the method. Of course, we don’t know the recipe until we enter the kitchen. From the beginning this sounded incredibly stressful. But I have been enjoying the course so much and have received such positive feedback in the practical kitchen thus far, that I was looking forward to the exam as a means of proving to myself that I was good at this. I wanted to see for myself that I could perform under pressure and meet the expectation set by Le Cordon Bleu.
But, the school has decided continuing students won’t re-sit the exams when the school opens (fingers crossed) April 20th. Instead, they’ve decided our Term 1 grades will be based 100% on our grades from the practical classes. Those grades are given at the 3 classes per week we have in the practical kitchens, where we attempt to reproduce the recipes from our demonstration classes. I understand that in terms of scheduling this is the best option for the school.
When the school was ordered to close on March 17th, the message that I shouldn’t be going out in public started to sink in and my self-imposed quarantine slowly began. I still went out to grocery stores and walked around malls (to get in some walking under climate controlled conditions) but that only lasted 2 days, by the 19th I had basically locked myself in my apartment. The government didn’t impose more broad closures of the city until March 21st, when 26 types of public facing businesses were ordered to close for two weeks.
So here I am, one week into self-isolation, with one week added onto my Spring Break. I knew even before school closed that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for Spring Break. Even though our COVID19 numbers were below 50 in Thailand the week before the school closure, it felt irresponsible to travel in the midst of a global pandemic. So I had planned for quite some time to stick around the city and do some cooking projects at home. I hadn’t expected to spend the entire time in my apartment, but we’re all in this together!
During my two days of grocery shopping out in the world, I stocked up on some project recipe staples. I wanted to make things with dough, as I’m not very experienced with bready things. I had the crispy bottom Sheng Jian boa and soup dumplings, Xiaolongbao, on my mind. But after failing to find baker’s yeast in any market and getting intimidated by the sheer quantity of pork bones I’d need to buy for the soup dumpling, I settled on simpler options. I’d make homemade Northern style Chinese dumplings (Shui Jiao) from Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe in Every Grain of Rice and then I’d invent a second dumpling filling for a vegan option, starring mushrooms.
In addition to Every Grain of Rice, I used YouTube as a reference. Of course I did- YouTube is the best teacher on the Internet! The Omnivore’s Cookbook YouTube channel has a fantastic video How to Make Chinese Dumplings showing her method of folding pot stickers, which has racked up over 3 million views. I account for probably 100 of those views as I had that video on repeat for quite some time, before I eventually internalized how to fold a dumpling. It’s all about patience and perseverance!
As I didn’t have a handy little dumpling rolling pin I started by using a sturdy drinking glass, which turned out to be a terrible idea. It felt really precarious against the granite countertop and the leverage wasn’t right at all. So I switched to doing the entire thing by hand, just pressing the dough into tiny palm sized pizza like discs. As evidenced by the photo, it started out VERY poorly, but by the end I was folding up bundles that could pass as pot stickers and I was quite pleased.
I had the test dumplings for lunch and wasn’t completely satisfied with my results, so I decided that I would hybridize the recipe. I was planning to make the vegan dumpling of my dreams, but in the end I had added too much ginger and I just didn’t have a winner on my hands. Also, I felt the pork dumpling was too dense, due to the fact that I had no idea what % fat I had bought (thai packaging). It would benefit from som
e vegetable to soften it up. So I mixed everything up and created quite a beautiful pork, mushroom and cabbage dumpling that I would be very happy to pull out of the freezer at any time. I will continue on in my quest for the perfect vegan dumpling, I think I’m just a ½ teaspoon of ginger away.
RECIPE: Pork, Mushroom and Cabbage Dumplings
Yield: About 30 dumplings
For the dumpling wrappers
4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (265 ml) cold water
For the Pork
4 oz (100g) ground pork (30% fat)
1 tsp (5g) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2T (30g) ginger water (fresh ginger + water)
½ t (2g) sesame oil
4 oz (100g) spring onion (roughly 2-4 spring onions)
For the mushroom
1Tbs (12g) ginger minced
2.5 Tbs (35g) shallot minced
2.5 tsp (10g) garlic minced
1.5 cups (180g) shredded green cabbage
3 cups (300g) mixed mushrooms
1 Tbs (15g) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
½ t (2g) sesame oil
1T (14g) cooking oil
pinch of salt
1 egg to bind
1-2T cooking oil to sear the dumplings
Mushroom options: beech mushrooms, shitake, maitake, oyster, king trumpet, straw mushroom, crimini and any fairly meaty mushroom you like. I used king trumpet, oyster and beech.
For the dipping sauce
1T (14g) soy sauce
2t (10g) rice vinegar
*** I am cooking in grams because I don’t have US measuring cups in my little apartment kitchen. The grams measurements are exact and the cups/spoons measurements are a combination of online conversion tools and estimating by sight.
For the Dough:
Start the dough first, as it needs to rest after kneading.
Add 4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour to a large mixing bowl and dig out a well in the center. Pour 1 cup (265 ml) cold water into the well.
Using chopsticks, a fork, wooden spoon or your hands, mix the water and flour together until it forms a shaggy dough. Transfer the dough to a clean and lightly floured work surface and knead the dough for about 6-10 minutes, until it comes together as a smooth elastic but slightly firm ball.
Cover with a damp tea towel or leave it to rest in an appropriately sized Tupperware or do the old bowl over the plate trick. It’s important it rests covered, as uncovered it will form a dry skin very quickly.
Rest time: 30min
For the pork filling:
Make the ginger water by first crushing a thumb sized chunk of ginger. You are just looking to bruise the ginger and break it up a bit so that its juice can steep in water. So you could do a quick pound in a mortar and pestle, maybe gently bash it with a rolling pin or a meat malate – however you feel like you wont hurt yourself over this ginger – giver her a quick crush! Then place your roughed up ginger in a shot glass or a teacup (just some small vessel), cover her in cool water and let her chillax for a few minutes while you do other things.
Next, you need to chop up your spring onions into small rounds. You can use just the green parts here and save the white parts for your mushrooms. The chopped green onions go in a medium sized mixing bowl, to that add your:
4 oz (100g) ground pork
1 T (15g) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2T (30g) ginger water
½ t (2g) sesame oil
pinch of salt.
Mix all of this together well, then cover and store in the fridge.
To prep the veg:
Get your bruised and drowned ginger, discard the remaining water (maybe a plant wants it?) and finely mince it up. I used 12 grams or one scant tablespoon.
Mince: 2.5 Tbs (35g) shallot minced and 2.5 tsp (10g) garlic and the white parts of your green onion.
Shred about 1.5C (180g) of green cabbage using your chef’s knife to thinly slice it and do a medium fine chop to 3C (300g) mixed mushrooms.
To cook the mushrooms:
In your largest skillet, add ½ t (2g) sesame oil and 1T (14g) cooking oil and your minced ginger, garlic, shallot and spring onion whites. Turn the heat to medium and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until they begin release their aroma and someone in your house asks what smells so good.
Add your mushrooms, sprinkle a bit of salt and continue to sauté until you get some caramelized and crispy looking edges on the mushrooms. The secret to this is not over crowding your pan, which means that there should be a lot of empty space between your mushrooms for water to evaporate. So if you have a smaller pan, you could do this in batches.
When you’ve got good color on your mushrooms, add your cabbage, a sprinkle of salt and stir-fry until it’s a nice soft texture that you’re happy with. I like to keep some bite to my cabbage. Don’t worry about overcooking your mushrooms, Cooks Illustrated taught me years ago that mushrooms are one of the only foods that can’t overcook (fascinating!).
To finish the stir fry, add in your 1 Tbs (15g) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry) to the pan, by pouring it along the edges so that it slides directly into the pan and doesn’t immediately absorb into just a few mushrooms. Cook that for a minute until the strong alcohol aroma has evaporated and turn off your heat to cool the mixture.
Once your mushrooms have cooled, add them to your mixing bowl of pork and crack one egg into the bowl. Mix everything together well.
At this point, it’s a good idea to check your seasoning. Grab a little spoonful of the mixture, roll it into and ball and cook it up in a tiny bit of oil in a skillet – maybe you haven’t washed your mushroom skillet yet – that will work fine. Give it a taste and add a bit of salt if you feel it’s needed. If you want extra credit, mix up the dipping sauce: 1T (14g) soy sauce + 2t (10g) rice vinegar, and give it a dip to get closer to the full effect.
To fold the dumplings
You should really watch the Omnivore’s Book Store video, How to Make Chinese Dumplings, as many times as it takes to get it down. For the first very many times, I folded the ends in opposite directions so that my dumplings formed S shapes rather than half moons. It requires a bit of learning.
Get a large platter or baking sheet ready to hold the folded dumplings, and sprinkle it generously with flour to avoid them sticking.
My method was to grab about thumb-sized chunk of dough (25 grams) and roll it into a ball. I then got a bit of flour on my fingers and flattened it with my hands into a thick disc. From there I treated it a bit like a tiny pizza, flattening the edges and pulling it a bit to form a disc about the size of my palm (my palm is about the length of a credit card, fingers to wrists).
Cradling the wrapper in the 4 fingers of your non-dominant hand, put about 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of the disc. Pull two opposite sides together and crimp – if you struggle here because you’ve over filled, take a bit out. You now have something that is generally the shape of a cannoli – aka a tube with two open sides. Starting on one open side, push in and crimp to form one tail of your half moon shape. So now on one side you have a crimp, which will serve as the tail, and you have an open portion between the tail and the center crimp. Starting from the tail, fold and crimp until you’ve closed the dumpling on the first side, you should be able to get 2-4 crimps in. You will do the same on the opposite side. Obviously watch the video a million times before attempting it.
Line up all your dumplings on the prepared baking sheet spaced 1-2 inches apart so they’re not touching one another.
The best cooking vessel is a deep bottom nonstick pan or pot with a lid so that you can both steam and sear. Start with the steaming bit, place your dumplings in the pot and gently fill with water so that they’re half way submerged. Turn on your burner and bring to a boil. Once you get the boil, steam them for about 6 minutes. (I learned from Julia Child that this called is the boil steam method)
After 6 minutes, if there is any water left over, gently pour it out. Put the pan back on the heat and pour in 1-2 T of oil. Give the pan a little shake to disperse the oil well. Cook on medium high heat until you achieve the sear you’re looking for, about 2-5 minutes depending on how hot your burner gets.
Mix your dipping sauce by combining your 1T (14g) soy sauce and 2t (10g) rice vinegar in a small bowl.
Serve with dipping sauce and enjoy!
Store leftover cooked dumplings in the fridge and microwave 1-2 minutes to reheat.
Dumplings are amazing to freeze and have on hand all the time. If you can fit your prepared baking sheet full of dumplings in the freeze, place the entire thing in there for at least 6 hours, until the dumplings are frozen through. You want to freeze them NOT touching one another first. Once they’re fully frozen you can put them in whatever freezer container you prefer. Once fully frozen, they won’t stick together.
To cook them from frozen, you use the exact same method as fresh, but double the steaming time to 12 minutes once you reach the boil.