Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Asian Cooking Spree

So back on February 3, Colleen and Bruce hosted a Super Bowl party. Bruce provided pulled pork carnitas, with various toppings and BBQ chicken wings that were baked, then finished off on the grill. Both were superb. Guests were asked to bring whatever side dishes that struck their fancy and the offerings didn't disappoint. There were all kinds of delectable morsels, including a tray of spring rolls that Julie had made, along with a dipping sauce. I popped the first roll into my mouth and had to resist the very strong temptation to grab the tray, find myself a quiet little corner, and polish off the rest of them. They were that good.

Now a quick word or two about Julie. She is hands-down one of the most amazing cooks I've ever met. It seems she knows how to make just about everything, and it's clear she puts a tremendous amount of time, effort, and love into each dish. Even her dogs get great meals, including homemade doggie pizzas and pates. In short, I'm in awe of her talents.

After eating her spring rolls, I knew I wanted more of them in my life. I needed them in my life. Just had to have them. I asked Julie where she found the wrappers, as I hadn't seen any in the Corozal grocery stores. Turns out she scored them in Belize City. Sigh. As much as I loved the rolls, I just didn't relish the idea of making the 1 1/2 hour trip to get wrappers. But it got the wheels turning in my brain. Was it possible to make your own?

I started pouring over recipes, both online and in a variety of cookbooks sitting on my shelves. The short answer was, yes, I could make my own. In fact, it wasn't that much different from making homemade pasta dough. And since I already knew how to do that, I figured I would give it go making egg roll wrappers.

I combined two cups of flour, 1 egg, a teaspoon of salt for the dough. Then I added about 1/4 of ice water to help bring it together. It needed a few more splashes of the water for it to get it to the consistency I needed. On a lightly floured surface, I kneaded the dough a few times, then wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

While the dough rested, I finely chopped some cabbage, zucchini, and eggplant, then tossed them all together in a bowl.

Once the dough was ready, I could have turned it out onto a floured board and rolled it out by hand. But I decided to integrate two food cultures and opted to put the dough through the pasta machine. My rationale was that it would make the dough a consistent thickness. Sure enough it was and I cut the sheets into about 4-inch squares.

About one heaping teaspoon of the cabbage mixture was put near the edge of each square, then the outer edge was moistened with water. And just like rolling a burrito, each square got their edges tucked in and rolled into a nice little package.

As each roll was complete, I placed it on a baking sheet that was lined with wax paper and lightly dusted with flour.

After heating up some vegetable oil to around 350-degrees, I gently placed about half the rolls into the oil, turning them over after three or minutes of cooking. I would estimate the total time they fried was about six to seven minutes.

Spring rolls with three dipping sauces: Hoisin, Plum Sauce, and Soy Sauce with fresh grated ginger

They looked good, but I must admit they didn't taste quite like Julie's. I think mine need to fry a couple minutes longer and maybe at a little higher heat. Julie's were crispy, but flaky, whereas mine were more on the doughy side. A tad disappointing, but for a first attempt, I was overall pleased with the outcome. I'll just keep making more batches until I get it as close to Julie's as I can.

But I didn't stop there. In the midst of all my recipes searches, I came across a bunch of other Asian-inspired things that I knew I just had to try making, such as...

...Chili oil

This is so incredibly simple that it's almost embarrassing. All you do is combine 3 tablespoons of red pepper flakes and 1 cup of vegetable oil (peanut, canola, or safflower will also work), over medium heat. When it's almost at a boil, turn off the heat and let the pepper flakes steep in the oil until it comes to room temperature. Then just strain out the flakes, put the oil into a decanter, and you're good to go.

Now my friend Colleen is probably cringing as she reads this, because she does not like peppers...at all. But believe it or not, the oil doesn't taste hot, your lips don't burn, nor does your upper lip bead with sweat. Instead, it imparts a warm undertone to whatever you use it with. I love this stuff.

...Asian chicken stock

I've been making my own chicken stock for a number of years, using the usual cast of characters of a chicken carcass, onions, celery, carrots, thyme, parsley, and black peppercorns. To give the stock an Asian flair, I invited some new ingredients to the pot.

First I started with about two pounds of chicken necks. If you can get backs as well, throw them in. Add in one celery stalk, roughly chopped, a couple of small carrots, again roughly chopped, 1 onion, cut in half, two green onions (white and green parts), cut into about 2-inch lengths, and two slices of fresh peeled ginger, cut to about 1/8 inch thickness.

Add enough water to fill the pan about three-quarters of the way and place over medium heat. As it comes to a boil, remember to skim off the schmutz that will come to the top. Then just reduce the heat and let everything simmer for about 2-2 1/2 hours. During the simmering process, smell the aroma coming from your stockpot. It just draws you in with the hints of ginger.

Strain the stock through a sieve and into a large bowl. Let it sit, uncovered, until it's cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off any fat that's on the surface, pour the stock into containers or zip-lock bags, then freeze or refrigerate. Or you can heat up a bowl of it with some rice and be in heaven, if you haven't already been tempted to put a dab or two behind your ears, 'cause it smells that awesome.

...Pot Stickers

Much like the spring rolls, I was going to need wrappers to make this dish and decided to make gyoza wrappers. The ingredients and techniques are essentially the same as making the egg roll wrappers. And yes, I used the pasta machine to roll out the dough. But instead of cutting squares, I cut circles out of the dough. I don't have a 3 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, so I used one of our drink glasses that had the dimension I needed.

But what about the filling? Well you can let your imagination be your guide. These little dumplings can be filled with just about anything, but here's what I used:

What you see here is about 1/4 pound of finely chopped shrimp, 1/4 pound of ground pork, 1/2 cup of chopped cabbage, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped, pealed fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of white wine, and a pinch of black pepper.

Using a teaspoon, I put a dollop in the middle of each goyza wrapper and moistened the edges of the dough with water.

After folding the wrapper in half and sealing the edge, I put three crimps along the seal.

And again, just like the spring rolls, I placed all the filled, crimped pot stickers on a baking sheet that was lined with wax paper and lightly dusted with flour.

When all the pot stickers were ready, I put about a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a pan and turned the heat to medium-high. When the oil was ready, I arranged the pot stickers in the pan, seam side up. Those were left to fry for about five minutes or until their bottoms were nice and brown.

Then I added about 1/4 cup of the Asian Chicken Stock (see above), put a lid on the pan and let it cook for about 10 more minutes. At that point, it was time to take the lid off and let everything cook another minute or two until all the liquid evaporated.

Because I sometimes have a "blond moment" I forgot to take a picture of the final plating. But what I can tell you is that I used the same dipping sauces that I had for the spring rolls. I can also tell you that we loved, loved, loved these. The filling was perfectly cooked and very tasty, while the wrappers provided a great crisp texture from the browned bottoms, but also a more dumpling texture from the tops. This is certainly a dish I'll be making again. Matter of fact, I'm going to use my leftover wrappers (which I froze) this week and try a filling with ground chicken and spicy Italian sausage. Yeah, I know Italian sausage isn't an Asian ingredient; just think of it as fusion cooking :)

The bottom line is that I had loads of fun making all of these things, discovered new tastes, textures, and a few new ingredients. I also realized that once you master one thing, like making pasta dough, the concepts translate easily to other cuisines and cultures. So while it was all Julie's doing for me going down this Asian road, the journey was worth every minute.

1 comment:

  1. Those pot stickers look like the real thing...yummy! John