Despite certain appearances to the contrary (Slow Food-ishness, Southern accents, surrounding areas stuffed with gun-toting reactionaries), Gourmandistan is a place that embraces Progress. While we’ve seen that bitterly clinging to the past certainly brings its share of disappointments to some, we know anticipating the future can be dicey as well. (Steve, for one, still remembers 1997 as the year he didn’t get his atom-powered convertible chariot.) Recently, at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference that Steve attended in New York City, several panels bravely tried to face the coming century with topics such as “Cookbooks vs. Digital Media,” “App Development and Marketing” and “Trendspotting in the Food Space.” Steve, whose cookbook plans (if any) are far into the unknown future, passed up most of the media education in favor other panels. Aside from attending events, of course, he ate—once at Mission Chinese NYC with Daisy, and twice at Nom Wah Tea Parlor. The nicely-prepared dishes at Nom Wah furthered Gourmandistan’s fever for homemade dim sum, fueled as well by Steve’s finding wheat starch and good dried shrimp in Chinatown.
Once Steve was home, we fired up Gourmandistan’s first Kindle cookbook, the “Enhanced Edition” of Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. Despite the grumblings of some older would-be authors at the conference (“I’ve never seen a good app for a cookbook in my life” said one gravelly-voiced woman as Steve waited for an elevator), Asian Dumplings has shown us just how handy electronic cookbooks can be. The print edition would undoubtedly be very good itself: Nguyen’s directions are clear and helpful, and the book is full of dumpling history and hints. But having video demonstrations of dumpling techniques available as one holds a sticky ball of taro dough, plus immediate links to online sources for bamboo steamers and Asian ingredients, can be amazingly helpful. Yes, the iPad’s touchscreen can get a little greasy, especially when handling lard-laced dough, but it cleans up fine.
We’ve tried several recipes from Asian Dumplings, but the clear winner so far has been these Taro Puffs, a dish that’s disappointed us in dim sum parlor after dim sum parlor. Nguyen herself describes the experience of dumplings that are “lackluster and leaden” by the time they are picked off the cart. These, however, are light and lovely, their delicately crisp exterior crunching into a creamy dough holding seasoned pork and shrimp.
We have no idea where the future will find the cookbook, being as the entire process of cooking could very well be replaced by robots, robots or worst of all, robots. But while we’ll still most likely buy print-based books (Michelle loves to make notations, as well as read notes from previous owners), we do see our near future including more electronically-enhanced cookbooks. Unfortunately for dim sum parlors across the globe, though, the future will also most likely include fewer visits from us. Our standards have become much higher.
TARO PUFFS (Wu Gok)
Filling:3 oz. ground pork 1 t. soy sauce 1 t. minced fresh ginger 3 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined Salt Pepper Pinch sugar 1 t. cornstarch 1/2 t. sesame oil 1-1/2 t. oyster sauce 1 t. sherry 1 TB water 1 TB canola or peanut oil 2 or 3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
Combine pork, soy sauce and ginger in a small bowl.
Toss shrimp with a pinch of salt. Rinse. Drain well and dry with a paper towel. Chop fine.
In a small bowl, mix together another pinch of salt, a grind or two of pepper, sugar, cornstarch, sesame oil, oyster sauce, sherry and water. Stir.
Heat oil in a small skillet. Add pork. Stir, breaking up pieces with a spatula, until cooked through. Add shrimp, tossing with spatula, until cooked. Add sauce mixture, stirring. Remove from heat and add scallions. Transfer to a small bowl and cool, then refrigerate for several hours.
DOUGH:1 large taro root (3/4 to 1 lb.) 1/3 c. wheat starch* 1/3 c. boiling water (approximately) Pinch salt 1-1/4 t. sugar 1/4 c. lard or solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
Peel taro root, removing tough outer layer of flesh along with the peel. Chop into 1″ to 2″ square pieces.
Steam taro over boiling water for 30-45 minutes, until soft.
While taro is cooking, put wheat starch in a bowl. Gradually add the hot water, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stop adding water when the mixture resembles frosting. Set aside, covering if it begins to dry out.
Let taro cool for about 5 minutes, then place in a clean bowl. Mash with your fingers, discarding any hard pieces.
Place about 1/2 pound (1 cup) of the mashed taro in the bowl with the wheat starch mixture, along with salt and sugar. Mix with your fingers until blended. Then work in lard or shortening, kneading for a couple of minutes until the dough is the texture of mashed potatoes. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper.
On an unfloured work surface, roll dough out to a 12″ log. Cut into 12 equal pieces, then roll each into a ball. Chill dough balls for at least 15 minutes.
Remove dough balls from refrigerator one at a time. With your hands, flatten ball into an oblong circle, then make a “bowl.” Add a rounded teaspoonful of filling to the center of the dough, flattening it a bit with your fingers. Bring up the sides of the dough over the filing, forming sort of a “football” shape. Pinch the dough sides together. If holes form in the dumpling making the filling show through, patch with some of the extra dough from the ends. Place dumpling on the prepared baking sheet, then proceed to form the remainder. Refrigerate.
Pour at least 1-1/2″ of canola or peanut oil in a small saucepan with deep sides. Heat oil to 360-370° over medium-high heat. (You really need a thermometer here, as, if the oil is not hot enough, the dumplings will fall apart.) Fry dumpings 2 or 3 at a time. When dumplings are placed in the pan, the oil will boil up. As soon as the dumplings begin to float, turn the heat down to medium-low. If they stick together, separate gently with a slotted spoon. When dumplings are browned, after 2-3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack placed over waxed paper (or drain on paper towels).
Serve hot (best) or at room temperature.
*Wheat starch (also known as tang mein flour, dim sum flour, wheaten cornflour and tung mein fun) is a necessary ingredient in many dim sum recipes. We’d tell you it’s available at most Asian markets, but that hasn’t been our experience. In fact, despite extensive research, we’ve only found 2 tiny bags of the stuff in all of Louisville and lack the foreign language skills to ask that more be ordered. The problem may be that most of our Asian markets are either Vietnamese- or Korean- rather than Chinese-owned. If we don’t find more wheat starch soon, we’re going to have to plan another trip to a city with a real Chinatown.