Korean Mandu

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My favorite food is spaghetti. When I was in kindergarten I would go to my classmate Robert LaLanne’s house after school since Mom worked.   He lived down the street and Mrs. LaLanne fed us spaghetti with chicken for lunch. It was delicious. Mom didn’t know how to make spaghetti, but my Auntie did. My Auntie knew how to do everything. She made my favorite spaghetti of all.

The Chinese version of spaghetti—Ja Jiang Mian—is also my favorite food. And if you are thinking “you can’t have two favorites” then QUIT THAT.

When I first met my husband, I was delighted to learn that he also loved Ja Jiang Mian. We have so much in common, I thought. Imagine my dismay when we went to a Korean Chinese restaurant in Atlanta and I discovered that there is a Korean version—Jajangmyeon—which tastes completely different. The Chinese Ja Jiang Mian has diced pork, bamboo shoots, firm tofu, in a sweet and oh-so-flavorful bean sauce. The Korean version, otoh, has no pork, lots of onions, and a very dark, glossy, salty and slightly smoky flavor without a hint of sweetness. I don’t like it much. He loves it. He doesn’t like the Chinese Ja Jiang Mian. I just asked him. “I really don’t like it.”

He has been lobbying me for awhile to make Korean dumplings, or Mandu. Like the Ja Jiang Mian, I’m partial to Chinese dumplings: Jiaozi or Kuo Teh. Korean Mandu are filled with beef, bean sprouts and tofu. I’ve yet to eat Korean Mandu that is as flavorful and juicy as Jiaozi. In fact, the Mandu I’ve had were all wrapped in purchased won ton skins, so I was intrigued by the recipe in Andrea Nguyen’s book for Mandu. She uses a different dough for the wrappers, substituting some of the wheat flour with rice flour for a chewier texture.

This recipe for Korean Mandu is adapted from Andrea’s Asian Dumplings Cookbook, of course.

Extra Chewy Dough

1 ½ cups flour

½ cup Mochiko Blue Star brand Glutinous Rice Flour

¾ cup just boiled water

Mix the flours together, then slowly add the very hot water, stirring to blend. Knead the dough for 2 minutes, then gather into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes or so. As you can see, this dough is exactly the same preparation as pot sticker dough except ½ cup of glutinous rice flour is substituted in for all-purpose flour. The texture of this dough is less stretchy and somewhat more malleable than regular pot sticker dough. A very well behaved dough, and a pleasure to have in class.

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The Filling:

3 ounces bean sprouts

6 ounces firm tofu

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced and crushed into a paste

2 tsp finely minced or grated fresh ginger

½ pound ground beef or pork. I used pork, of course. Tastes much better.

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water until no longer stiff, 1-2 minutes. Drain, then squeeze dry. Cut into ¼ in lengths and place in large mixing bowl. Place drained and rinsed tofu onto a kitchen towel—NOT terrycloth. Gather the towel around the tofu and twist (and shout!), firmly squeezing the water out. Unwrap the tofu and add to the bean sprouts. Mash the tofu till crumbly. Add remaining filling ingredients and mix well. I like to dump all this into my kitchenaid mixer and let it run on the lowest setting, till well mixed.

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Assembly: assembly is exactly like making the hundreds of pot stickers I’ve made in this year of dumplings. Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Take one piece and roll into a log. Cut the log into 8 discs. On a well floured surface, flatten each disc, then using a small rolling pin, roll each disc, turning so the sides are thinner than the center, reminiscent of a flying saucer. Fill as usual, and cook as usual.

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Let’s just review the easiest, LEAST MESSY way to cook perfect pot stickers, in case you have not yet committed to memory my second post from February 17th. Always use a non-stick pan. Always. Arrange fresh (or frozen, the method is exactly the same and no need to defrost first) pot stickers in a cold empty non-stick frying pan. Yes, cold, and no oil yet. Please arrange in a nice concentric circle abutting the perimeter of the pan, then do your best to fill the middle with a few more dumplings. Now that the dumplings are nicely arranged, pour a little cooking oil over the top. Go ahead, right onto the top of the dumplings, as if the pan was empty—the same amount as you would use to scramble eggs. No need to swirl the oil around. Next, pour cold (or hot, or room temp) water into the pan so that the water level comes halfway up the side of the dumpling. Now put the pan onto your burner, turn heat to high, and wait till it comes to a boil. Cover the pan and turn it down to medium-low. Let the dumplings cook, undisturbed, for 10 minutes for fresh or 13-14 minutes frozen. You may need to check and make sure that the heat is not so low that they are not cooking, and not so high that the water has all evaporated and dinner is about to burn. Now that the dumplings are cooked through, remove the lid, crank up the vent if you have neglected to do so, and turn the heat up to high. Stand there while the water evaporates and the bottoms turn golden brown. (Walk away to check Twitter and your beautiful handiwork will burn.) Shake the pan to loosen the dumplings, using a plastic spatula to gently nudge any sticky spots. Slide the entire pan of dumplings onto your serving plate in one smooth motion.

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Serve with a nice dipping sauce. My favorite is also the easiest: 1 part sugar, 1 part rice vinegar, and 1 part soy. I heat it up a little to dissolve the sugar, then let cool.

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Critique:

Well, what can I say. Why would you take a perfectly wonderful food like bean sprouts, and hide them in a dumpling, where they have nothing to offer? In fact, I prefer the cold crunchy Korean preparation of bean sprouts to my mother’s Chinese stir fried bean sprouts, but I like both. I don’t like them disguised in dumplings. And yes, while I’m at it, why take the miracle food, tofu, and mix it with the other white meat, pork? By doing so, you dilute the gustatory power of both ingredients. This is not a situation of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ And yes, while I’m at it: sesame oil is a gift, to be used judiciously and sparingly, preferably in the seasoning of noodles, where its powerful aroma and flavor are best appreciated. I frown upon the unauthorized, flagrant use of sesame oil where it distracts from the dish being served. This being one such case. I did like the extra chewy dough. The texture was slightly different but I’m not sure I would have noticed if I hadn’t made the dough myself.

Dear husband’s critique:

“These are good. These are really good. These are really really good!”

We have so much in common.