Archive for the ‘Mandu’ Category

Mandu Wrapper Taste Off

January 27, 2011

In celebration of the New Year, I decided to make some mandu (aka mandoo or Korean dumplings) – only to walk into the Asian supermarket and find too many brands of dumpling wrappers. Not knowing anything about the different brands, I picked three to test:

New Hong Kong Noodle Company Pot Sticker Wraps

1) New Hong Kong Noodle Company Pot Sticker Wraps: 34 wrappers in the package, each 3.65 inches in diameter. These wrappers were obviously thicker than the other two. They held their shape fairly well as they were stuffed, unlike the other two, which were more prone to ripping.

Gyoza Skins

2) Gyoza Skins: 46 wrappers in the package, each approximately 3.4 inches in diameter. These wrappers were very thin, and I had to take care not to rip them.

Assi Brand "찹쌀" Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

3)  Assi Brand “찹쌀” Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper: About 24 wrappers per package, each 4 inches in diameter. In Korean, 찹쌀 is glutinous rice. Would this “special ingredient” affect the texture and flavor of the wrappers? I was eager to find out. While making the dumplings, I found these to be a bit too big and more unwieldy than the other two.

I thought that the best way to test the wrappers would be to cook them using three common methods: steaming, pan-frying and boiling.

Steamed dumplings. Clockwise from top left: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

I love steamed dumplings – unadulterated by oil or by too much water. I couldn’t tell if the Pot Sticker Wraps and Gyoza Skins were completely cooked through because their edges remained opaque and white. However, the durable Pot Sticker Wraps resisted sticking to the steamer while the other two didn’t resist, stuck to the steamer and ripped when they were taken out. In terms of taste, the Pot Sticker Wraps were tough and hard, while the other two, despite the tears, were soft and moist. Taste trumped presentation. Round 1 winner: Gyoza Skins (they held together better than the Jumbo Dumplings).

Pan-fried mandu. Clockwise from top left: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

That I love steamed dumplings doesn’t mean that I don’t also love the crispy yumminess of pan-fried dumplings! And perhaps there’s nothing that a tablespoon of canola oil can’t improve as all three wrappers were tasty. But the Pot Sticker Wraps remained tough, while the Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper mandus looked (crispy and translucent) and tasted delicious. Winners: It’s a tie! Gyoza Skin and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper.

Boiled mandu. From top to bottom: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

For me, the mandus pictured above seem lonely bobbing around in broth without the chewy company of rice cakes (tteok). But I shouldn’t complain as they still tasted good. The Pot Sticker Wraps got points for consistency: that is, in all three trials, they remained tough and chewy. The Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper tasted a bit too flour-y and it was so loose that the stuffing seemed to get lost inside. The Gyoza Skins, on the other hand, were perfect: slippery, noodle-like in texture, vacuum-packing and becoming one with the stuffing.  Winner: Gyoza Skins.

This post is by no means a definitive mandu wrapper tasting and testing, but hopefully, it is a good start. My winner that day were the Gyoza Skins, but I vacillated a lot between them and the Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper. Did the glutinous rice make a difference at the end? Not for me. People who like chewy and tough will certainly prefer the Pot Sticker Wraps.

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Lunar New Year Dumpling and Rice Cake Soup in Edible Pioneer Valley

February 17, 2010

Edible Pioneer Valley, covering Western Massachusetts, published a piece I wrote on tteok-mandu-guk, or dumpling and rice cake soup for its Winter 2010 issue.  Yay, someone other than me publishing me!  I realize it’s a little funny for me, living in Brooklyn, to write a piece for a local food-oriented magazine in Pioneer Valley, but that’s the beauty of home cooking — you make it at home and it becomes local.  (Just so you know, I didn’t pick the title.)

I can’t seem to figure out how to create a single PDF document from three scanned pages, but if you click on the photos and magnify, you should be able to read it.  You can also see the individual PDF pages on these three pages. Thanks to my wonderful friend Carolyn, you can now see the pages merged into a single PDF document.

A caveat: I stand by the dumpling recipe published here — it’s tasty — but it’ll probably go through another iteration to be a bit more traditional before it ends up in the cookbook.  And after a lesson with my mom’s friend, who used to make dumplings for a living, I am confident I will have a dumpling wrapper recipe as well!

The noodles (and dumplings) of North Korea

February 16, 2009

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For people outside of Korea, Pyongyang is best known as the capital of North Korea.  The name evokes the Dear Leader, robotic displays of allegiance, and people on the brink of famine.  For people in Korea, at least when the word “myeon” is attached to it, the name evokes noodles.  Chewy, cold, delicious buckwheat noodles.

평양면옥, Pyongyang Myeon Ok, is one of the oldest and most famous noodle places in Seoul.  Literally, Pyongyang Noodle House.  It’s like calling your Kansas City barbecue place in New York, “Kansas City Barbecue.”  The place sees no need to dress up what it does.  The dishes are made of faded plastic; the tables are bare and shabby, though clean.  The customers know what they’re coming for.

North Koreans traditionally ate noodles like other Koreans ate rice, as their primary starch.  (What they’re eating now is a very sad question.)  Although the Korean peninsula is small, the size of Minnesota, there’s a considerable range of climates.  The northern half, with its higher mountains and colder weather, has little land suitable for cultivating rice.  That meant the primary starch became noodles, made out of buckwheat for people around Pyongyang, and made out of sweet potato starch for people around the city of Hamhung.  You can find restaurants in Seoul that declare as their own specialty, “Hamhung Noodles.”

Given that they were a less rice-focused culture, it makes sense that northern Koreans were also the first to adopt dumplings from China, with their wheat-flour skins, and make them into a Korean dish.  Even sixty years ago, when my dad was growing up in Chungcheong-do, a province a little south of Seoul, few southern Koreans had ever tasted dumplings.  My father says the only reason his family ate them was that his stepmother had come from Manchuria.

So this is what you can find at Pyongyang Myun Ok: noodles in cold broth, noodles mixed in a spicy sauce, steamed dumplings stuffed with tofu and mung bean sprouts (but no kimchi!), those same dumplings available in soup, and a very tasty, smoothly fatty steamed pork belly dish called 제육, jeyuk.

I’ve already sung my love song to 물냉면, mul naengmyeon, or noodles in cold broth, so all I can say is that the dish here was quite different but very good.  Is it pretentious to say the broth tasted humble?  There was a simple clarity that was straightforward and forthright, more satisfying than the cheap vinegar flavor of so many naengmyeon places.  My mother says that as popular as these noodles are in the summer, northerners ate them all winter long as well.  Sitting there on a cold February day, I could believe it, if the broth tasted like this.

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The steamed dumplings were equally good.  My mother kept saying they taste better in soup, but I loved the almost sticky, chewy texture of the skin, just thick enough to be more than a vessel, and just thin enough not to overwhelm the juicy tofu, meat, and sprouts inside.  It made me want to go home and try rolling out dumpling dough again.

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The pork was lovely porky pork.  I like this dish best when served with bossam kimchi, the almost raw long strips of cabbage that get wrapped around each mouthful, but I wasn’t going to sneer at this stripped-down version.  A simple dip in the salty shrimp dip was enough contrast for the plain, simple pork.

The restaurant does serve a few other dishes—bulgogi; those same noodles in a hot broth scented with sesame oil and sesame seeds; and tray noodles, again those buckwheat noodles served on a giant tray with a variety of vegetables and a red pepper sauce.  But everything, everything, is made from food sourced in Korea, as the menu makes sure to point out.  Partly, it’s a point of national pride—Korean food tastes best when made with food grown and raised here.  But it’s also a statement of the importance of place.  It’s Pyongyang Noodle House.

Who doesn’t love something tasty wrapped in dough?

December 12, 2007

It gives me a warm feeling to think about how so many cultures love to eat foods wrapped in dough. Pierogies, dumplings, wontons, empanadas—the list goes on and on. In Korea, our national dough-wrapped food is 만두, or mandoo. The most traditional version involves a thick doughy skin, more like a pierogi than a wonton, with a filling of mainly crumbled tofu, lots of green onions, perhaps some bean sprouts and/or kimchi, and a bit of meat. We like to eat them bobbing in soup, sometimes with sliced ovals of 떡, dduk, or rice cake. They are as comforting as all foods that are doughy and warm.

One of my favorite places to eat mandoo in Seoul is called, simply enough, 만두집, Mandoo Jip, or Mandoo House, a tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Apkujongdong. Apkujongdong is probably Seoul’s most chichi neighborhood, full of cafes serving 10,000 won (over $10) coffees, bars serving even more expensive drinks, and hip restaurants for ladies who lunch. It’s wedged into a little shed-like building that is itself wedged into an alley right next to the new Uniqlo, which occupies the space where McDonald’s used to be, right across from the glossy Galleria Department Store. It would look like a little bewildered thing, surprised by what’s sprung up around it, except that it has spruced itself up a bit lately so that everything is shiny and new.

For 7,000 won, you get cabbage kimchi, a refreshingly spicy and slightly raw julienned radish, and a big steaming bowl of fat mandoo. It’s all very bare-bones—there’s nothing in the beef-broth soup than a sprinkling of Korean red pepper powder that gives it a heartening bite.

Such a fat little bundle that has been boiled in beef broth is likely to be scalding hot, and so you are supposed to take one mandoo out of the soup, place it in the little side dish provided for you, and cut it with your spoon into pieces, adding a bit of scallion-spiked soy sauce with each bite. The dough here achieves that perfect, difficult balance, thick but not starchy, satisfying rather than stupefying. The chopped green onions in the filling are not just a side note, they take up a lot of room, adding a clean, green sharpness to the crumbled tofu. The filling is seasoned so well, you only need a dab of soy sauce to make it complete.

This is the kind of Korean food I miss the most when I am in New York, a small restaurant making one thing so well, it becomes a minor masterpiece.