Pierogies

I grew up just outside Chicago, which is home to something like 1.5 million Polish people and a wealth of Polish food.  But I don’t think that’s the reason why I love pierogies – I love them because they’re mashed potato dumplings fried in butter.  What’s not to love?

As I learned in preparing for this project, there are several variations on the same theme with origins all across eastern Europe, with different spellings to go along.  These are the ones I think of when I crave pierogies, but if you have another version you love, please do share.

This recipe makes a whole lot of pierogies – I got 7 or 8 dozen out of it.  They freeze well (see below) and make for a good rainy day project with a friend and/or, if you’re like me, with a Scandal marathon on Netflix.

pierogi project work station

So, being curious and feeling kind of fall-ish, I added minced sauteed mushrooms to half of my giant batch, just to see what happened.  The basic potato version is better by a mile.  Seriously, no comparison.  So go for it if you want, they’re good…..they’re just not as good as the original.  Maybe with a mushroom sauce though….

Potato, Onion and Cheese Pierogies
adapted from Partial Ingredients

  • 6 cups all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter, plus more for sautéing
  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
  • ¼ cup minced chives or scallions
  • 8 oz sharp or extra-sharp cheddar, grated
  • ¼ cup whole milk

Garnishes: sour cream, minced chives, caramelized onions (I bet some kind of jam would be delicious too)

Add flour to a large, wide bowl and make a well in the center. If you don’t have a bowl big enough, make the dough in two batches. Add sour cream, eggs, oil, and salt to the well and mix carefully with a fork, without mixing in flour.

ingredients in a well

Add water (at this point your well overfloweth) and mix in the flour gradually to make a soft, raggedy dough.

sticky, ragged dough

Dump your dough out onto a flat, non-stick, well-floured surface and knead for 8 minutes until elastic.

kneaded dough

Flip the bowl over and cover the dough with it, let it rest for 1 hour. Meanwhile, peel, cook, and mash potatoes. Saute onion until soft and translucent. Mix mashed potatoes, sautéed onion, butter, garlic, chives/scallions, cheddar, and milk, season to taste with salt and pepper.

delicious mashed potato filling

Cut dough into quarters (if you made one batch – if you made two, cut each in half) and cover the portions you’re not using with plastic wrap. Don’t use a dish towel – the dough is too sticky. Roll out to around 1/8” thick and cut out 3” rounds with a lightly floured cutter or upside-down glass – you should get 18 or 20 out of each doughball.

Scoop about a tablespoon of filling into each round and fold in half, squishing the filling into shape as you go. Pinch the edges together and seal with the back of a fork.

crimp edges with a fork

Put finished pierogies on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Repeat many, many times.

orderly pierogies

If you don’t plan to eat 8 dozen pierogies now, freeze on the parchment-lined pans for 2 hours and then vacuum-seal or ziplock bag them and stick them back in the freezer.

There are two ways to cook pierogies – boiling and sautéing. To take the cardiovascular high road, boil pierogies in salted water for 4-5 minutes or until they float. To take the delicious road, sauté in butter for 2 minutes each side, or until tantalizingly golden brown.

pierogies

To cook from frozen, heat butter or vegetable oil in a nonstick sauté pan and sauté frozen pierogies just until the bottoms start to brown, 3-4 minutes. Pour in a splash of water – just enough to cover the bottom of the pan – and cover for 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover, cook off any remaining water, and slip in a pat or two of butter. Brown pierogies on either side and serve.

2010 Year of the Dough in review

Happy 2011! In case you didn’t notice, we go by the Chinese Lunar new year here. AKA I was too lazy to post earlier…

Anyway, so another year has come and gone. My resolution for 2010 was to work with dough more. As with all new years resolutions, I started out strong. Then due to moving, new kitchen and generally being busy, things tapered off a bit. I never quite got around to learning how to make hand pulled noodles. I never made my Homer Simpson tribute in doughnuts. Doh! The girls still laugh at my feeble dumpling skills. But hey, they would probably laugh at you too!

So here goes some photos of my dough projects.

Shanghai Dumplings!

Steamed and delicious.

Pita bread being puffed up in the oven. Yeah I made my own pita…

Finished Pita.

Of course pork buns!

One of my favorite food, pizza margarita. I went on a slight pizza kick for a while.

Argula Pizza!

This might not look all that but it’s home smoked short rib pastrami, with my sauerkraut and home made rye bread. What happens when I have too much time…

Dumplings with home made wrapper. Takes more effort but oh boy is it ever worth it…

Sourdough. Still a work in progress but pretty tasty!

Pretzel stuffed with cheddar cheese and country ham.

You might wonder what in gods name is that? Beignets for dessert!

Not a bad 2010, wouldn’t you agree?

Shellfish and Dumpling Birthday

To celebrate another glorious year of Little Miss, Yuan and I decided to cook up a nice birthday dinner. Little Miss, not one to turn down any dinner, immediately demanded “shellfish and dumplings!” We were happy to oblige since we also enjoy shellfish and dumplings. We decided on a menu of familiar Little Miss favorites.

Yuan bought two dozen sweetwater and one dozen kumamoto oysters for the occasion. He could not shuck them fast enough before the rest of us sucked them down with a perfectly vinegary mignonette he concocted. Those little, lusciously briny sea creatures were milky and amazing.

Little Miss likes making dumplings almost as much as she loves eating them, and our nimble fingers created a batch of the always popular pork gyoza. Yuan pan fried them and made a dipping sauce, and I made an accompaniment of shrimp fried rice, an old Little Miss favorite.

Yuan ceremoniously dispatched a pair of dungeness crabs and made this AMAZING ginger scallion crab. (See recipe above!!) There was crab flying everywhere as Little Miss and I fought to eat every tiny morsel of crab possible. I was literally licking the crabby ginger sauce off the bottom of the platter at the end of the meal. We finished the meal with a two layer French yogurt cake smothered in whipped cream frosting (hey, it didn’t look pretty but it tasted good) and a champagne toast to Little Miss. Happy Birthday Little Miss and cheers for another joyous occasion for us to celebrate with yumminess!

Yes, you can make Shanghai Soup Dumplings

Hello readers, it is I, the invisible Asian! I know it’s been a while, I’ve been traveling (or as I like to call it research) and certainly eating well.

Shanghai soup dumplings (Xiao long bao in Mandarin) are tiny dumplings filled with pork, gelatinous soup  and steamed. So when you bite into it, a squirt of pork flavored soup gushes out before you finish the whole thing. They are possibly the best culinary contribution ever by the Shanghainese.  I recently spent some time in Shanghai (which you will hear more about later) and I went on a 5 day dumpling binge, all for  research of course. I had them plain, with deliciously rich hairy crab roe, thin skinned, thick skinned, from street side vendors to fancy restaurants. And occasionally I had them multiple times in a day…

Now that I’m back in San Fran and faced with more then oh a walk down the block to fill my dumpling cravings, my other option was obviously to make them. Besides, it’s a damn sexy food project. So there are 3 components to a good soup dumpling, the skin, the soup and the filling. The skin is really quite amazing. It should be thin as you can possibly make it, still hold all the soup in when steamed and ideally has at least 18 pleats on top. The soup is usually pork stock made from pork skin so the collagen forms a jelly. This is mixed in the filling and when steamed it turns into soup. I’m a traditionalist when it comes the filling, meaning pork. No crazy shrimp, mushrooms, water chestnuts and such. Heathens.

I did some research on the existing recipes out there and found quite the range. A lot of them are wildly inaccurate and while others are better they are also missing a few steps. Over the course of a few days and help from my friend Laura and Little Miss, I ended up with the following recipe. It’s based off the one from Saveur but with many of my own changes. And since we also decided to have some Dungeness crab that day, we had to make some with crab meat as well!

Soup aka Pork Jello:

There are recipes out there that uses store bought gelatin and chicken stock. I’m sure it’s still tasty but not traditional. If you can’t find pork skin then by all means use gelatin. I usually buy pork belly and cut the skin off.

  • 8 oz or so pork skin, a little more or less won’t matter too much
  • 3 big slices of ginger
  • 1 scallion
  • a couple pieces of country ham bones with a little bit of the meat still attached, I use pre-sliced Virginia ham. You can use just a bit of country ham without the bone but don’t substitute with regular ham.
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Cut the pork skin into big chunks, put it into a soup pot with the ham bone and enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 30 seconds or so, you should see some scum form. Now pour all the water and scum off and rinse off the pork and ham. This blanches the pork and makes for a clearer soup.

Return the pork and ham along with the rest of the ingredients to the pot.

Bring the water back to a simmer and simmer with the lid slightly ajar for 2- 3 hours.

Strain all the solids out and you will be left with a couple cups of pork stock.

Pour the liquid into a container and let it set in the fridge. After a few hours, you should have pork jello!

Now if you end up with a lot of pork jello, don’t worry. It freezes quite well, but it will end up looking like pork granita (which I’ll have to find a use for.) Just melt it in the microwave and re-gel it in the fridge. And as Little Miss pointed out, you can also mix in crab stock at this point. Just don’t dilute it so much the jello doesn’t set.

Pork jello cut up

Skins:

Ok, so you can chicken out and buy some dumpling wrappers like some recipes suggest. But you already made pork jello, so why quit now? You did make pork jello right? Be a man, grab a rolling pin and get your hands dirty. Making the dough is quite easy and really satisfying once you get the hang of it. Home made skins also taste so much better. By the end of the day, Little Miss and I were cranking these out.

For 16 dumplings

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 + cup hot water
  • pinch of salt

Combine the flour and the hot water in a bowl and use a wooden spoon to form the dough into a ball, you might need more water if the mix is too dry.

Flour a work surface and scrap out your dough on to it. Now knead the hell out of it. Knead until you think you can’t possibly knead anymore. Let it rest for a minute or two and then knead some more. The ball should be smooth, feels very solid but easy to stretch.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour. The amount of kneading and resting is really key here. It lets you roll out paper thin skins without it breaking.

Filling: 

After my dumpling binge, I think I’ve found a standard for the filling. The pork flavor should really dominate, with a little hint of sweetness and ginger. Not too much garlic or scallions. More importantly, the texture. The ones I liked the best had a silky texture in the meat while too many had a grainy chunkiness to it. The solution was using a fatty pork mix, adding corn starch and then pureeing the mixture a bit in the food processor.

  • 6 oz fatty ground pork
  • 2 tsp. grated ginger
  • white part of 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tiny clove of garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch
  • pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and  mix well.

Now transfer the filling into a food processor, and pulse until you have a rough paste. Not into complete mush but you want the chunks gone.

Making of the dumplings: 

Ok, finally the fun part…

Take out the pork jello. I like to have an equal portion of filling and jello. But it certainly doesn’t hurt too much if you use more or less. Use a fork to break up the jello into small pieces and mix in well with the filling. Don’t leave the jello in big chunks, it makes it hard to wrap the dumplings.

Taste the filling/jello mixture and correct for seasoning. No, I’m not telling you to taste raw pork. Take a spoonful and nuke it for 15 seconds.

Unwrap the dough and roll it into a rope on a floured surface. Then cut it into 16 pieces. So here’s where you might freak out. Cause if you done this the right way, those pieces are going to look like the size of a big piece of gum. And you are thinking, there’s no way that thing will ever be able to hold fillings much less soup. But have faith.

Size comparisons of the dough piece

Continue on, roll the dough pieces into a ball, squash them into a circle with the palm of your hands. Then take the dough circle in your fingers and lay one side on the counter, roll the rolling pin in from the outside edge and rotate every quarter turn. Ideally you end up with a 2 1/2 to 3 inch wide skin that’s a little bit thicker in the middle then the edges.

Now you spoon up about a table spoon of filling and start pleating. Go easy on the filling at first, you don’t want to overload it. I won’t even try to describe the pleating process. There’s a nice slideshow here.

Get your steamer ready, you can line the basket with wilted napa cabbage leaves or parchment paper with some holes poked in there.

Finished product. I really need a bamboo steamer!

Steam the dumplings for 8 minutes over medium heat and eat! I like to dip mine in Chinese black vinegar with slivers of ginger in it. I tasted a few brands and this is the one I’m currently using, it’s the most similar to the ones I had growing up.

Chinese New Year

Every year I celebrate Chinese New Years with what else but a big feast? Sadly this year both Little Miss and Princess couldn’t make it due to ahem, personal obligations. But I did have a few guest cooks that volunteered to take on dumpling duties!

I never take Chinese New Years lightly, usually I shop the day before. Then start prepping that night and get up early the day of the dinner to start cooking. I think I owe it all my my grandmother who would start prepping the big dinner multiple days ahead. She would soak her own sweet rice and hand ground the flour with a big stone mill. She would buy the chicken and duck ahead of time and fatten them up for a few days in the courtyard before killing them. I can’t say I would ever bother to do all that but if I had the time, who knows?

Some dishes come and go but I do have my personal favorites that re-appear year after year. My favorite, braised pork belly. This year I changed it slightly by adding some dry marinated mustard greens much like the pork at Shanghai House and then braised it on the oven. I always have a whole steamed fish that I added fried pickled green beans and chilies. Another repeat is steamed fuzzy squash stuffed with stir fried chicken, fresh water chestnut and bamboo. Rounding out the rest are abalone and bamboo (see earlier post). Cold eggplants with a spicy sauce. Chinese celery and tofu salad. Bok choy and shittake mushrooms. Edmame with tofu skin and mustard greens (which was a surprising hit). Tea eggs made with quail eggs. I always seem to have on dish that doesn’t work quite well which this year was the shrimp in tea sauce, oh well! And Laura and Constanza made three different kinds of dumplings of mushroom, shrimp, garlic chive and pork. One happy eater said it was the best dumplings he’s ever had! And everyone was happily eating leftovers for days…

Anyway, on to the pictures!



And the money shot… Pork, sweet pork.

And for a fun little animation of us cooking.