These succulent, golden and brown dumplings from Peking always bring great pleasure to the eyes of my north Chinese friends. This is comforting food—juicy, tender, lush little pillows for the tongue. Often miniaturized in restaurants for inclusion in soups or hot pots, here they are in their homier presentation, as a main course or a flavorful companion to vegetables.
Soak the mushrooms in cold or hot water to cover until soft and spongy, 20 minutes to an hour. Snip off the stems with scissors, rinse the caps under cool water to dislodge any sand caught in the gills, then cut the caps into long strips ¼ inch wide. They may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.
Peel fresh water chestnuts. Drain and blanch canned water chestnuts in plain boiling water to cover for 15 seconds, then chill under cold running water. Cut neatly into peppercorn-size bits.
Mince the ginger and scallion in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, scraping down as needed until fine. Add the pork, soy, pepper, sesame oil, and 2 tablespoons stock, then process with on-off turns to blend. Do not overprocess to a paste. Remove to a bowl and fold in the water chestnuts by hand to retain their texture. Alternatively, mince the ginger and scallion and mix the filling by hand, stirring in one direction until blended. The filling may be refrigerated up to a full day, with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface.
Beat the eggs until smooth but not frothy. Put the eggs, pork, and oil, a teaspoon, a cup of chilled water, a small spatula, some paper towels, and a ½ ounce ladle alongside your stovetop. Have a large plate nearby to hold the finished dumplings.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Coat the bottom evenly with 1/16 inch oil. Turn the skillet, if necessary, so it sits flat on the burner and the oil is evenly distributed. Wait until the oil shimmers, then reduce the heat to medium. Test the oil. It must be hot enough to cause a dime-size drip of egg to puff with curly edges and be surrounded by tiny bubbles almost immediately on contact with the oil.
Use the ladle to pour 1 tablespoon of egg into the pan. As the egg sets, dip the teaspoon into the water, then scoop up about 2 teaspoons of pork and deposit it in one half of the pancake. While the egg is still a bit loose and will seal itself, use the spatula to fold it in half over the filling. Fry the bottom to a light golden brown, then flip the dumpling over and brown the other side. Transfer the finished dumpling to the waiting plate. Fry 3 or more dumplings at a time, as many as your pan and coordination permit, adding more oil as necessary, and adjusting the heat so the egg puffs instantly and the dumplings fry in a ring of tiny bubbles. Remove browned oil or burned bits with paper towels.
Arrange the finished dumplings in a single layer in a heavy 10–12 inch skillet, overlapping them slightly in a spiral pattern, beginning at the edge, and ending in the center of the pan. Combine the stock, soy, wine, sugar, and salt, and pour the liquids evenly over the dumplings. Scatter the mushroom strips on top.
Bring the liquids to a simmer over medium heat, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, then cover and cook about 10 minutes, or until there is a scant ¼ inch liquid left in the pan. Turn off the heat, move the pan to a cool burner and let the dumplings sit in the covered pot for several hours or overnight. Refrigerate if your kitchen is hot, and bring to room temperature prior to reheating.
About 15 minutes before serving, put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm, and add ½ cup unsalted stock to the pan with the dumplings. Bring the liquids to a simmer, cover, and simmer over low heat until most all of the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the dumplings to the heated platter in the same pretty spiral, sprinkle the mushrooms on top, then scrape any remaining pan juices over the dumplings.
Leftovers make wonderful breakfast fare, cold or reheated in a covered skillet with a bit of water, and served with a dab of mushroom soy sauce.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.