|Leslie and I, birthday 2011|
Several days ago, our house guest, Lenore Norrgard, suggested she’d like to make a Chinese dumpling dinner for my 65th birthday “If you can figure out a way to make the bao bing (wrapper) gluten-free.”
Lenore has lived in China, so I took this as a great offering. It was also going to be a challenge, for, as she explained, the wrappers had to be stretchy enough to fit tightly around the dumpling’s inner treats, sticky enough to seal tight, and tough enough to withstand boiling and/or brazing. Doubling the challenge was the fact that my wife, Leslie, is a vegetarian, and dumplings are traditionally stuffed with pork.
For several days I prevaricated, muttering that we could go to a restaurant. It was the idea of someone using my kitchen; also that I’d have to invent yet another dough – and I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of that recently. But then, in a moment of inner calm, I agreed to give it a go.
Partly I was inspired by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s book, Flatbreads and Flavors, which I’d been reading, and which extols the wonders of bao bing. Partly the challenge drew me in. And partly it was the wish to be more sharing – hell, if I couldn’t let Lenore use my pots and pans, how was I going to share the recipe with you, my readers? That is, providing I came up with a recipe.
So the afternoon of my birthday we went shopping as visions of potstickers danced in our heads. First stop was Mitsuwa, a huge Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, NJ. This store is crammed with cool stuff, but once you eliminate wheat the available choices shrink dramatically. Lenore found unsweetened rice vinegar, silky tofu and a gorgeous watermelon, while I examined pickled fish, lotus root, bitter melon, a host of artificial crab products and a stack of boxes of fairy-ring mushrooms (Mirasmius oreades), all mis-labeled “Chanterelles.”
Next stop was my local Pathmark for ground pork and white pepper. Then home to the project.
Lenore pointed out that bao bing doesn’t use leavening, and Alford offered the advice to mix the dough with boiling water. I skipped the boiling part, but blended cassava flour with sorghum (the latter to give the wrap a hint of grain flavor), portioned out starches, added salt and xanthan gum, crossed my fingers, and turned on the mixer.
|Test batch being watched over by a greeting card photo|
The first batch was not stretchy enough, but I could sense potential. Doubling the xanthan gum and increasing hydration were magic bullets, and soon I had a test piece: dough wrapped around a walnut and boiled 10 minutes. Not only did the “dumpling” hold together, it tasted good too.
With Lenore and Leslie grinding cilantro, garlic and ginger, and blending tofu, pork (the store had no ground pork; I’d bought some “fatback” and chopped it fine with a razor-sharp knife) sesame oil and pepper, I whipped up enough dough for our needs. The idea was to make walnut-sized balls, flatten these to discs about 1/16” thick, then wrap and seal fillings in them. I was amazed to discover the dough wasn’t sticky, like most GF products. This made it easier for me – just a bit of rice flour on a piece of plastic wrap, another scattering of rice flour atop the ball, another piece of plastic wrap and good downward pressure on the flat piece of steel I coveted as my muscle-driven tortilla press, and presto – a perfect round, ready-to-dab-with-water-and-seal-shut bao bing.
Soon we had 20 or so, and Leslie and Lenore were hard at work converting them into dumplings. As we quickly discovered, boiling wasn’t the best way to cook them – the dough became very, well, doughy. However, pot-sticker technique worked wonders: 1/2 tsp of peanut oil on a well-seasoned cast iron skillet heated to medium-high; toss in the dumplings; let stand a few minutes until the spatter dies down; add 1/4 cup water and cover the pan quickly while simultaneously reducing heat to low; 5 – 7 minutes of brazing and ... perfection: caramelized on the bottom, sealed and shiny on the top, crispy yet chewy and lusciously meaty.
I whipped up a series of sauces, mostly riffs on fruits, vinegars and hot pepper, and we sat down to a pig-out.
What, I thought when I finally waddled away from the table, a wonderful birthday. With only 1/3 the cooking, I got to put in a full share of eating.
Gluten-Free Bao Bing (Chinese Dumpling Wrappers)
Makes about 20
120 grams cassava flour
120 grams sorghum flour
45 grams potato starch
6 grams potato flour
12 grams Xanthan gum
12 grams salt
white rice flour for dusting
24 grams prune juice
360 grams water
1) Blend dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add prune juice and water. Blend on low speed, then increase speed to high and mix for 1 minute.
2) Turn dough out onto plastic sheet. Dust a separate sheet of plastic, as well as your hands, with white rice flour. Tear off walnut-sized pieces (@ 1 1/2” diameter spheres) of dough and roll into balls between your palms.
3) Using a flat plate, tortilla press, or a rolling pin, and the sheets of dusted plastic wrap, press balls into discs @ 1/16” thick and 3 – 4” in diameter. Dampen periphery of discs with a wet finger, fill with ingredients and fold and seal, crimping edge.
4) Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add a small amount of peanut oil (1/2 to 1 tsp). Add a single layer of dumplings and allow to fry @ 2 minutes, or until bottom is light tan. Add 1/4 cup water, cover pan and reduce heat to low. Allow to braze until bottoms of dumplings are roasted brown – about 5 – 7 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately with a variety of dipping sauces.