Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dumplings, Bilingual Skills, and Mustard Gas

Lager Steamed Thai Turkey and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings in a Pale Ale Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce.

Quite a mouthful, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too. That is why I decided to cook it. The more impressive the title, the better the meal, right? It is kind of like when I buy wine - if the label looks cool (ie: a bird or a bug), I buy it. So, knowing I had a Christmas party for work, I figured it would be the perfect chance for me to poison my co-workers with undercooked poultry...ummm, I mean....try a new recipe and gets lots of feedback.

So, a few days back, I got a new cook book - "The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer". You can order it here. The recipes are great. (On a negative note, however, the binding of the book is a bit weak. It has already given way. If I am not careful, pages will be falling out soon.)

The recipe consisted of three basic parts - the dumplings, the dipping sauce, and the steaming liquid. Of the three, the dipping sauce was the easiest. Very easy in fact. Chili Sauce, beer (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), sugar, soy sauce, etc. Piece of cake.

The dumplings? Well, a bit more of a challenge. Peppers, cumin, Shiitake mushrooms, etc. Nothing crazy there. But wonton wrappers? What the world is a wonton wrapper? After checking various local stores, I came to the conclusion that I may not get to make this recipe if I can't find these things. A last minute search online (thanks Al Gore!) helped me located a small asian market in Dearborn. Fortunately, my GPS was right on the money. Tucked away in a little shopping complex, was the Zhongshan Oriental Grocery. Perfect. In 10 seconds, I had my wonton wrappers.

I also thought this would be a good chance to square away some confusion about the recipe. At no point does it say "cook the turkey and stuff the wrapper". Was I to believe that the 20-minute steaming would cook the raw turkey? So, I spoke to the charming asian woman behind the counter.
"Excuse me. I have a question about a recipe I am going to try. Can you help?"
She nods
"I need to steam these dumplings. But the recipe doesn't say anything about cooking the turkey beforehand. That can't be right. I have to cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper, right?
She looked at me like I insulted her family. "No. Row. Row" she said with a harsh chinese accent.
"Row? No, I walked here. I need to know if I cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper?"
"Row! Row!"
Realizing we where dealing with a language barrier, I decided I needed to start speaking chinese. Yes, folks, I know chinese. It's simple - speak English slower and louder with lots of hand gestures:
"I (pointing to myself)...NEED...TO...STUFF (fingers from hands into the palm of the other)...THE WRAPPER (pointing to the wrappers)...WITH ....TURKEY (no, I didn't put my hands under my armpits and flap my elbows, but in hindsight, I should have)... DO I...COOK...THE TURKEY FIRST?"
"Row! Row! Steeeeeeemm....cooooooook...turkey. Steam."
"Oh! Raw! Raw! Stuff the wrappers with raw turkey?"
"Ya. Row! Row!"
"Ah, cool "
"Egg. Egg on wrapper. Wrapper stick"
"Huh? The recipe doesn't say anything about eggs?"
"Egg. Wrapper stick. Egg on edge."
"Ahh. EGGS...MAKE...WRAPPER...STICK?"
"Ya. Eggs. Stick."
"Ahh. I get it. Merci."

So, after Thursday's cultural experience, I got up a bit early Friday to tackle the dumplings. Each batch needed to be steamed for 20 minutes and I could only do 8 at a time in my steamer. The steaming liquid was basically beer (Yeah!), lime, garlic, and not one, but two serrano peppers (perhaps five times hotter than a jalepeno but, only one-fifth as a hot as a habernaro). The beer, by the way, was Sam Adams Boston Lager.

When steaming, it is very important that the steaming liquid volume is maintained. If it steams, you are losing liquid, right? So, you watch it, and if it looks low, you add more. Crack another beer and dump it in. Easy, right? Yes, it was.

For the most part.

I tested one of the dumplings to make sure everything was good. After a few minutes, my eyes started to get watery. Breathing was getting harder with a little of wheezing. My chest was tightening. I thought - "Holy crap, I'm just ate a poison dumpling. I'm having an allergic reaction here....I'm going to die of anaphalaxis ..." I glanced on the stove. The steam was not so much steam as it was a fine smoke. Yup, the beer was gone and my nuclear serrano peppers were now frying in the pot. I had just created the culinary equivalent of Mustard Gas. Fortunately, no blisters or vomiting. While my kitchen was not quite like the scene of a World War I battlefield (pictured here), I think you get the point. Even if it was below freezing, the doorwall had to be opened and the pot filled with water. Pronto. Before too long, the smell and haze dissipated (somewhat...) and breathing returned to normal. Note to self - don't EVER run out of liquid when steaming with peppers.

All that said, I should probably tell you about the dumplings. They were fantastic. Time consuming, yes, but very good. Alot of people complimented me on them. Plus, the dipping sauce could be used for other things to, I suspect. Good stuff.

Cooking. Always an adventure...

1 comment:

Lora said...

I love your cooking stories... they always give me a good giggle.