The Chinese New Year is upon us—and there are two survival strategies: Either avoid Grant and Stockton for the next week, or embrace the holiday in full force. We prefer the second. That means making dumplings, the traditional food of the season. (We can get behind any holiday that gives us a chance to eat dumplings, really.) So, this week's recipe is for duck dumplings from the OG Google Chef Charlie Ayers' Palo Alto Restaurant Calafia Café. The recipe is included in the collection from notable Bay Area restaurants that make up the San Francisco Chef's Table cookbook. Let the feasting begin!
(Serves 4 as an appetizer, about 5 dumplings per serving)
For the filling:
2 cups loosely packed, finely shredded napa cabbage, plus more for garnishing
1/4 pound ground duck meat, about 1/2 cup (see Note)
1 green onion, white and green parts, minced
11/4 ounces (about 4 to 6 medium-sized) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps minced
1/4 bunch chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sake
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
For the dipping sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
Rice vinegar, to taste
Hot chili oil, to taste
For the dumplings:
20 Asian dumpling wrappers, round, 3-inch diameter
Canola oil, for cooking
Sesame oil, for cooking
To make the filling: Combine 2 cups cabbage, duck meat, green onions, shiitake mushrooms, chives, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sake, and soy sauce in a bowl. Using your hands, mix just until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix. Refrigerate filling if not using immediately. To make the dipping sauce: Combine the ingredients in a small bowl or jar in the proportions you prefer and mix well. At serving time, mix again and place sauce in individual ramekins for dipping.
To assemble the dumplings: Place the stack of dumpling wrappers on a work surface and keep covered with a clean, slightly damp kitchen towel or paper towel. Arrange a sheet pan with waxed or parchment paper for assembled dumplings, and place a small bowl with water next to the work surface.
Holding a wrapper on the palm of one hand, place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. With a fingertip, swipe one half of the edge of the wrapper with a little water, then fold over the other edge to meet the dampened edge, enclosing the filling and pinching to seal securely. With your fingers, make 3 or 4 evenly-placed pleats along the sealed edge and place the dumpling, flat side down (pleats facing upward) on the lined sheet pan. Repeat until all of the filling has been used.
To cook the dumplings: Heat a large sauté pan with a lid over medium heat. Once hot, add enough canola and sesame oil (2:1 canola to sesame) to coat the bottom of the pan. Swirl to distribute and allow oil to heat. Test the oil temperature by flicking just a drop of water in the pan. If it sizzles instantly, the pan is ready. You will need to work in batches of 10 dumplings in the pan at a time. You need to focus here, so do not try this with multiple pans.
Place the dumplings in the pan flat side down as they were on the sheet pan, lining them up neatly to prevent touching. Cook undisturbed until the bottoms are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. You may need to adjust your heat, possibly turning it down, to attain the right color in 3 minutes, so keep your eye on them.
Move your pan off heat to a cool part of your range for a minute. If the oil is too hot when you add the water, it can ignite and splatter. Stand back and add about 1⁄4 inch of water, cover, and return the pan heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook a few minutes longer to evaporate the water and crisp the bottom of the dumplings. They should be a deep golden brown. Carefully remove from heat with a metal offset spatula, being careful not to tear the wrappers. Repeat with remaining dumplings until all are cooked.
To serve: Arrange a little bit of shredded cabbage on a serving plate. Add the dumplings browned side up. Serve with dipping sauce. Note: If you are grinding your own duck, remove the fatty skin by placing the breast skin side down on a cutting board set near the edge of a countertop. Place the palm of your nondominant hand on the top of the breast to keep it firmly pressed against the cutting board. Insert a long sharp knife between the flesh and the fat layer and carefully use a sawing motion to remove the skin and fat. Hold a paper towel in front of the grinder before you turn it on, as duck can be a bit juicy.
Reprinted with permission from San Francisco's Chef's Table by Carolyn Jung, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Lyons Press.