Wednesday 18 February 2015

East Meets West: Plum Duck and Sausage Pizza Dumplings

Dumplings. Hot damn do I love me some dumplings. And with it being Chinese New Year up in this joint, I decided to make my own for dinner. What could go wrong?

It was halfway through my 8th pork dumpling dipped in vinegar and soy sauce that I realised serving them as a main course could actually be a violation of the Geneva Convention. There’s no taste variation, they’re waaaay more filling than you remember them, and they pretty quickly become a chore to keep eating. The law of diminishing returns is strong with these. But I still really wanted a way to make dumplings work as a main, because they're too much effort for just a starter or side.

So I mooched around for a day, wondering how I could make them better. More than one flavour would help, but most dumplings still wind up tasting pretty similar to a western palette. Which is when it struck me: Don't confine yourself to just Asian flavourings. So I made one set of dumplings inspired by shredded duck pancakes, and the other... by pizza. East meets west. Italianese!

The second problem I found with dumplings from my first attempt was how repetitive it is to make the damn wrappers (and no, I won't just buy them from the shop! What kind of operation do you think I'm running here?). But I solved that too, as you will see.

You truly are a visionary. The hero we need, but don’t deserve.

1) Whack on the oven and stick in a couple of duck legs to roast.

2) Mix some strong flour with just enough boiling water to make a dough ball. Leave to rest.

3) Chop up a few plums and throw in a saucepan. Finely chop some ginger and garlic.

4) Add a pinch of the garlic and ginger to the plums. Add sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and some water. Simmer.

5) Mix Italian sausage meat with grated cheese, some tomato paste, and the rest of the garlic.

6) Take the duck out of the oven and shred the meat. Mix with chopped spring onions and the rest of the ginger.

7) Split the dough ball into four and roll each one out into a single, long, thin dumpling wrapper.

8) Spoon sausage mix down the middle of two, duck mix down the other two. Fold and pinch the edges to seal.

9) Heat some duck fat in two large frying pans, place the dumplings in them and add water. Cover to steam.

10) After about 10 minutes, uncover and let crisp. Serve the duck dumpling with the plum sauce.

Boo ya! How do ya like them dumplings?! Frikkin’ fusion cuisine, right there.

You cheated! Dumplings are supposed to be bite-sized, not snake sized!

Of course I cheated! Who in their right mind wouldn’t, once they figure out how? I'm pretty sure that short cuts are the basis for all human advancements. I sure don’t want to spend half the day rolling out dozens of tiny dumpling wrappers, do you? Just cut those anacondas down to size once you’re serving them. Yes, they’re slightly messier, but there’s also a much better filling to wrapper ratio.

Of course, if you’re a real pot-stickler (hahaha… I’m so funny) for traditional dumplings, just make a third more dough, then follow the recipe as normal up until rolling out the large wrappers. At that point, just roll out single teaspoon sized pieces of dough into disks, fill them up and cook them exactly the same way. Then consider a job in the civil service. Luddite.

Detailed recipe follows. You know the drill.

Ingredients (serves 2-3) - €10

  • 2 duck legs
  • 150g strong flour (high gluten wheat flour)
  • ~80 ml boiling water
  • 2-3 plums
  • half a finger worth of ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 heaped tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (double if using light soy sauce)
  • 4 spring onions
  • 150g Italian sausage
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • half a ball of mozzarella
  • 70g cheddar cheese
  • salt

If you can't or don't want to get Italian sausages, you can use regular sausages. But make sure to add a teaspoon of fennel seeds, ground up.

It’s helpful if you have some kind of large lid that you can use to cover your frying pan. If not, you can always get away with just using foil. Foil: it’s not just for keeping out government mind rays.

    The first thing you're going to want to do is get those duck legs cooking. So heat your oven to 200°C, score the fatty side of the duck with a knife, place them on a tray fat side down and slide them in. There's a few reason we're using roast duck legs for dumpling filling, instead of raw duck breast. First, the legs have a richer flavour. Second, seeing as we're using legs, it's much easier to strip the meat off the bone if they're cooked. And third, we'll get that delicious crispy fat flavouring, which we wouldn't if the meat was just steam cooked. Also, the fat that renders (melts) in the oven will be used to fry the dumplings. That's right, duck fat dumplings. You might as well cook them in crack.

    The duck will take 30-40 minutes, so in the meantime you can do pretty much everything else. Next on the list is the dough for the dumpling wrappers. Stick some water on to boil, then grab a bowl and dump your flour in it. Slowly pour in your 80ml of the boiled water, stirring as you go (using hot water makes the dough more elastic, and easier to roll out thin). The dough will group into little balls, which you can then squish into one big ball (don't worry, it'll be cool enough to handle). If it's too dry to stick together, add a sprinkle more water. Literally, a sprinkle. At this point a small bit of water can make a huge difference. Likewise, if it's too sticky to handle easily, add some more flour. When it's good, knead it for a couple of minutes, then just put it to one side like it’s been naughty.

    So with the duck roasting, and the dough resting, the next thing to do is get the plum sauce going. Dig the stones out of your plums, then dice them up nice and small. Tip the chopped fruit into a saucepan, add a splash of water and turn the heat on medium-low. Now peel your garlic and ginger, and cut them up nice and fine. Take a pinch of both, and add it to the plums. Pour in the vinegar, soy sauce and the sugar. Turn up the heat and add half a glass of water. Let it simmer, and it will slowly reduce into a nice sauce.

    The duck should be about halfway done by now, so just flip it over and let it keep on cooking. Loadsa fat will have melted off it, and the skin will be well on it’s way to being awesomely crispy.

    Now you can prepare the fillings. This bit is even easier than your notoriously promiscuous immediate relative. For the pizza filling, grab your big Italian sausage and peel off the skin (Sorry, I’ve no more jokes about removing the skins from sausages. I’m spent). Put the meat in a bowl, and throw in the rest of that garlic you already chopped. Grate or dice up both the mozzarella and cheddar, and chuck them in too, along with the tomato paste. Mix it all together with your hands, and you’re done!

    Have a wee look at the plum sauce. You can control the thickness by adding more water if needed, so get it how you like it. Taste it and see if it needs more bite (vinegar), more salt (soy sauce) or more sweetness (sugar). It’s pretty much good at this point, but the longer it simmers for, the less obvious the bits of plum will become. So just leave it to work away, adding more water later if you need to.

    For the duck filling, slice up your spring onions. Take the duck out of the oven and leave it to cool a little. Don’t worry if you think it is a little underdone, it’ll cook some more in the dumplings. While it’s cooling, we’ll get the wrappers ready.

    Take your lump of dough and rip into into 4 chunks. Generously flour a counter-top and your rolling pin and roll out each chunk into a long strip, about 8cm wide and very thin. If you don’t know what 8cm looks like, just take your middle finger, lick it, and put it in your ear. Then go get a ruler and check how wide 8cm is. If you run into problems with the dough sticking, just dust both sides with more flour. Flour is your friend.

    Using a fork, strip all the meat (and delicious crispy skin) off of the now cool duck legs. Throw away the bones and any chewy connective tissue, and you’ll be left with a glorious mound of shredded duck. Some of the pieces might be a bit large, so roughly chop the pile to get them a little more uniform. Mix together with the spring onions and the rest of the ginger you prepared earlier. Add a good pinch or two of salt, and that’s the second filling done. Aren’t you just fantastic!

    Grab half of the sausage mix and spread it down the length of the middle of one of your wrappers, leaving plenty of space to either side. Use a second wrapper for the rest of the sausage mix, and then do the same with the duck mix for the other two wrappers. Take one side of the wrapper and fold it over so the edge matches up with the other side. Grab the joined edges and roll the whole dumpling over so that the edges are now pointing up. Starting at the middle, hold those edges between your pinched thumbs and forefingers, with your left and right sets of fingers about 2cm apart. Fold them towards each other, so the line in the dough forms an “S” shape, then squish the folded dough so it sticks. Do that the whole way down to one end of the dumpling, then go back to the middle and do it down to the opposite end. When you’re finished, the dumpling will be curved, and nicely sealed.

…If you found that confusing and poorly explained… yeah. Just do it however the heck you want. As long as it works for you, it’s all good.

    To cook these mega-dumplings, take out a frying pan or two (the dumplings probably won’t fit in just one pan) and pour a couple of tablespoons worth of the duck fat from the baking tray into them. Get them to a medium heat, then lay the dumplings in the hot fat. Carefully pour about a shot and a half worth of hot water (maybe 80ml) into each of the pans, taking care not to splatter yourself with the fat. Cover the pans and leave them to steam for 8-10 minutes, then take off the lid. If there’s any water left, just let it boil off. The duck fat will still be left however, so the dumplings will now fry, giving them a perfect crunchy underside. Take a peek at their base and when they’re as brown as you like, take them off the pan.

    Serve the dumplings either as giant monstrosities that take both hands to pick up, or cut them into bite-sized pieces. You can dip the duck dumplings in the plum sauce, or just straight up douse them with it. It does not, unfortunately, even remotely go well with the pizza dumplings. Seriously, it’s not even worth trying just to see. But they’re awesome as they are, so tuck in!

(The pizza variation was inspired by the Japanese pizaman, or "pizza buns”, found in convenience stores. Basically melted cheese and tomato sauce in a soft, steamed bun. Which was far tastier than it had any right to be.

Once the dumplings are prepared, they freeze very well. If you want to make a huge batch to keep dipping into for the rest of the month, just lay them out on a tray and put in the freezer. Once they're frozen and there's no more danger of them sticking to each other, slip 'em into a bag so they take up less space. Cook straight from frozen whenever you get the craving.)


  1. Colin, seriously. You know I love you (in a totally weirdish-I-only-know-you-through-the-internet-kinda-way) but these dumpling snakes look kinda creepy. Delicious and creepy, but you get the point I hope

  2. Oh oh! And I wanted to tell you that your pinterest-thingy is not working, it only lets me follow Pinterest on Pinterest, and why would I want to do that? That sounds WEIRD

  3. If you think they look creepy now, wait until you watch someone pick one up whole and eat it that way. Eye-contact should be attempted by trained professionals only.

  4. Pinterest-ception! Tora, you're the best! Now the widget works better. Well, it directs you to my Pinterest account. Whether that's actually better or not is definitely a matter of opinion. I'm not exactly an... avid Pinner. But hey, maybe one day I'll come around!

  5. Haha, oh goodness! Flopping around and being all weird. I think that sounds hilarious. But then that may or may not be the reason why I am no longer allowed to eat bananas in the office.

  6. There's a simple solution to that particular problem...