ONE DOES NOT TELL YOU THAT WHEN PICKLED JALAPENO AND CHEDDAR CHEESE ARE IN THE COMPANY OF GROUND PORK, DELIVERED IN CAPSULE-FORM, THEN FURTHER DIPPED INTO A REDUCTION OF ITS OWN PICKLING JUICE, THE COMBO CAN BE BORN ANEW.
My speculation into a jalapeño popper dumpling began many years ago. It was first brought into light by a specimen from my brother-in-law, who gave us two dozens of online-ordered frozen dumplings which, I was told, had become somewhat of a local internet sensation at the time. The entire makeup of the dumpling was very well-balanced, a perfect ratio between silky and chewy wrapper, not too thin, not too thick, and a fully-housed filling of pork, chopped Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili, cilantro, plus some other secret stuffs that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was unexpected, well-flavored, totally legit.
I have since then, for a handful of times, attempted to replicate that particular dumpling outside of Taiwan where Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili aren’t always a common item, and had found such task to be extremely impractical at best. First of all, Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chilis are, even when available, highly inconsistent in quality between various brands, ranging from awesomely crunchy and peppery with a tinge of sweetness, to barbarically over-sweetened, flaccid and tasteless. Then what complicated the matter even further was that every attempts to replace it with another type of pickled chilis, had resulted in a flavor profile that was completely unrecognizable. In some work, documentary for example, there are certain values in writing recipes involving ingredients that are highly specific and exclusive, necessary even. This, I decided, isn’t one of’em.
I decided that the idea of a dumpling involving a delicious pickled chili, one that is available and reliable nonetheless, could only be realized from a perspective ungoverned by its original inspiration. Which brings us to, jalapeño popper dumpling.
I made a jadeite-green wrappers colored by green scallion puree, sturdy yet soft, smooth yet chewy, a proper capsule for a filling that is fully specked with spicy and peppery chopped pickled jalapeño and cubes of sharp cheddar cheese, each occupying tiny gooey pockets throughout a fatty pork filling that is brightened with fresh cilantro. The compatibility between pickled jalapeño and cheddar cheese requires no dispute, but one does not tell you that when they’re in the company of ground pork, delivered in capsule-form, then further dipped into a spicy, briny and tangy reduction of its own pickling juice, this classic combo can be born anew.
Sometimes the destination isn’t where the starting point had intended. And often times that pisses me off. In this case, I am not.
- 2 1/4 cup (290 grams) bread flour
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) water
- 1 large handful (40 grams) scallions green parts only
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 lb (460 grams) fatty ground pork
- 1 cup packed coarsely shredded or finely diced sharp cheddar cheese
- 3/4 cup packed chopped pickled jalapeno
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 medium shallot, finely minced
- 2 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp chicken stock
- 1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 cup jalapeno pickling juice
- 2 cloves of garlics, smashed
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Soy sauce to drizzle
- Black pepper to dust
- PREPARE DOUGH: (You can use store-bought dumpling wrapper as well). Place bread flour in a large bowl. In a blender, blend water, green scallions (green parts only) and salt until smoothly pureed. Add the liquid to the flour and stir the mixture together with a large fork, then knead until a shaggy and relatively dry dough comes together. Transfer the dough onto a working surface, and continue to knead for 5 minutes. The dough is definitely on the dry side, not sticking to the counter at all and may still have bumps and cracks even after kneading. If your dough is so dry that it has difficulty coming together at all, knead in a bit more water. Plastic-wrap the dough and let rest on the counter for at least 2 hours. The dough should be much smoother after resting.
- MEANWHILE, PREPARE FILLING: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients under "Jalapeno popper filing". Mix evenly with your hands, then cover with plastic-wrap and keep in the fridge until needed.
- FORM THE DUMPLINGS: My favorite, easy way to roll out the wrappers is by using the pasta sheet-attachment on my Kitchenaid. I roll the dough out into a flat rectangle, then pass it through the machine starting from number 1 setting, until it reaches the number 4 setting of thickness. I cut the circles out with a cookie cutter (3 1/4" or 8 cm in diameter), then gather the scraps and repeat. You can of course do it the traditional way, dividing the dough into small nubs (about a tbsp each), then roll each one out with a wooden roller. Whichever way you choose, make sure each wrappers are thoroughly dusted with flour to prevent sticking.
- To make the dumplings, place a heaping tbsp of filling in the center of the wrapper. Dab the edges of the wrapper with water, then bring the edges upwards and pinch tightly to close. I really don't think there's any right way to do this. As long as the wrapper isn't broken, or stretched too thinly that it may break during cooking, and the filling is securely encased, it's all fine I think. Place the dumplings on a well-floured sheet-tray. Once the tray is filled, flash freeze it in the freezer for 1 hour until the dumplings are hardened. After which, you can transfer the dumplings into a zip-lock bag and keep frozen until needed.
- TO SERVE: In a small pot, boil the jalapeno pickling juice until it's reduced down to 1/4 cup. Whisk in the smashed garlic, light brown sugar, toasted sesame oil and extra virgin olive oil, and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil on high heat, then add the dumplings. Swirl it gently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the water comes back to a raging boil, add a few ice cubes to chill the water down, and repeat. This boiling and cooling process tightens the wrappers and yields a better texture as a result. After a few repetition, the dumplings will float to the surface of the cooking water. You can open one to see if they're fully cooked. If not, boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute more. I like to add more ice cubes right before I remove the dumplings from the cooking water with a slotted spoon, to give them a final shocking.
- Give the dumplings a generous dousing of the pickling juice dipping sauce, and a few drizzle of soy sauce (the black spots make it prettier to look at) and dustings of black pepper. Dumplings are equally awesome hot or cold.
* The green scallions mainly gives the wrapper its color, not so much for flavorings. If you want to use store-bought wrappers, that's totally fine as well.