To Roll, or Not To Roll
Like standing in the DMV queue and being asked (judged simultaneously too) if I wanted to be an organ donor. Or whether to leave my BJ apartment on a PM2.5 hazardous day for groceries or starve with cheese crackers. Or whether to spend the last scrap of my monthly budget on the air purifier we really do NEED versus the new iPhone I really do WANT. Nobody said being an adult is easy.
So years of life-defining choices as such have boiled down to this moment – I find myself standing in the kitchen in BJ (how the hell did I end up here…?), deciding which is the better way to form an Asian meat pie.
This seemingly (again) trivial, almost juvenile struggle is actually of significance. It marks the milestone in my mental diary, of the moment that I am finally driven to absolute
insanity boredom in this self-imprisonment that I would even think about making this myself. Wait, correction. ATTEMPTING to make this myself. Opposite from what this blog may portray, I actually DID believe that there are things better left for professionals to do. That is, in my mind, ALL things doughy.
Yes… there are already 4 among the total 9 recipes so far that involve some form of dough making. So what am I talking about? But believe me these were considered completely off-limit only 2 years ago. Until of course I was pushed off the edge by the shortcomings of BJ’s pity of a food scene, I began my first attempt to make fresh pasta, my gateway dough into the mysterious world of the binding between flour and liquid.
This is not exactly a friendly world, and I blame it on 2 things:
1. There are just way too many possibilities and variables in the chemistry of a dough. Each different culture has more than 2 or 3 varieties consisting of completely different textures and tastes.
2. All dough masters are selfish human beings who don’t like to share. Seriously. And Asian dough-makers are among the most unwilling. While western chefs are all banking on publishing their secrets, Asian chefs are still holding onto the stigma that they’d lose their edge if the guy next to him knows the same things. UTTER selfishness…
OK, stop bitching, Mandy. So, Asian meat pies. What’s the most important texture in an Asian pie dough? Chewiness. Is it here? NO. To customers like me, who longs for this particular texture which I believe is THE hardest to achieve in a dough, this recipe is not the answer.
BUT to my defense, what my pies lack in chewiness, they make up in CRISPINESS because they have a peppery “crust”. It’s gotta have one or the other.
I may have derailed on the subject of choices a bit, but let me come back to it. Here I have two ways of making the pies. I personally prefer EXHIBIT B. It delivers a simple pie that’s filled with juice. EXHIBIT A on the other hand, has a very fancy cross-section but in my opinion, lacks juiciness. The recipes for the components are exactly the same. The only difference is how they are put together. Here they are:
- 400 g of all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp of sugar
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1tsp of fresh ground black pepper
- 4 tbsp of duck fat (remember that duck fat from the duck ragu?) or chicken fat
- 8 tbsp of boiling water
- 8 tbsp of cold water
All the recipes I can find online or in cookbooks give me more-or-less a similar instruction of the dough that’s not chewy. Put flour, sugar, salt, pepper and duck fat in a mixer or a bowl. Add the boiling water and mix until roughly combined. Then add the cold water and knead until a smooth, elastic dough is formed. About 10 min.
- 350 g of ground pork
- 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil
- 1/ tsp of black pepper and white pepper each
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of fish sauce
- 3 tsp of soy sauce
- 1 tsp of corn starch
- 1/2 tsp of extra dark soy sauce
Mix all the ingredients together with a fork or chopstick until well combined. I don’t necessarily think it’s crucial to beat it to a point that “emulsion” starts to form (when the meat becomes pasty and sticky). I want the meat juice to be released during cooking, not “locked in” with protein and fat.
- 300 g of diced baby scallion
- 2 tsp of black and white pepper each
- 1/2 tsp of sesame oil
Use baby spring scallions, not the “jumbo” ones. The thinner the better. Dice the scallions finely and mix with peppers and sesame oil.
- 1 egg wash
- 6 tbsp of flour
- 1 tbsp of fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp of white pepper
- 1 tsp of garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp of salt
Beat 1 egg with 1 tsp of water for egg wash. Mix flour, garlic powder, black and white pepper and salt together. Set aside.
OK. So this is a rolled-up version. I’ve seen it many times on the internet and I’ve always wanted to try it, and I did.
Flour the working surface and the rolling pin. Take a piece of dough (around 55g), and roll it out into a thin sheet while keeping it as round as possible. Generously spread a layer of meat all over, topped with a layer of scallions. Now, ladle a tsp of that melted duck fat. With absolute conviction and no remorse, unapologetically drizzle the fat ALL over the filling. Just do it. Don’t look back. Now, as tightly as possible without breaking the dough, roll the sheet up from one end to the other like you would with a
joint sushi. Brush a little egg wash on the side to help it stick. Then brush egg wash on the inner side of the roll, and curl it into a disk like a snail shell.
Pat it down gently. Brush egg wash on one side of the disk, and pat the flour/pepper mixture on top to form a layer of “breading”. Do the same on the other side as well. Heat up a non-stick pan with 1 to 2 tbsp of olive oil, depending on how many I’m frying at a time. This is the same technique as cooking Japanese gyoza which is pan frying + steaming at the same time. When the pan is hot, turn to MEDIUM HEAT, put the pies in the pan with at least 1″ or 5cm between each. Add 1 tbsp of water into the pan and put the lid on. Purely pan-frying the pie won’t cook the filling through so it needs steam to do that. Once all the water evaporate, the filling is cooked and the bottom of the pie will crisp up. I’m only adding 1 tbsp of water in the beginning because I can always add more, but I won’t be able to take out. Sometimes the pie dough would break (HEARTBREAK!), meat juice would leak and I end up with too much liquid in the pan. So if all the water evaporated without extra juice leaking from the pie, add a 2nd tbsp of water. When 2nd tbsp of water evaporate as well, let the pies brown up in the pan before flipping it over. Do the same steps with the other side until both sides are nice and browned.
This is what I would end up with, a nice “swirling” of meat and pie dough. But I realized that the juice from the meat and scallion is absorbed into the dough. While being very pretty and flavorful, I find myself desiring a juicier bite.
So now onto EXHIBIT B. This is a much simpler assembly but remember, CONTAINING THE JUICE is the reason for exhibit B. So roll a piece of dough out into a sheet, but this time a little thicker. Drape it over a bowl so there’s a nice deep dent in the middle. Put a generous layer of scallion (about 1 tbsp) first, then a layer of meat (about 1 tbsp, too), then another layer of scallion. With the same unshakable conviction, add a tsp of duck fat on top. Use finger tips to gently twirl and pinch the sheet together. It doesn’t have to be pretty but the goal is to have a relatively tight (not too much air inside) pouch without breaking the dough. Pinch off any access dough on top.
GENTLY pat it down and brush egg wash on all sides of the pie, then pat the pepper flour mixture all over it. Heat up a non-stick pan, add 1 to 2 tbsp of olive oil, then evenly space the pies in the pan. So same technique here. Turn to medium heat, add 1 tbsp of water and close the lid. Once the water is gone, add a 2nd tbsp and let it steam again.
When it comes to flipping of the pie, be REALLY careful here. There’s no layer in the pie to stop the juice from leaking. Which means if and once the pie dough is punctured, ALL juice would leak out and all the remorse in the world wouldn’t bring it back! It’s bye-bye juicy bite… I find it much safer to do the flipping with fork and spoon than a spatula. LIGHTLY insert the fork underneath the pie, then with a spoon supporting the other side, flip the pie over and hope for a safe landing. So with the stars aligned, I successfully browned the pies without any catastrophic accidents.
The pies have crusts that are brown and crispy, with fillings that are flavorful and juicy (lost a few drops when it squirted out of the first bite). I think it’s mission accomplished.