Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dumpling Dilemma

Some kitchen tasks go above and beyond the realm of “practical.” Last month, the New York Times published an article on “recipe deal breakers;” which vary, of course, according to the chef, their budget and their kitchen space. The following is an account of a recipe that had many, many deal breakers for me: the use of cheesecloth, a 24-hour refrigeration period, expensive ingredients, tedious dumpling folding, and more. Why, might you ask, would I ever subject myself to such a recipe? Sometimes you have no choice. As part of my work, I cross-test recipes submitted by various chefs to determine if they’re acceptable for the “average” home cook. As for this Tomato Essence with Chanterelle Mushroom Dumpling number, I’ll let you be the judge:

First, I ground close to 5 lbs of roma and vine-ripe tomatoes, along with a basil leaf, a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and some black pepper, in the food processor until it was liquefied. Then I poured the soupy mess into a cheesecloth, tied it up, and hung it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Yes. Hung it in the refrigerator. For 24 hours. I sadly do not have pictures of this step, but suffice it to say that my jerry-rigged string “hook” to dangle the blob of raw tomato pulp over a bowl for 24 hours was not pretty. What’s even less appealing is that the entire purpose of this exercise was to extract the tomato’s “essence,” all of the juice that dripped through the cheesecloth.
This is what 5 lbs of tomatoes drained of their essence looks like.
The resulting liquid was almost clear, with a strong flavor and aroma of tomatoes (without the nuisance of actually seeing or eating them).

On to the dumplings: The filling was made of sautéed chanterelle mushrooms(clocking in at approximately $30/ lb), which were later chopped to a rough paste in the food processor.
After chilling the mushroom paste, I painstakingly folded tablespoon-sized dollops into 50 (thankfully pre-made) dumpling wrappers and sealed the edges with an egg yolk. Then the dumplings were boiled in the tomato essence, creating what was essentially a highbrow version of wonton soup.

After bringing in a sampling of the dish to my bosses at work, we all decided that perhaps this was not the best recipe for the “average” home cook. Was it that difficult? No, but it certainly was time-consuming, not to mention expensive and somewhat tedious. Then again, there are home cooks out there who love taking their time with recipes and handcrafting every component, in which case: go for it. For now, I’ll stick with Golden Dragon takeout when my craving for dumpling soup sets in.


ari j said...

You have what we refer to as an "awesome job." You should talk to my mom about simplifying the process.

susan said...

i don't mind the cheesecloth, refrigeration period, or expensive ingredients -- once in a while i make things with all that shit -- but i can't imagine a single situation in which i would feel compelled to make my own dumplings.

Jamie said...

@ ari j: I should talk to you mom about simplifying the awesome job process, or the tomato essence process?