Mama Chang's Pork & Chive Dumplings with Black Pepper-Scallion Sauce

Becoming a Dumpling Ninja

This year as a birthday gift my friends arranged for a cooking class, shopping trip, and dim sum brunch at Myers + Chang. What a gift! My friends obviously know me well. It was one of the coldest days this season and ordinarily I'd spend the day at home in my PJs but it was well worth it to brave the cold and a great way to kick off my birthday weekend.

My kind of celebrity encounter

It's not every day that I get to meet a Top Chef contestant and James Beard nominee, much less get to learn from them, but that's exactly what I got to do that morning. Chef Karen Akunowicz is the Executive Chef at Myers + Chang and was our host for the day. She is lovely, so friendly and full of energy. She took us through the process of making the filling, wrapping the dumplings, and cooking the dumplings pot sticker style. All the while she shared stories and answered questions, mincing and chopping like Martin Yan. And Chef Karen told us with great confidence that by the end of class we would be dumpling ninjas.

Making the filling

One thing I learned is with this filling there is no binder like bread crumbs or eggs or even cornstarch. The binder comes from working the filling well so the fat in the pork breaks down and serves to hold the mixture together. And unlike a meatball or meatloaf, you don't have to be careful about overworking the filling. Chef Karen showed us a technique where she used her hand like a paddle to mix and blend the ingredients together.

Wrapping the dumplings

Learning to wrap the dumplings was the fun part. Chef Karen showed us four basic folds:
  • A simple half moon
  • A half moon with a ruffled edge
  • A "rose bud" circular shape similar to a tortelloni
  • And a crescent shape with one side pleated

I found this video on YouTube which shows a number of the dumpling folds we learned along with a few others. Fold #2 is what my sister excels at when we make mundoo (I have yet to master it). Folds #3 and #5 are similar to ones we learned in class. And as the video host says (paraphrase), it doesn't matter what they look like, they're all going to taste great.

Developing the potsticker crust

Chef Karen also showed us how to get the amazing crispy crust when she prepared the dumplings pot sticker style. I love pot stickers but in my kitchen with its lack of ventilation and the tendency for the smoke alarm to go off, it's unlikely I'll make them that way at home. In fact, the next day we steamed our dumplings. It took about 25 minutes. We wanted to be sure the filling was fully cooked.

Birthday brunch

After a quick trip to the Asian grocery store to check out the different ingredients used that morning, we went back to the restaurant for a dim sum lunch. The menu included, among other things, green papaya salad, hakka eggplant, nasi goreng, smoked mushroom lo mein, vegetable dumplings, salt & pepper calamari, and a waffle sundae.

And the meal ended with a trio of delectable coconut cream tarts and a Happy Birthday serenade.

Thank you to my friends for a super memorable birthday (and for many of the pictures in this post). It was a fantastic way to spend a cold Saturday morning. I loved every moment of it!