Pretzel Pork-and-Chive Dumplings

"I'd never seen a pretzel made until I worked in the soy-scented kitchen at Buddakan, of all places," said Talde.

"My boy Brian Ray, a fellow cook, had finished prep early and figured he'd make some soft pretzels for the hell of it. Basically, he made a simple dough, formed it into pretzels, blanched them in water mixed with lye, brushed them with egg wash, and baked them. Some coarse salt and it was on. I ate about seven of them. But instead of making pretzels myself, all I could think about was what other foods I could pretzel-ify. Then it hit me. Ten minutes later, we were applying all the steps that make pretzels taste like pretzels--the blanching, the egg wash, the salt--to pork dumplings. Now Talde regulars would riot if we took them off the menu."

Makes about 36

 

Ingredients:

Special equipment:

Food-safe brush

Parchment paper

 

For the Filling

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

¾ cup thinly sliced chives, preferably Chinese chives (flat, like blades of grass)

1½ pounds fresh pork belly, ground by your butcher, or other fatty ground pork, cold

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

 

For Forming and Par-Cooking the Dumplings:

36 wonton wrappers (round), preferably "Shanghai style"

4 quarts water

3 tablespoons baking soda

3 egg yolks, beaten

1 stick (¼ pound) unsalted butter, melted

 

For Finishing the Dumplings:

About 1 cup vegetable oil for shallow frying

¼ cup pretzel salt

1 cup Tahini Mustard Sauce (see recipe below)

 

Method:

 

Make the filling

Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat, add the chives, and cook, stirring, just until they're wilted and very fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Let them cool slightly. Combine the pork in a mixing bowl with the chives and remaining filling ingredients. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands until everything is well distributed. Don't overmix or the filling will be too dense.

 

Form the Dumplings

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a small bowl with water.

Form the dumplings one at a time, keeping the yet-to-be-used wonton wrappers under a damp towel. (1) Put a dumpling wrapper on the work surface. (2) Add a slightly mounded tablespoon of the pork mixture to the center. (3) Dip your finger into the water and use it to moisten the edge of the wrapper, then pinch and slightly flatten the filling to form a log shape. (4) Fold the wrapper to form a semi-circle. (5) Firmly press the two edges together, leaving both sides open. (6) Holding the pinched edge with one hand, invert the dumpling. (7) Use the other hand to push the rounded bottom of an open end so it meets the pinched edge and very firmly pinch those closed. Force out the air from the pocket you created, then do the same to close the other open end. Make sure all the edges are tightly sealed; if two edges won't seal, try moistening the edges with a little more water. (8) Transfer the dumpling to the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the remaining filling and wrappers.

 

Par-Cook the Dumplings

This step gives the dumplings that pretzel-like chew and aroma. Combine the water and baking soda in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Line a large baking sheet or plate with parchment paper.

Working in three batches, boil the dumplings until their filling springs back when you squeeze it, 4 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the dumplings to the prepared baking sheet as they're done.

Brush the dumplings all over with the egg yolk (or drizzle and rub with a spoon to coat), then do the same with the melted butter. Let the dumplings sit for at least 2 hours or in the fridge, uncovered, for a day or two. The longer the better.

 

Finish the Dumplings:

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Put a paper towel-lined baking sheet in there, so you have a place to keep finished dumplings warm while you make the rest.

Cook the dumplings in several batches to avoid crowding the skillet: Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add enough oil to reach a depth of about ¼ inch. As soon as the oil shimmers, arrange some of the dumplings in a single layer, leaving some breathing room between them. Cook, using tongs to turn them occasionally, until you see golden-brown blisters on all three sides, about 5 minutes total. Sprinkle on about 1 tablespoon of the pretzel salt, toss, and transfer the dumplings to the oven to keep them warm. Add enough oil to maintain the ¼-inch depth, let it shimmer, and repeat with the remaining dumplings and salt.

Eat right away with a bowl of the tahini mustard sauce.

 

Tahini Mustard Sauce

"You can't eat a soft pretzel without mustard. But straight-up mustard would overwhelm Pretzel Pork-and-Chive Dumplings. You need something to tone down the mustard's sting. Because dumplings are Asian and New York's pretzel vendors are almost always Middle Eastern, I looked to a common culinary thread: sesame."

Creamy tahini and fragrant sesame oil get it done, giving this dip a richness with just enough mustardy bite.

Makes about 1 cup

 

Ingredients:

½ cup hot Chinese mustard (or Dijon, if you have to)

2 tablespoons well-stirred tahini

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Method:

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and stir really well.