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Technique: Mandu: Korean Dumplings, Two Ways
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Seoul, Korea
Cheonjipoja
127 Sogyeok-dong
Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82-2-739-6086

Technique: Mandu: Korean Dumplings, Two Ways

In the context of armed invasion, a dumpling is a dubious consolation prize. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t take. When the Mongols invaded Korea in the 13th century, 40 years’ worth of conquest yielded less than 80 years of political influence. But more than seven centuries later, the invaders’ snack of choice, the humble dumpling, endures in the Korean pantry. And there’s good reason. Fill them with potato or pork, call them potstickers or pierogis, dumplings are easy and addictive—a valuable commodity in this age of rampant comfort food.

Along with bulgogi, bibimbap, and jap chae, Korean dumplings, or mandu, are star players in the catalogue of Korean cuisine—meaning most early childhood memories in Korean households are of mothers and grandmothers gossiping over mass mandu production. And while family can offset the tedium of labor-intensive recipes (you’ll understand if you’ve ever reluctantly rolled grape leaves and or tied off tamales), dumpling production in the restaurant kitchen requires dedicated, deftly executed production for a consistent product every time.

In Seoul, where we recently traveled for Seoul Gourmet and where mandu demand is high, an unassuming restaurant called Cheonjipoja serves up vegetarian and meat dumplings with lightning speed—meaning diners are satisfied and a healthy profit margin lives on to fight another day. It’s important to have fresh dough—or mandu pe, a specific ratio of flour to water to salt—on hand for custom rolled wrappers. Fillings, the great dumpling payoff, can vary between meat, vegetable, tofu, kimchi, or a combination thereof. Preparations vary, too; gunmandu are grilled or pan-fried, mulmandu are boiled; and jjinmandu are steamed. And even here, there’s room for variation.

For instance, for its vegetarian dumpling, Cheonjipoja combines grilling and steaming in an atypical open dumpling—meaning instead of its contents being safely pinched inside the mandu pe, the dumpling resembles a kind of tiny taco with its center pinched together. Cheonjipoja’s meat dumplings are basic jjinmandu, filled with incredibly smooth pork filling and twisted closed. Together, these mandu show the versatility of the humble dumpling within Korean cuisine’s bold flavors, sleek contours, and longstanding traditions. Savvy chefs take note: conquer the stomach, and you’ve conquered a nation.

Technique for Vegetable Mandu:

  • With a small rolling pin, roll the mandu pe or dough into small balls.
  • Roll the dough balls into 3-inch diameter circles.
  • Using a long, thin spatula, fill the each circle with a moderate amount of filling.
  • Holding the filled dough in the center of your palm, bring the two sides together and pinch together in the middle only.
  • Put the dumplings directly onto a hot griddle to cook.
  • As the dumplings cook, drizzle with water and cover with a large lid to capture steam and finish cooking.
  • Technique for Pork Jjinmandu:

  • With a small rolling pin, roll the mandu pe or dough into small balls.
  • Roll the dough balls into 3-inch diameter circles.
  • Using a long, thin spatula, put a moderate amount of filling in the center of each circle.
  • Pull the edges of the circle to elongate the rim of the dumpling.
  • As you rotate the dumpling in your hand, pull the rim of the dumpling up and slowly twist against the direction of rotation.
  • Pinch slightly at the top to close the dumpling.
  • Carefully place the dumplings in a steamer to cook.
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      Published: November 2010
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