Sometimes I get a cooking brainstorm and things work out really well or even better than I expected – the process goes smoothly, the food tastes great and all is well. Sometimes, not so much.
This weekend I was going to cook a corned-beef point and wanted a different starch to go with it. We were out of bread, I didn’t want potatoes, noodles didn’t seem right so I thought dumplings might fit the bill.
We often make a chicken soup with Mary Whitcher’s Herb Dumplings (which we’ve written about before here) so I thought that dumplings might be just the thing. I like horseradish with my corned-beef so I wondered if there was a way to combine dumplings and horseradish. How about dumplings with a horseradish cream sauce? I didn’t have a recipe and a scan of the interweb provided no real help but did reveal quite a number of recipes (actually only two or three recipes but repeated over scores of websites) for Horseradish Dumplings. Voila! With a slight shift in plans, moving the horseradish from the sauce to the dumplings, I was in business.
But soon, some problems arose. The most promising recipes were in Euro-metric measures. That’s OK, I have a gram scale and can rework proportions to fit a smaller batch. The recipe I settled on called for suet for the fat. No directions as to how to incorporate the suet into the dumpling dough. Suet is a rather hard (firm) fat – do I chop/mince it into smaller pieces? Do I render/melt it before mixing it into the dough? No clue. Also, I didn’t have suet on hand except for the somewhat gamey beef suet I put out for the woodpeckers – not suitable for human consumption.
I did, however, have a jar of manteca from the local Super-mercado (Mexican grocery). That’s not the same as suet (manteca is fresh rendered pork fat, lard, rather than raw beef fat, which is suet) but I figured if it worked in tamales it could work in dumplings.
The directions for the recipe was pretty straight-forward (and short) – Combine the ingredients. That’s it, combine the ingredients. I chilled the manteca to firm it up (fresh manteca is fairly soft and near liquid at room temperature) so I could cut it into the flour to make the dough. So far so good. Add the horseradish and parsley. Mix. That’s it.
When I make dumplings for chicken soup, I wait until just before we’re ready to eat and cook them in the soup and serve immediately. But for this fiasco, I was cooking a corned-beef point by simmering it for three hours and finishing it by roasting it in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving. So, I decided to cook the dumplings in the pan of water/broth that the corn-beef had been cooked in and serve them on the side of the corned beef with a touch of butter and a light grinding of pepper.
Well, you can probably tell from the title of this post and some word choices in the body that all did not go well. Basically the dumplings slowly dissolved in the cooking water, gradually getting smaller and smaller as the cooking time passed. By the time the dough in the center of a dumpling was cooked through each dumpling was roughly half the size it has started out. The other half had mixed with the simmering broth to form a sort of flour and horseradish slurry.
The dumplings tasted fine. It’s just that they were so-o-o-o-o delicate that I could hardly serve them without having them fall apart in front of my eyes.
I’ll spare you the recipe. If you want it I’m sure you’ll be able to easily find on the web, as I did. In hind sight, the basic recipe might be the problem. The fat melts as the dumplings cook, weakening their structure. Maybe actual suet might have stood up to the heat better (remember I said that manteca is almost liquid at room temperature). For what it’s worth, Mary Whitcher’s recipe calls for egg which acts as a binder and MUCH less fat. Next time I’ll try modifying Mary Whitcher’s recipe and stick with the tried and true.
One positive outcome though. The cooking water and sloughed off dumpling dough combined to make a rather nicely seasoned, accidentally roux-thickened broth that I was able to use as the base for a decent potato soup. Waste not, want not.