Smoky Turkey Shu Mai


Shu mai — you know, those tasty, little, open-faced dumplings that are standard fare on Sunday dim sum carts. And, for that matter, on the menu of most all respectable Chinese restaurants across the country.

Well, if you like those appealing Asian bites as much as I do, this blog post is for you. Especially if you’re up for learning how to make some.

I’ve been making shu mai for quite a while now. Can’t get enough of them. Not only are they tasty, they’re easy to do. And, I’ve been told, they look pretty cool on the plate. Have them as an app. or a main.

These days, I’ve been experimenting. Ever since I found a recipe by Ming Tsai, the chef from Blue Ginger, near Boston. He does East-West takes on classic Asian dishes. His “Smoky Turkey Shu Mai” sounded sensational. But I didn’t want the butter — or the heavy cream.

So I modified the recipe. Added a different sauce. And Asian slaw.

Now there was smokiness, a bit of heat, balanced with the acid from rice vinegar and lemon juice. All brightened by cilantro and chives.

Smoky Turkey Shu Mai with Chipotle Sauce and Asian Slaw.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the dish:

1 lb. ground turkey
Small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 lg. egg
2 TBS chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup + 1 TBS chopped cilantro / divided
1 TBS chives
1 tsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp finely chopped garlic + 1 clove / divided
1/4 cup + 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar / divided
Juice of half lemon
Bag (16oz) of pre-sliced cabbage
1 tsp dark sesame oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 cup + 1/4 cup canola oil / divided
1 pkg. gyoza wrappers (from the Asian market)
Bamboo steamer

The preparation:

First the filling. In a bowl, mix 1 lb. ground turkey with 2 TBS chopped onion, 1 TBS chopped cilantro, 1 TBS chopped chives, 1/4 tsp salt, a few grinds of fresh pepper, 1 TBS pureed chipotle*, one beaten egg. Then cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce and slaw.

(*To puree, take a small can of chipotles and buzz in a blender. I use a hand-held immersion blender. It’s much easier to clean. You can save what’s left over in the fridge to use another time in sauces or soups.)

Now for the sauce. In a large measuring cup or tall glass put 1 TBS pureed chipotle, 1 tsp finely chopped garlic, 1 tsp finely chopped shallot, a packed 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar, juice of half a lemon and a cup of canola oil. With the immersion blender again, buzz everything till well blended. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. And maybe more chipotle if you’d like added heat.

To make the Asian slaw, whisk together 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 clove garlic – crushed thru a press, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add the cabbage and toss.

Finally, the shu mai. Grab your goyza wrappers and the turkey filling from the fridge. Hold a wrapper in the palm of your hand. Place 1/2 TBS of filling in the center. Bring the sides of the wrapper up around the filling, turning so they adhere and then tap the bottom of the shu mai against your work surface to flatten it. You can do it. Take a look at the photo above to see the shape. Repeat until you’ve used up all the filling.

Once you’re done, you can hold the shu mai in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. That’ll only take 8 minutes. Great for a dinner party.

When you’re ready, have the steamer set up over a large pot of boiling water about 2 inches deep. But before you do that — line the basket with lettuce leaves or spray it with vegetable spray to prevent sticking. Add the shu mai, and steam the little guys for about 8 minutes.

To assemble as a first course, put 3 shu mai on each plate along with some slaw. Then spoon chipotle sauce over each dumpling. You’ll want to bring the rest of the sauce to the table, everyone will want more.

And just in case you were wondering, “shu mai” translated from the original Cantonese means “to cook and to sell.” Because originally the dumplings were made mostly in restaurants, not in the home.


Fennel & Fish


I love fennel with its unique, aromatic taste. Its subtle hints of anise. But I’ve found there’s a whole lot more to it than that — depending on how you prepare it. Last night, I just shaved and tossed it with arugula, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and olive oil to go with some exquisite, sushi-grade tuna that I quickly grilled.

Like the ideal Italian salad, it was bright, clean and delicious.

You can bring out more flavor by grilling. My very first experience with fennel was just that. Grilled. It was served with some tasty rockfish that came off the same wood-fired grill. And the slightly crunchy slices of this ancient Mediterranean vegetable, kissed by the fire, added a wonderful and tantalizing herbal spin to the dish.

Braising is another option. It’s more time consuming, of course. But delivers even more fennel flavor. That’s what chef Mario Batali does at his noted restaurant, Babbo in NYC. He then serves his braised fennel with whole roasted Branzino. To me, its also great with grilled or pan roasted swordfish. Or almost any kind of fish, for that matter.

Braised Fennel. A recipe with a nod to the Babbo kitchen.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 Fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4″ slices
Chopped fennel fronds
Dry white wine
Olive oil
White Sugar
Salt and pepper

The preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450. Then arrange the fennel slices in a single layer in a large oven proof pan. Pour in enough white wine to cover, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to the oven to braise uncovered until tender. About 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Next, in a 14-inch saute pan, heat 3 TBS olive oil until smoking. Add the fennel slices, sprinkle with 1 TBS sugar, turning often, until light golden brown. About 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and that’s it. You’ve got wonderfully aromatic braised fennel to accompany some fish. Use the chopped fronds to dress the plate.

And to spice up dinner conversation when you serve it, here are some curious and fun facts about fennel. For openers, it was used back in ancient Greece. Not only that, it was closely associated with Dionysus. You know, the infamous god of food, wine and frolic. The ancients called fennel “marathon.” Because it filled the fields where that iconic battle was fought. In fact, Greeks still call it “marathon” today.


Grilling with Grape Leaves


Last night I wanted some barbounia! Those highly-prized, small fish so popular throughout most of Greece, especially on the islands. In France they’re known as rouget. And to some they’re red mullet.

Not an easy fish to find in this country, barbounia are usually dusted with flour and pan-fried in a touch of olive oil. Then, you just give them a serious squeeze of lemon and dig in. Wow! Incredible!

Of course, I knew no market here would have them, so I settled on some beautiful, “just-caught” yellow tail snapper. They’re much bigger than red mullet (which is only about half the size of a small trout) but they would work just as well for what I had in mind.

My plan was to wrap the fish in grape leaves. And grill them.

That’s how they cook barbounia on many of the Greek islands. Flavored with charred grape leaves, the little grilled fish are irresistible. A caper-lemon sauce with fennel takes them over the top.

Grilled fish in grape leaves. Why don’t you give them try.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the dish:

Whole small snapper or trout
Grape leaves packed in brine
Extra virgin Greek olive oil
Kosher salt
Fennel fronds
Red pepper flakes
Cooking twine

The preparation:

Make the sauce first. It’s simple. Just whisk together ½ cup olive oil, 1 TBS lemon juice, 2 tsp chopped fennel fronds, 2 tsp chopped capers. Give it a hit of salt & pepper. And add a pinch of red pepper flakes. If you’d like to taste more lemon juice, add it. I usually do.

Now, the fish. Rinse and dry a bunch of grape leaves – two to four per fish depending on their size. And rinse and dry the fish. Then salt and pepper aggressively. Both inside and out. Next, put a few fennel fronds into each cavity, along with a good pinch of lemon zest.

Before you wrap the fish, brush them lightly with olive oil.

OK, now lay out the grape leaves. Dark side down. Overlapping two leaves for each fish. Then place the fish on top and wrap them up, leaving head and tail exposed. Use more leaves to cover the fish, if needed. I like to secure the leaves with twine. But you don’t have to.

Now you’re ready. Make sure the grill is hot. And oiled. Get out your tongs and put the fish on the grill. You want the leaves slightly charred and the fish cooked through. That should take about 4 to 8 minutes per side. Depending on the size of the fish. Maybe 10 minutes. To check, insert a metal skewer into the thickest part of the fish. If it comes out hot to the touch after 20 seconds, the fish is cooked.

The smell of grilled grape leaves gets me every time. But — the taste of the fish, fresh off the fire, bathed in the “latholemono” sauce with its mellow astringency and its hits of caper and fennel is something that always summons up vivid memories of remote Greek island tavernas and long, late night dinners with loved ones near the sea.