In the kitchen — and actually, anywhere — I am all about efficiency. To get the most number of things done in the least amount of time necessary is my objective. If there’s a shorter, quicker way of doing things without losing quality — I’m probably going to go with that unless there’s a valid reason why I shouldn’t.
When cooking, this means getting out as many dishes as possible in the shortest timeframe. Even for a table of 15, I watch the clock all day long and when that mental bell goes off in my head screaming “Start!” — I begin cooking and cook ferociously for 2-3 hours and can usually display 5-10 delicious dishes and call it a day.
So when a dish requires that I take that same amount of time to come up with ONE dish to serve to guests — you can understand my disdain for that type of cooking. Some that come to mind are jabchae, kimbap and the dish we’re cooking today: mandu. (Or mandoo. Or man-doo…all the same thing!)
But in the last 6-7 years or so, I’ve started to love dumplings — a LOT. In the logical realm of taste vs. effort, making mandu is still way too time-consuming for a one-dish presentation, but I love, love, love mandu these days — so to me, finally, it’s become worthwhile to make mandu from scratch.
When I make mandu, though, I make a large number of servings because it is time-consuming and virtually nothing else freezes so perfectly and keeps for so long. So the portion for my mandu recipe will serve approximately 10-12 people — something to keep in mind.
That said, I’ve tried making the wrappers from dough at home — and believe me, it’s not worth it. It adds another couple of hours to this effort and whatever incremental freshness in taste you may get — it’s not noticeable enough compared to the mandu wrappers you can buy in stores.
So, today. we’ll go over how to make homemade dumplings with store-bought wrappers.
Mandu Recipe for Homemade Fresh Dumplings — The Filling
I’m always emphasizing fresh ingredients on San Francisco Food, be it from restaurants or in our own cooking. The same applies to mandu, if not more so than the norm. The wrappers are wrappers — but the filling of a dumpling is what differentiates your mandu from anyone else’s.
I’ve been known to spend an inordinate amount of money for fresh seafood including crabs, scallops, shrimp and even lobster to make some pricey mandu. I’ve taken pork belly and butt from the butcher shop and ground them up to make fresh meat mandu, too — but that’s all just for fun.
Mandu requires ground pork, PERIOD. Without it, you just can’t convince me that it’s a real mandu, though it would look identical if you skipped it, too. The more protein you have in the mandu, the better is tastes. BUT — the traditional and old-school mandu is not about just the seafood or meat but a whole lot of other ingredients. And, while the meatiness or seafood taste is a bit diminished when you make it this way, there’s many more textures and flavors that are added.
So for this post, we’re doing it the old-school, totally Korean method of making traditional mandu.
For the vegetarians out there — in theory, you could replace all of the meat with crushed tofu with absolutely no liquid left in it….but like I said, real mandu requires MEAT.
Having said that…. let’s move on.
First, you grind up whatever meats you want. I use a 2:1 pork to beef ratio. There’s some substance that beef offers in the dumpling that pork doesn’t have, but the real moisture and juiciness comes from the king of meats: pork!
I usually have some ground beef in the fridge, and grind up fresh pork myself — but for this post, I actually bought both. One pound of ground beef and two pounds of ground pork is what’s shown. Put in a bowl.
Then, put a large pot of water on the stove. At most Asian markets, you’ll find the sweet potato vermicelli used in jab-chae and other dishes, including mandu. My package of noodles, shown above, had three portions of noodles and I used one of those three bunches.
While we wait for the water to boil….
Almost always, I will add shrimp to my mandu — but this is completely based on your own preference. There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about an all-meat dumpling, but the inclusion of shrimp gives it a whole new profile, similar to siu mai at a Chinese dimsum restaurant but in a Korean mandu. This mandu recipe will go over including the shrimp, but if for whatever reason you don’t want to or don’t have it on hand — completely just skip over the shrimp part.
Clean your shrimp.
Once done (preferably deveined but that’s up to you) — slice each shrimp into small ~1cm or less pieces, making them as even as possible. Let them drain in their sliced form for a few minutes (though the water output should be minimal), and then toss on top of the meat you have in a large bowl.
(When making dumplings with primarily seafood filling, I tend to grind up the shrimp with the other seafood in the food processor; for meat dumplings like we’re making, I like to keep the shrimp in chunks to provide some crunch and release whole shrimp flavor inside the dumpling.)
No need to mix anything up yet — just keep filling this own large bowl. The bowl should be large enough to accommodate everything we’re going to put into it AND leave enough room to mix aggressively.
For this recipe, we’re including lots of chives. At Asian markets, this is usually sold in “bunches” and two to a package; for this recipe, I need three bunches: two bunches for into the filling and one bunch, I use for the dipping sauce.
At this part, chop up the two bunches of chives into little squares or rectangles — keeping it uniform as possible and not too small, either, as the chives provide some of the texture in the filling.
Add the chopped chives to the large bowl.
Now, let’s move onto the mung bean sprouts.
By now, the water should be boiling.
Take fresh mung bean sprouts, readily available in regular grocery stores in packages or at any Asian market, and give it a quick dunk into cold water first to give it a quick rinse, then transfer the entire amount to the rapidly boiling water. DO NOT cover the pot; let it boil open and keep at a full boil until cooked.
It’s hard to describe how long you have to cook this for — but here are a few tips:
The color should go from pure solid white a slightly translucent light yellowish white. Take one out and when bent in half, it should not snap but easily bend in half without much resistance, whereas a fresh mung bean sprout will snap in half. Once it’s done to this level, remove from heat; on high heat, it will be no longer than 5-6 minutes at most.
In my case, I picked out the sprouts from the water and set into a strainer because I wanted to reuse the hot water. (Remember what I said about efficiency? I’m not sitting around waiting for more water to boil!)
Run cold water over the sprouts and then let them drain out on their own. I run cold water over them to stop them from cooking any further.
Give it a few minutes and then place all of the sprouts (what’s shown is one package) onto a cloth. I’m using a cheesecloth I had on hand at home but a thin towel will do.
This next part is IMPORTANT — but first, return the pot of water to the stove and bring back to a full boil.
In the meantime….
Here’s the thing about mandu. You have to remove all water —as much as possible — from the filling. Nothing is more disastrous to the mandu than wet filling; it will soak through the wrappers or bust open while you’re cooking, making for one ugly and disgusting mess.
Squeeze the sprouts in the cloth and repeat many times until you’re getting almost no drops coming out of the sprouts. When you open it, it should look something like the sprouts above — dried and pretty much dead. :)
Take the squeezed sprouts and chop into small pieces — again, keeping them to < 1 cm in length each. They are all boiled, squeezed and pretty soft by this point so if you make this a little longer, it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. You cook the sprouts because otherwise, they tend to pierce through the mandu skin later when wrapping — and you’ll be shocked at how much water comes out of these little monsters.
Toss into the bowl with the remainder of the ingredients.
By this point, your water is back to a full boil.
As mentioned, I’m reusing the same water that boiled the sprouts, but you can easily just do a separate pot of boiling water. I salt the water and put one bunch of vermicelli into the water. These noodles take a good 20-25 minutes to fully cook, so bring it back to a full boil and stir occasionally, but they’ll be in the water for awhile.
My tip for testing and tasting these glass noodles is to pull one out, wash it in cold water (important, as they can taste cooked while hot), and cut off a small strand from the large one. When you taste it, it should NOT be sticky or toothsome; you should be able to bite into one and chew, and the noodle will be soft and not sticky. If you taste-test one early, you’ll know what I mean about it being toothsome when it’s not ready.
Again, this is the same strainer as I used for the sprouts. They’re all going to the same place, folks.
Pour the entire pot of noodles, when they’re ready, into the strainer and drain. Run cold water over them to stop them from cooking and then drain as much as you can by shaking out all water and letting them sit for awhile.
While we wait for the noodles to drain….let’s prepare the cabbage.
As mentioned, this is the old-school traditional method of making mandu. The thing is that back in the old days — using this much meat to make all of the filling would have been too expensive in Korea. Even in restaurants today, to fill dumplings with all meat is quite costly. Hence, all of these other things I’m showing you were “fillers” — they keep the filling tasting like meat but enable the cook the use less meat overall.
To this day, I still include many of them as I’m showing you, but I don’t use some other common mandu items like tofu and cabbage, while I did include it this time, I often leave out.
See the whole cabbage above? The part that’s missing is all I used.
Feel free to skip this step if you don’t like cabbage, and include more if you do like cabbage. In my case, I’m adding just a little for some color, texture and aesthetics when you break open a mandu. Cabbage also adds a little bit of sweetness.
The cabbage is cooked, too, because you don’t want the hard and sharper edges of the cabbage piercing through the wrapper, and everything inside the mandu should be soft. In the time it takes to cook mandu, it’s possible that the mixed in cabbage won’t cook thoroughly.
Give them a quick stir-fry in a pan with hot oil; I’ve used vegetable oil. Salt the cabbage.
Keep stirring the cabbage and don’t strive to brown them; they just need to cook through until much softer and wilted, and they’ll look slightly more translucent and turn a brighter shade of green.
Now, let’s get back to the glass noodles that should have drained nicely by now.
Take the noodles, and chop them into small sizes less than a centimeter again. You’ll find they are quite sticky when dry so separate them as much as possible but don’t add more water. Chop it all up and toss into the large bowl.
We’re almost done with the filling now.
Take fresh garlic and ginger and 1/4 of an onion (don’t use a lot as onions naturally have a LOT of water and will release it into the dumpling) and I’ve put them into a food processor. You can do it by hand, too, mincing them to tiny pieces. (If you have a lot of liquid showing at the bottom of the bowl, skip the onions — your mix is already too watery.)
Toss this garlic mix into the mixture, too, as shown below.
Now you have a glorious mix of a ton of ingredients. Only a few steps left to finish the filling and begin making mandu.
For this portion, I used two eggs.
Crack the eggs and drop the YOLK into the mix, and the egg whites into a separate bowl. The yolk serves as a binding agent in the filling and the whites are good to use later for making the mandu. Put the egg whites aside.
Notice that up to this point, you’ve added very little seasoning. For this mandu recipe, I like to use Guk Ganjang — which translates into “soup soy sauce.” It’s main attributes are that it’s lighter in color than regular soy sauce and significantly saltier. Hence, you need less to accomplish the same level of seasoning.
I put in about 2.25 tablespoons of this soy sauce in my mix, but if you don’t have this on hand (you’d have to hit up a Korean grocery store to find it, in most cases), use regular soy sauce at about 2X the amount — which is 4 tablespoons.
Now, FINALLY — we can mix this up. You really can’t do a good job in mixing if you don’t use your hands as each blob of meat, shrimp, noodles, etc. has to be broken apart and mixed in thoroughly. Use your bare hands or use plastic gloves, but get your hands in there! No kitchen tool will suffice — and you want every single dumpling to have a little bit of each item we put into this giant mix!
Now, we have the mandu filling finished. Or so we think.
We can’t really know until we taste it.
You can do this one of two ways.
Boil some water. When it’s at a full boil, make a little meatball and toss it into the boiling water for 5 minutes. Cut in half to ensure it’s cooked through, as this will be based on the size of your meatball. I keep mine small for tasting and just want to check seasoning to ensure it’s salty enough. As it has to combine with a whole pancake of flour in the wrapper, the meat filling has to provide all of the seasoning in order to really shine.
Go ahead and make one dumpling and boil it as you would to taste it. This is also a good time to see how long it takes for you to cook the mandu to get it perfect, and ensure each dumpling you cook later comes out perfect.
It *should* be nicely seasoned if you followed my exact portions as mine were really well-seasoned, but ingredients vary and yours may need more of the soy sauce or just add salt and mix thoroughly again.
And now, FINALLY — you’re ready to make mandu.
Mandu Recipe for Homemade Fresh Dumplings — Making the Dumpling
For this part, I needed help, or I’d still be wrapping mandu right now, and probably until tomorrow to use up all of the filling. Of all of my friends, there is nobody who can wrap mandu better than my friend Hyewon, so I invited her to dinner. (Food for manual labor, that’s how things roll around here.)
Furthermore, it’s really a sight to behold when I try to photograph myself doing anything in the kitchen — but I draw the line at mandu. I cannot photograph myself wrapping mandu.
Mandu is one meal that is best served with everyone helping. First, it goes by faster — and second, it’s a laugh a minute because some of your friends will just wrap really hideous-looking mandu. However, they’re perfectly edible, so let them have at it! The kids also love to help — and it’s a great start to learning to cook so long as the filling is pre-made for them.
Lastly, everyone truly seems to enjoy the experience when I have mandu dinner parties, even those who don’t cook at all at home.
So, the setup was for 2 people. I had left the filling chilled in the refrigerator until the right time, and bring it out just as she was to arrive. I have all of my store-bought wrappers laid out. We needed three full packages to complete this, and I had bought four — just in case. (There’s little in life that’s worse than having leftover mandu filling with no wrappers when the wrapping crew won’t be there later!) You can always freeze the leftover wrapper unwrapped for next time.
Note the bowl of egg whites are now on the table. We’ll be dipping our fingers into the egg white to wet the wrapper in order to close each dumpling. You can also use water, but why do that when the egg is stickier and is already part of the dumpling?
We’ll be showing this via photos and video below, so stay tuned.
We’re showing this instead of all three shapes of dumplings because if you can make these — you can easily make the other two, which are simply shapes that happen before they’re rounded like the ones shown above. And as mentioned, my friend rolls these at an alarmingly fast rate — much faster than I could!
If you’re careful, it’s very simple to do. However, it is time-consuming, and like I said, if Hyewon hadn’t been helping me, I’d still be wrapping since the portioning was enough for 12 people.
Now, you can watch Hyewon fold a couple of dumplings on video.
The rounded shape she’s folding them in makes them ideal for boiling or in soups. For fried dumplings — the flat dumplings are better in order to get both sides nicely browned. All you do to make the flat is STOP before folding the corners together. For the pinched variety — take the flat dumpling and push in an indentation to begin the pinched section and squeeze tight with the other hand to solidify the fold. (A little bit of practice is required.)
And that’s it!
As always, the step-by-step photos should guide you while you’re cooking, but if you want the recipe, here it is:
- 2 lbs. Ground Pork
- 1 lb. Ground Beef
- ~ 1 lb. Shrimp
- 3 bunches - Chives
- ⅛ Cabbage
- ⅓ package of Asian Vermicelli / Glass Noodles
- 1 small package of Mung Bean Sprouts
- 15 cloves of garlic
- Ginger, to your preference
- 2 T of Guk Soy Sauce, or 4+ T of regular soy sauce
- Dumpling wrappers -- 3-4 packages required for this portion
- 2 eggs - separate yolk from whites
- Combine all the pork and beef in one large bowl.
- Clean and devein shrimp, and chop into small pieces, and add to bowl.
- Chop chives into small squares and add to bowl.
- Saute cabbage with salt, and cook through; add to bowl.
- Boil mung bean sprouts, and drain; squeeze all of the water out and chop into small pieces; add to bowl.
- Boil water and cook vermicelli; when cooked, chop into small pieces as shown in photos.
- Mince garlic, ginger and onions (manually or in food processor), and add to bowl.
- Crack two eggs, divide yolk from whites.
- Add yolk to the bowl, and keep whites on the side.
- Add 2 T of guk soy sauce or 4 T of regular soy sauce.
- Do a taste testing as described in the recipe post -- add salt as needed.
- Add pepper to taste.
- Wrap each dumpling according to the instructions in the post.
- Boil each dumpling for approximately 8-10 minutes, until they float and look translucent. Take one dumpling out and cut in half to make sure the meat is cooked through -- it should be cooked through to at least a very mild pinkish beige.
- Freeze leftovers for up to 3+ months.
- Freezing instructions: lay flat on baking pan without any of the dumplings touching one another. Freeze for three hours -- remove from baking pan and store in serving size zip loc bags with air removed. Do not freeze together in one bag until each individual is frozen.
As you can see, the filling has a lot of ingredients and takes a significant amount of preparation time, and the manual folding of each dumpling also takes awhile.
So make the filling ahead of time (it will store fine for a day in the refrigerator, if needed), and gather your friends after work. Serve a drink or two to get started, and then get the party rolling with everyone folding their own mandu.
For the sauce, you usually serve a soy sauce mix which MUST include vinegar. I’ll do a post next time about how to make the ideal sauce for Korean cooking but for now, this post is long enough!
Once you have a pan of enough dumplings to serve fresh on the same evening — start making pans of mandu to freeze. While mandoo stores beautifully in the freezer, you should have to freeze them individually on a pan without them touching each other and leave in the freezer for approximately 3 hours. When completely frozen, remove from the freezer and portion into the desired amount and put into a Zip Lock bag with the air removed. You can carefully place them into the freezer and remove only when you’re ready to cook them on another day. It’s great because they shouldn’t even be thawed — simply pull out and cook.
In fact, you can’t store mandoo in the refrigerator in a thawed state. The flour wrappers will all stick together, the juices will leak…and it’s a general disaster and a waste of good work.
Here are some ways to cook mandoo! For the easiest method, dunk the dumplings into one pot of salted water and let it go at a full boil for about 7 minutes when fresh, or a couple more minutes when frozen. When they are ready, they’ll float on the top waiting to be rescued.
I’ll do a separate post about fried dumplings at a later date.
Enjoy – and leave a comment if you give it a try. Let me know if you have any questions!