Considered street food or low-budget snacks in many foreign countries, Americans cling to the concept of spring rolls, wontons, and other filled dumplings to fill their sophisticated menus. Food lovers delight in these small, magical packets that fuse bold flavorful ingredients in a single bite. Traditional fillings still prevail, yet as chefs continue to play with these unique dishes, creative flavor combinations are quickly on the rise.
Little compares with the delicious experience of biting into an edible pouch: from a sumptuous ravioli to a savory egg roll or dumpling, the experience reveals a hidden, inner personality that delights the palette with a surprising explosion of taste. With no outward signs to suggest the bounty of tastes to come, it’s the insides that truly matter. Typically wrapped in a mild, neutral-tasting dough, raviolis, wontons, and empanadas can house an unending list of full-bodied ingredients–and most often, they do. As our teeth sink through the doughy exterior and collide with the rich texture of the filling, there’s little subtlety to the experience. Luckily these packets are served a few to a dish; otherwise, they’d be too addictive.
While some home chefs and professionals stick with conventional fillings, others are more experimental, stuffing Italian raviolis with French foie gras or preparing upscale Chinese egg rolls with fresh ginger and crab. The texture may be smooth and homogenous, or it may be chopped pieces bound with a sauce: anything goes as long as it’s intense. From sauteed mushrooms to roasted garlic to braised beef, just chop or grind up the ingredients and season them heavily with fresh herbs and spices; the trick is to let the flavor of each dumpling carry its own weight, without relying on a dipping sauce. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a sauce. In fact, these dippable delicacies are predisposed to sauce pairing, providing just one more open road for a creative culinarian to travel.
While the punch of the package is what’s inside, the wrapper is what gets us there. From wonton to pasta dough to masa harina, the outside dough that encloses filled dumplings has one purpose only–to deliver the goods. Chefs leakproof these palm-size vehicles by pinching the wrappers around the smooth interiors and sealing them tightly to avoid airholes and gaps, sometimes with the help of a mechanical ravioli or wonton press or otherwise with the tines of a household fork. Careful eyes and exacting hands help to prevent fillings from spilling out during the cooking process. Produced hundreds at a time in the restaurant world or just by the dozen at home, there is an art to packaging each of these precisely piece after piece. Golden fried or steamed and soft, the mission is complete when these little snacks eat like a charm–from hand to dip to mouth.
Edible pockets are accepted and adored by most every culinary circle, whether they’re rustic or elegant, improvised with refrigerator leftovers or planned as the host of exotic ingredients. Wrapped with pasta dough, cornmeal, or phyllo, they’re always the first to go from the menu, pu pu platter, or silver serving tray. Just don’t spend too much time pondering their pouches: no one really looks at them long enough to notice how they’re dressed. It’s their boldly flavored fillings that really stand the test.