When a local calls you up and says they’re looking for someone to come dig up lotus root (the Asian variety and culinary favorite) from their pond, you say yes. You say yes despite the fact that the day in May you’ve chosen for harvest is 50 degrees, gray, and drizzly.
Last week I randomly bumped into an old friend of mine from culinary school and we started catching up on the past few years. He told me he had quit the food industry after traveling around New England for a bit, but wouldn’t go into further detail. After interrogating him as if he were a suspect rather than a friend—and with the help of some cocktails— he finally told me. He loved the kitchen but he wasn’t expecting to start at a lower position and have to work his way to the top. Plus he didn’t like getting yelled at. He’s a talented kid, but he was expecting to go straight from a two year program (shout out to all the homies at SMCC culinary program in South Portland) to running a kitchen on his first day. Nice dream but it just isn’t happening.
His story to me has become sort of a trend in the past few years. Personally, I feel as though kids nowadays want to jump right into the captain’s chair without paying their dues and or going through the trenches. So, I want to throw a few things out there that I’ve learned over years (and am still learning every single day in the kitchen) and hopefully it will help.
Unless you’re a prodigy, you’re not going to start out at Sous Chef or Chef de Cuisine. You’re going to start out at garde manger. This is where you learn fundamentals, organization, some flavor profiles; and you keep your head down and do work. Take pride in every dish you put up. Show conviction. If you think you are fast at prep work, go faster. Always set a higher standard for yourself. Eventually you will move up the ladder.
You’re always going to make a mistake—mistakes happen. What’s important is how quickly you can react to that mistake and find the best logical solution to fix it. Never be afraid or too proud to ask for help. It took me a long time to realize that. In the kitchen you work as a team, and if you succeed, the whole team succeeds. Never take it personally when a chef yells at you—most of the time there’s a good reason. I love my team in the kitchen. They are my backbone all day, every day. They know that sometimes in the heat of the moment that things don’t go as planned and they hear it but they know it isn’t personal. Keep your head down, do work and get through it. You will continue to move up the ladder.
The people I’ve met and worked with who started at the bottom and steadily worked their way up have ultimately found success in their career as a cook or a chef. And it’s really rewarding to see and to hear about it. You work hard, you learn, and you apply it, and great things will happen. You will learn so much by just taking the time and putting in the effort and paying your dues—instead of quitting all because you want to jump into a position you’re not ready for. It’s such a waste of all the talent and time that you’ve given. I know I’m still learning. Whether I have a good day or a bad day, I learn new things every day at work. I’m still growing and can only continue to do so professionally and personally. Don’t quit and give up. Do work.
— Josh Amergian, Chef, Bao Bao Dumpling House
Me: Here. Try this: a yummy almond cake. I think it needs a sour glaze though…
Hannah: Mmmmm… yeah. How about tamarind?
Me: *scrunches face* Nah, sounds weird…
Hannah: How do you know? Have you tried it?
Me: Nah, I just don’t think so… it’d be weird.
It was a rare occasion when I would sit and have dessert just for the sake of having dessert. This may sound funny coming from a pastry chef. I mean, what kind of pastry chef doesn’t want to eat sweet things? I dilute my orange juice until it mostly resembles water with an almost-imperceptible orange tinge! But, day after day of baking and tasting, freezing and tasting, seasoning and tasting, scraping and tasting, blending and tasting, tasting, tasting, tasting, and TASTING, I just cant find it in me to bring anther morsel into my mouth.
And yet, I will always order dessert. Always. There are several reasons for this: first and foremost, we pastry chefs have to support our own. (Haven’t you heard we’re a dying breed?) Part of it is to satisfy a professional curiosity. (Fermented black bean mochi donut holes? Bring it!) Mostly though, I will order dessert every time because it is my job to eat.
Invariably, on the occasions that a young cook or curious person asks for advice, I will give them this juicy bit: just eat it already! I might get chuckles, I might get an expression filled with shock or dismay; I might get the occasional: “Hey, don’t you tell me what to do.” But then I explain and it makes perfect sense.
You see, the only way to develop a good palate is to taste things: eat them, swish them around in your mouth, pay attention to the details: is it slimy? Buttery? Smooth? Fatty? Gritty? Tannic? Try to get beyond just the sweet, sour, bitter, salty and REALLY taste something.
Again and again and again. Taste, taste, taste. I say: try everything! Eat great desserts, eat bad desserts, eat middle-of-the-road stuff. Knowing what you don’t like and why is just as important as knowing what you do like and why. Try local produce, try the stuff that traveled from halfway around the world, try fruit in season and then go and try the fruit not in season. Try them in sauces, jams, pickled, roasted, and charred. Taste things all day, every day. Do it until you don’t have to think about it anymore; taste until it become second nature. Green almonds? Yes, please. Vietnamese coriander? Don’t mind if I do! Blueberry umeboshi mustard? Umm, YES!
You see, only in this way do you start filling that circular Rolodex of flavor in your mind. Each new combination is another card added. And only through tasting a range of ingredients and experiencing new flavors and textures can you get to the point where tasting one thing might remind you of another thing: perhaps you start with that buttery almond cake that Hannah and I spoke of, only it makes you think of a tangy passion fruit glaze, before you remember the passion fruit curd you tried at that little shop in Boston with a faint whisper of orange blossom water and how they also served those super deliciously flaky pistachio croissants with black sesame seeds and how much they rocked your world even before you’d had your morning coffee, OH!, and then you think of that hot afternoon that Saskia made the. most. delicious. iced horchata lattés and how you would give your first born child for another tall glass of that heavenly ambrosia because, mmmmm, the ground almonds, and cinnamon with brown rice, and do I detect just the tiniest bit of clove?… Mmmmm, clove! THAT would pair splendidly with a vanilla and passion fruit braised pineapple and perhaps there we could even incorporate a little tamarind paste! That would be delicious!
…But not with the almond cake cause that would just be weird.
You get my point.
Only through tasting anything and everything can your brain get to the point where it can start making those kinds of powerful connections. It is those connections that will propel you forward with a broader range for creativity, that will allow you to approach your cooking, sweet or not, with a greater degree of nuance, that will ultimately make you a better cook and in turn, a better chef and teacher.
But, let’s be honest, sometimes tasting sucks. So what do you do when you just cannot stick another bite in your mouth? Had one too many helpings at staff meal? Reached flavor overload and you. just. cannot?! Well, to that, I say: trust the process and just eat it already!
— April Robinson, Pastry Chef, BaoBao Dumpling House
Every January Tao shuts down for a month to give our weary bodies a chance to catch up on sleep, to give the staff an opportunity to travel and see friends and family, and to escape some epic snowstorms (especially important to those who plow out Tao’s parking lot). Cara and I have taken advantage every year, and have had amazing adventures driving through Thailand and Italy, touring though Gaudi’s Barcelona, and stuffing our faces with Stilton at Borough Market in London. We’ve eaten chicken grilled to rare in Japan, drunk Sauternes in Sauternes, France IN the field where the grapes were grown, and crushed Bahn Mi sandwiches every night we were in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Obviously our travels tend to be very food focused. My dad has said that anyone who travels with us is guaranteed to eat well. The other side to eating is the food production; seeing the incredible amount of energy that goes into the item that you chuck into your cart at the grocery store. In Emilia-Romagna, we watched wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano created from hundreds of gallons of milk (160 gallons of milk yields two wheels of Parm). The whey left over feeds the pigs that will become prosciutto. The wheels follow Italy’s DOC guidelines and age at least 12 months. They are rotated, cleaned and tapped with a hammer. A trained ear listens to the sound of the cheese when tapped, and decides when the cheese is ready to be opened. The Parmigiano must be perfect inside, and any holes will mean the cheese is sold under a different label and with a lower price. As someone who cooks for a living, I would imagine it’s disappointing to find imperfections after all the time and energy that goes into each wheel (not to mention the financial hit—people, not machines, do the bulk of the work). However, an imperfect cheese does not even touch the story that was a crucial part of our tour: the tragedy of Northern Italy’s 2012 earthquake, which shook the warehouses that stored thousands of wheels—approximately 300,000 fell to the ground and cracked. Now remember that 80 gallons of milk goes into each wheel. Standing in that room surrounded by all that cheese put that number into perspective.
Italy’s earthquake was not the only story we heard about nature disrupting the plan. While we were trilling our Sauternes and reveling over the deep complexity of flavor in our glasses (and how much foie gras we were going to buy later that day) we learned why Sauternes is so expensive. One vine will produce 1/5 the amount of wine of other varieties. The grapes become infected with “noble rot,” which produces the distinct prized flavor. However, the amount of rot has to be carefully monitored, and the grapes are picked by hand, and too much late rain or an early frost will devastate the whole crop. There have been whole years where nature has prevented a vintage. YEARS. I appreciated my glass that much more after hearing that fact.
Our jobs are very rewarding, I think, partially because there is a beginning and an end. You start with raw ingredients, prep all day, and turn out dinner for up to 90 people. The kitchen is hot and sweaty, and when you sometimes cook dinner for that many people, it’s easy to think to yourself “this is totally crazy.” And it is. But then you remember all those people you met who work so diligently to make the Parmesean that we microplane on our tuna poke (don’t be too shocked at this sacrilege of cheese and fish—it’s an umami bomb of delicious). And when your morning starts on a wharf looking at fat Maine scallops right off the boat, or combing through quince trees for the roundest most golden fruit, or picking up a thousand kinds of hot peppers from the Farmer’s Market that were grown with your restaurant in mind—it levels the crazy of the day. At the end of the month of vacation, I think everybody is ready to get back to work. Not only are we eager for a little structure to our days, but after watching people creating beautiful product, we want to share what we’ve learned and follow suit with our own creative spirit.
— Saskia Poulos, Chef, Tao Yuan restaurant
8 oz Sushi grade tuna, cubed
2 Tbs Scallion, chopped
1 Tbs Cilantro, chopped
1 Tbs Thai Basil, chopped
2 Tbs lime juice
A scant 1/4 c Macadamia nut pesto (recipe follows)
Mix everything together, adding more or less pesto and lime juice depending on your taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and/ or fish sauce. Microplane more Parm on top, and serve with shrimp chips.
Macadamia nut Pesto
3 ea red Thai bird chilis, blackened
1 clove garlic, smashed
225 g Macadamia nuts
50 g Parm, microplaned
50 g EVOO
Fish sauce to taste
In a blender, pulse nuts to a smaller size, then add the other ingredients and blend until pesto consistency. Adjust to taste with fish sauce.
First, identify the style and layout of the wine list itself. It will make it easier to read and much easier to hone in on the right area to make the best selection. Wine lists are typically organized on a base level by wine style: sparkling, white, rosé, or red. Next is where it can become tricky, depending on the size of the list and the individual who writes and maintains the list itself. This is the ultimate key. I have broken wine list styles into four major categories:
Regional: Where the wine is from will be the header, typically by country with sub categories of smaller regions within each country.
Varietal: The grape or grapes used to make the wine will be the title of each section. For instance, “Chardonnay” will be the header and the selection of Chardonnays would be listed below.
Weight: This style of organizing a wine list is a bit more difficult. “Weight,” refers to the body of the wine and how it effects the mid-palate. In this situation, “Weight,’ becomes the sub-category almost always. For instance, a list that is first organized by region may then be further organized by weight.
Price: Much like a list that is organized by weight, a price-organized list is typically a sub-category of a larger category. It is a list that simply puts the least expensive wine at the top of the category and then progressively lists selections to the highest priced bottle.
Inside each category the list may be broken down again; for instance, it may be a regional wine list, but inside each region, the specific bottles may be organized by weight or price. If you have gotten this far, but need a small nudge to completely understand the list in front of you, do not be afraid to simply ask— whoever is attending to you should be able to answer. On the other hand, if this all seems foreign, do not be afraid to ask from the initial greeting how the list is organized so that you can then concentrate the effort into making an amazing selection.
Now that the style and organization of the list is determined, it is time to start zeroing in on your chosen wine. At this point you will want to determine a myriad of different factors that will essentially guide you to your ultimate decision.
Price: What is your price ceiling? This will immediately help to narrow down a selection.
Starter bottle or dining bottle: Is your initial selection meant to carry through the dining experience, or is it a bottle to fill time and awaken your palate? A bottle to start may be easier to select on a broader scale, whereas a bottle meant for the entire dining experience may need a more attentive approach.
Cuisine style: Does the establishment where you are dining have a specific style of cuisine? If so, it will help focus your attention when choosing a bottle for the meal.
Guests’ meal preferences: Are there any restrictions or guidelines for the guests in your party? Is there a vegetarian or pescatarian, someone who loves or hates spiciness, or any other form of dietary restriction? This will narrow down the menu, which will in turn narrow the wine list.
Wine list strengths and weaknesses: Where does the wine list excel? Where might it fall short? If a list is heavy in a style or region, the options in that section can be more esoteric and focused. It may possibly be the wine steward’s way of telling you that this style or region goes best with our cuisine. This is extremely important to pick up on—it could be a game changer.
Once you have determined all of this, it is time to either make a choice, or ask a few questions! This is the perfect time to ask to see the Sommelier or the person in charge of the wine list. I guarantee they will be more than thrilled to speak with you and answer any number of questions. You may have narrowed it down to a few bottles and need a little more detail to decide, or you’re just completely lost at this point and wish you could cry out for help—either way, do not be afraid to ask! When speaking with the wine steward, here are a few pointers to help narrow down the field of selections (these may also come in handy even if you do not choose to speak to the person in charge):
- Be upfront on your price range, it helps everyone and breaks the ice.
- Know what you like and don’t like (this includes your dining companions), and describe your likes and dislikes in any way possible.
- Vintages: an older wine is not always a better wine!
- Forget about the “white with fish, red with steak” mentality… it is long outdated.
- Ask about “diamonds in the rough,” or what is exciting and different on the list.
- In regards to the above, many Sommeliers keep a special selection in the cellar that is not on the public wine list that they love to talk about and sell to the inquisitive guest.
When it is all said and done, you should be secretly smiling, knowing the perfect bottle of wine for the specific situation has been served… and it was all your decision. Take your time, read the list. Whoever wrote the wine list for the establishment put in a great deal of time, effort, and passion in an order to provide you with the best possible selection. Said person would also love to talk with you pre- or post-selection, so do not hesitate at any time to ask to see them. If you need more time to decide, but need to quench the thirst, I always say that bubbles are a great way to begin any dining experience. Or have a cocktail, sit back, relax, and secretly plot your wine list domination.
By the end of this year, Canopy Farms will be growing produce for all of Eighty Ate Hospitality’s businesses in our own aquaponics greenhouse next door to Tao Yuan. It’s been a long time coming.
I joined the Tao team back in 2013, ready to take a vision that Cara and I shared– a farm, in partnership with the restaurant– and bring it into reality. Cara and her mother, Cecile, had been working hard to get their first restaurant off the ground, and it was beginning to pay off. Tao Yuan was coming up on its 1 year anniversary of being open, Cara was starting to be recognized on the national stage, and plans were forming for a second restaurant in Portland (BaoBao Dumpling House). The farm was part of the next phase of the vision, and I was thrilled to be a part of it all.
I have to admit something here, before I go any further: I wasn’t necessarily hired for this job based on skill and experience alone (although I like to think that had something to do with it!). My appointment at Tao had a bit of a nepotistic twinge to it, if you take into account that I was a long-ago dubbed an “honorary Stadler,” with my own slot on the family chore chart and everything. Cara and I grew up together, and stayed close friends all the way from pre-school through the twists and turns of early adult life as we both began our careers. We both focused on food– her on preparing it, and me on growing it. We had dreamed of working together in these obviously synergistic roles, and as Cara grew her business, she had kept this vision in mind. She and her parents had bought the lot adjacent to Tao with their purchase of the property, and it was here that the plan for an aquaponics greenhouse would take shape.
What is Tiki? In the original Maori mythology, Tiki represents the first man created by the god Tane. Its carved humanoid form became ubiquitous as a vessel for the popular Polynesian drinks of the mid-20th century. The 1934 opening of Don the Beachcomber, a popular Hollywood restaurant, forged the path with Tiki torches, rum punches, flower leis, and Cantonese cuisine. Not long after, “Trader Vic” Bergeron opened a similar themed restaurant in Oakland California. Stars like Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra were regular patrons at these Hollywood hot spots.
Modern Tiki culture was born in the Depression and died with disco. In the 1930’s, Tiki pioneers like Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron wowed their patrons with exotic ingredients and tropical flavors. As the Polynesian craze swept across the country, many imitators attempted to copy the closely-guarded recipes of the originals, often falling short. This resulted in the abundance of poorly crafted, boozy, sugary bombs. For too long, Tiki drinks were equated with syrupy sweet, watered down concoctions–but recently the style has made a massive comeback.
While Tiki bars are now all the rage, it was Chinese restaurants that carried the torch for the last fifty years. One of our favorite things about Tiki drinks is that they’re fun. In a time when mixology is revered like alchemy, Tiki reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. True Tiki cocktails are well balanced, nuanced, and refreshing, and many of the original recipes are now available.
At Bao Bao we’ve revived Tiki classics such as the Mai Tai and the Zombie (check out the recipe below), and put our own spin on them. These drinks utilize a carefully selected blend of rums, house made syrups, and fresh citrus juices. They are the perfect accompaniment to an order of dumplings.
— Patrick McDonald, Bar Manager, Eighty Ate Hospitality
1 1/2 oz dark rum
1/2 oz navy strength rum
1 oz Chinese 5 spice syrup
1 oz white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Shake with ice and pour whole concoction into a Tiki mug.
On the outskirts of Maine’s much-boasted food scene in the Greater Portland area is the small historic college town of Brunswick, Maine. I spent most of my adolescent years in, or passing directly through, this cozy Midcoast Maine destination– and over the years, I ate at many of the area’s restaurants. As a child, I never thought too much about the behind-the-scenes competition that thrived in the professional work environments of my favorite places for an evening milk shake, lobster roll, or bowl of soup. But as I’ve spent the last 14 years in the restaurant industry in this great state, that competition has become very real for me.
I find now, at the age of 28, that it is nearly impossible for me to stop an ever-revolving thought pattern of culinary critique wherever I eat; whether it’s a search for refinement, musings about price points, or simply the little adjustments I would make to the recipe if I made it. I notice this same instinct in my colleagues and especially in my chef and educator, Cara Stadler. When you dine with other restaurant professionals, sometimes the conversation is not as full of “ooo”s and “ahh”s, but more like a boardroom meeting (even if it can seem like a boardroom of misfits and quasi-pirates).
I feel that building an establishment like Tao Yuan in Brunswick has helped to strengthen the ecosystem of this strong culinary mentality. The more restaurants and eateries that constantly challenge themselves and others to be innovative in the locales outside of famous foodie Portland, the better off my home state will be. Living in Midcoast Maine, seeing these important transformations has inspired and solidified my career in the industry. Maybe the outskirts of Portland won’t always be home, but it is surely where I learned the difference between a simple monetary transaction for a meal and what the story of a restaurant can really be– the staff and their countless hours and efforts to perfect every detail.
–Kyle Birkinbine, Sous Chef, Tao Yuan Restaurant
As I approach my one year anniversary with Eighty Ate Hospitality, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned in the last year. Before Tao I knew little about Asian cuisine—except that I very much enjoy eating it! I was (and still am) on the pursuit to study and understand the vast world of wine. Pairing wines with Asian cuisine was not second nature to me, but working here has allowed me to think out of the box (of course while following some of the fundamentals). In the spirit of “there is always more to know,” I decided to dive into the history of Oregon wine this week in consideration of our upcoming wine pairing dinner. So here we go…
It is only relatively recently that the Oregon became not just a viable but an extraordinary region for growing vitis vinifera. In the 1960’s a group of dreamers were convinced that Oregon was a prime location for growing European grape varietals. This group is known as the “Pinot Pioneer’s.” They were engineers, teachers, and liberal arts graduates who had no farming or sales experience and no clue of what it took a run their own business. Nevertheless, they decided to move forward despite a number of naysayers.
It all started with David Lett. Educated in viticulture at UC Davis, Lett fell in love with the Pinot Noir grape while visiting Burgundy. He became determined to find a place in North America where Pinot Noir and similar varietals could thrive and display terrior as in Burgundy. (“Terroir” is a word often used to identify wine by region; it refers to the unique flavors and characteristics of a wine based on the region where it was produced). UC Davis wine professors and wine professionals urged Lett that Oregon’s cool and wet climate would not lead him to success. Lett ignored their advice and found his spot in Willamette Valley. A number of other couples in pursuit of the same goal were soon to follow, and the group was eventually coined as Pinot Pioneers. They ripped up strawberry fields and abandoned prune orchards and began to lay down Pinot Noir vines. The families were not able to obtain loans from banks due to the common lack of confidence in the project. To battle this, they all worked second jobs to keep their families afloat, they shared equipment and knowledge, and they decided that together they would prove their critics wrong. And as we all know now, proving them wrong is exactly what they did. It took some tweaking and practice to make a vintage that was of quality, but in 1979 Lett took his Pinot Noir to an international wine show where his wine placed in the competition. His Oregon Pinot Noir beat out well know Burgundy wines—and finally, Oregon was in the game. Pinot Noir and the Pioneers truly paved the way for the expansion of Oregon’s wine industry and subsequent winemakers. These victories led to the introduction of additional varietals that have become just as successful as their predecessor.
A varietal that thrives in the cool climate of Oregon and demonstrates the region’s natural acidity is Gewurztraminer. We will be pouring Teutonic Gewurztraminer from Crow Valley Vineyard in Willamette. Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company fell in love with German-style Rieslings while working as a wine buyer in an Oregon restaurant. In spite of being a complete novice on grape growing and winemaking he decided in 2002 that he was going to leave the restaurant industry and become a wine maker. A friend of his lent him a parcel of their farm in Alsea, Oregon where Tuttle planted 2000 vines. His determination lay in learning how to grow and produce a product with the same typicity (a wine’s ability to demonstrate the characteristics of the grape from which it’s made) that you find in a German wine. In my opinion he has done a great job, the moment we tasted this wine we were all very excited about the quality and the range of food it would be able to handle. This wine is crisp and ripe with a great viscosity. We decided to think outside with box and pair this with a young lamb tartar alongside the flavors of chamomile and sesame.
Another producer we will be highlighting is Cristom. Like the Pinot Pioneers, they too were in the pursuit of spectacular Pinot Noir. The founder, Paul Gerrie, was an engineer from the East Coast who fell in love with wine when invited to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. He decided to uproot his young family and move west to chase his passion. Once there he teamed up with his vineyard manager, Mark Feltz, and winemaker Steve Doerner. They produced their first vintage in 1992 and have been carefully working to produce exceptional Pinot Noirs since. We are pouring their 2013 Pinot Noir from Jessie Vineyard , a fuller-bodied representation of Pinot Noir. At first taste we realized this wine would be a spot on pairing with a New York strip we have coincidentally been aging.
The more I’ve researched Oregon grape growers and wine makers, the more I see the spirit of the Pinot Pioneers having a continual influence on Oregon. People are continuing to take chances and from what I have found they are doing it out of passion and love for the grapes. As I delve further into my wine education, the most exciting and daunting thing is there will always be more to know. There are endless grape varietals and regions to study and more stories of winemakers and their passion to discover. I am looking forward to the continuous exploration.
—Nicole Elmore, Front of House Manager, Tao Yuan Restaurant
When I first started as pastry chef at Tao Yuan restaurant in the summer of 2015 I remember being honest: I had no real experience making Asian food, let alone traditional Asian desserts. My experiences thus far had left me with some familiarity of non-western flavors– things like pandan, mochiko and black sesame were certainly not new– but these ingredients had always been incorporated into recipes that were deeply rooted in European tradition. I was, however, very curious, as well as committed to research, and excited to learn new things.
When cooking, either at home or professionally, we are all operating out of a database of stored memories. This sets our expectations and creates our reference points, a kind of subconscious checklist that, when the process is going well, affirms that a recipe will be successful. After becoming skilled at making a simple butter cookie, for example, you can also make a pâte sucrée, or a basic sponge cake.
The weekly regional dinners that we hold at Tao Yuan have turned this comfortable formula on its head for me. Trying to create an authentic Chinese dessert, technique and all, is a challenging and fun way to expand my preconceived notions—of what is pleasing, and how food is supposed to look and taste and feel. I am learning new fundamental methods, a rather terrifying process that involves extensive research, followed by blind trust as I diligently forge ahead into a new recipe. Like a bad movie, I have to suspend my disbelief or risk self sabotage– for example, if the recipe says to leave a lump in the middle of a rolled dough, do it! – despite that this is directly opposed to the obsessive practice of rolling out doughs flat and even. If you do not leave a lump in the middle of a soup dumpling wrapper, the bottom will fail to be sturdy enough to support all of its filling as it cooks. It is a humbling process, as well as an emotional rollercoaster, but one that is rewarded when there is success; a new technique learned, a new texture or flavor to crave, the thrill and surprise of the previously unknown. Especially when the previously unknown turns out to be delicious!
These Rose Scented Lotus Patties are a regional dessert from the Shaanxi province in China. Sweet, salty, crunchy and aromatic, they are near perfection. The “dough” is made by pulsing lotus root in the food processor until it forms a loose paste. The lotus patties look destined to fall apart during the shaping process; however, once they hit hot oil, the starches bind and you are left with beautiful, cohesive little dumplings.
Lotus root is the actual stem of the lotus flower, and is available in many Asian markets. This recipe also calls for rose petal jam- I made mine last summer with fresh rose petals, but it is also available at Middle Eastern Markets.
Rose Scented Lotus Patties
Adapted from ‘All Under Heaven’ by Carolyn Phillips
Yield 20 dumplings
For the dumplings:
- 1lb lotus root
- 1t lemon juice
- 2T cornstarch
For the filling:
- 2T butter
- ¼ c walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1T goji berries, soaked in boiling water until plumped and drained
- 2T rose petal jam
- ¼ t salt
For the sauce:
- ⅓ c honey
- ⅓ c rose petal jam
- Water as needed
Thoroughly wash the lotus root externally and internally, and dry thoroughly. Peel and cut into ½ inch cubes.
Pulse the lotus root in a food processor until finely ground. Add the cornstarch and lemon juice, and blend until you have a relatively smooth paste, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides. This takes longer than you might imagine. The lotus paste will start to come together, although it will never be totally cohesive. Drain off any excess liquid, and put in the refrigerator to chill.
Combine all ingredients for the filling in the food processor, and pulse until you have a paste. Put in the refrigerator to chill.
Take the lotus root paste out of the refrigerator, and divide into 20 pieces. Press each piece into a rough ball and return to the refrigerator.
Take the walnut filling out of the refrigerator. At this point, it should have solidified to the texture of firm butter. Roll into 20 balls. If it starts to melt or becomes difficult to roll, return to the fridge to firm up before proceeding. Put the rolled balls into the freezer to fully chill for at least 10 minutes.
Make the sauce: Whisk rose petal jam and honey together until smooth, adding water as needed until you have a pour-able consistency.
Poke a hole into one of the lotus paste balls and place a ball of the walnut filling inside of it. Push the lotus paste around to cover the filling and squeeze gently into a rough ball. Return to the refrigerator. Repeat until you have 20 filled dumplings, pausing to let the filling chill if it becomes difficult to work with at any point.
Heat an inch of oil in a wide frying pan on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, carefully slide in the lotus dumplings, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry on both sides until golden brown, a minute or two on each side. Use a slotted spoon to remove dumplings from the hot oil and onto a plate. Generously pour the sauce over before serving.
— Kate Hamm, Pastry Chef at Tao Yuan