Adventures in Asian Fusion (Fleischknödel)

(Click here to skip all my ramblings and go straight to the recipe.)

The first post I made when I set up this blog back in December was an ode to knödels and a recipe for a variety of Semmelknödel, made mostly with bread. Since then I’ve been alternating perfecting my Semmelknödel skills with learning to make the other type of knödel, the Erdäpfelknödel, or potato dumpling.

The potato dumpling is made from a mix of very mashed potatoes, flour, eggs, and wheat semolina flour (Weizengrieß). Our cookbook includes a couple variations made with just those ingredients, but most of the potato dumplings I’ve eaten have been filled with something tasty, either meat or, for dessert, a small fruit. My real goal here is to learn to make a passable apricot dumpling (Marillenknödel) by the time apricot season rolls around. In the meantime, I’m practicing by making meat-filled potato dumplings for dinner more than my tiny family would probably like.

I figured the most difficult part would be getting the filling inside the dough, and having it survive boiling. Looking at a well-made Marillenknödel, it seems like it would require some kind of sorcery to get the apricot so perfectly inside the dumpling. This turned out to be incorrect. The dough itself is pretty easy to make and, aside from making it equally thick all the way around, wrapping the filling in its potato-coat is not overly complicated. My unexpected problem was making a meat filling that didn’t taste like cardboard.

Leaving aside my beloved Marillenknödel for now, I started off by making the recipe for Fleischknödel from Die Gute Kuche. It requires “cooked meat” (literally, that’s all the guidance you’re getting), onions, salt, pepper, garlic, marjoram, and parsley. It tasted like boiled hamburger. Additional research suggested various cooked meats, including “faschiertes” (ground beef or pork), “geselchtes” (smoked meat), “soup meat” (eww), or leftover Schweinsbraten. Sadly, I”m not yet at a place in my life where “what to do with all this leftover Schweinsbraten” is a problem I have, but I tried a variety of other options. They were… not great. The meat always tasted too bland.

The best one I made was Grammelknödel, using cracklins leftover from rendering lard, but I wanted a version I could make using easily available ingredients, preferably plain old ground meat. But, other than using, literally, chunks of bacon, I couldn’t figure out how to get those spices to produce a tasty meat filling. It’s entirely possible that I was just not cooking something right, or that I really should work on my Schweinsbraten recipe first, but I suspect that the combination of plain old ground meat and some fairly pedestrian spices — some mix of onions, garlic, parsley, and marjoram — was just not particularly good.

Coincidentally, the night I made the Grammelknödel, I had some dough left after using up my tiny supply of cracklins and happened to have some cooked meat in the fridge… except it was meat for a Chinese noodle dish called Zhajiangmian that I make for lunch more often than is probably healthy. So I balled it up and stuck it in the knödels and OF COURSE that was by far the best one I’d ever made.

Now, to put it mildly, I usually don’t care for fusion food. I like the idea of combining different cuisines, and in particularly good restaurants it can be very tasty, but mostly I find things like the Sushirrito or whatever to be affronts to good taste. (We could have a whole aside here about how Japanese yoshoku, which I love, is a kind of fusion, but this blog post is already too long.) Suffice it to say, I prefer recipes that are made as traditionally as possible. But the response I got to the Chinaknödel — my daughter hollowed it out with a spoon to make sure she got all the meat into her tiny maw — compared to my sad attempts at a more traditional Fleischknödel (*poke* *prod* “I’M ALL DONE”) convinced me to concede defeat and make this my default meat knödel, at least until I learn to make Schweinsbraten.

I’ve been making the aforementioned noodle bowl for years using a recipe that I can no longer find the source for — I suspect it may have been from Lucky Peach, the dearly departed food magazine — and what’s going into the knödel here is as much of that as it’s possible to stuff into a potato dumpling. Specifically, zhajiang sauce (made with either beef or pork), chopped green onions, garlic puree, sesame paste, and chili oil. It’s not traditional, and if I saw it on a menu of some fancy Asian fusion restaurant I’d probably scoff haughtily at it, but it is delicious. Here’s the recipe, plus the recipe for the noodley version, before it is lost forever.

Fleischknödel

RECIPE (for approx 6-8 dumplings, depending how big you make them)

  • 300g (2/3lb) ground beef or pork — the original noodle recipe uses pork, but it’s pretty much fine with either.
  • 2tsp soy sauce
  • 4tsp Chinese sweet bean paste (甜麵醬) — this seems to also go by “Sweet Wheat(en) Paste” in English, but I usually find it by wandering around the Chinese grocery store for a very long time trying to match up those characters there to what’s on the jars.
  • 80ml (1/3cup) soup broth — I’ve used both Chinese chicken/pork broth and Austrian beef broth and didn’t really notice any difference. If I were using a soup cube from the store, I might reduce the soy sauce or sweet bean paste a little, since that’s quite the sodium-fest otherwise.
  • 500g potatoes — preferably starchy potatoes, I use the big brown-skinned Idaho potatoes.
  • 200g flour — the original recipe asks for “griffig” flour (see the flour post), but I just use my regular flour and it turns out fine.
  • 50g Weizengrieß– this is wheat semolina, which is a whole variety of flour that didn’t even make it into the flour post.
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5tsp salt — Austrian recipes have a bad habit of just listing “salt” in the recipe without any indication of how much you’re supposed to use (I guess Austrian cooks just KNOW?). The first few times I made this I assumed that meant I should use a pinch of salt, but the dough was under-salted every time.

STEPS

  • Chapter 1: The Meat (a few hours ahead of time, or the night before… doing this in advance makes it MUCH easier to get the meat inside the knödels)
    1. Put oil or lard in a wok or large frying pan and eat on medium-high. When it’s hot, add the ground meat and break apart.
    2. When it starts to cook, add the soy sauce and sweet bean paste and cook for a few minutes until the meat is cooked through.
    3. Add the broth and simmer for another 5 minutes. When finished the meat should look a bit soupy.
  • Chapter 2: The Knödels
    1. Boil the potatoes for 25-30 minutes. They should be very soft.
    2. Remove from the water, test for softness — you will seriously regret it in step 3 if they’re too hard — and then take off the skins. Let them sit for a while. (The original recipe says to cook them the day before, but that seems excessive.)
    3. Cut the potatoes into a few pieces and put them through through a food mill or ricer, or I guess if you don’t have one of those mash them for a very long time. We’ve got a food mill, though I’m considering replacing it with a ricer which seems like much less work.
      Potatoes going through the food mill
    4. Add the potatoes to a large bowl and combine with flour, Weizengrieß, eggs, and salt. Mix together by hand until the ingredients are well combined into a sticky dough. Ball that up and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
    5. Take your chilled meat out of the fridge and combine it in a bowl with chopped up green onions, garlic puree, and sesame paste.
    6. Form the meat into golf ball-sized meatballs. If you’ve had it in the fridge long enough, the fat should have hardened a bit and will hold the meatballs together.
    7. Stick the meatballs into the freezer while you prepare the dough. This makes it easier to get them into the dumplings without falling apart.
    8. Coat your hands, and anything the dough is likely to come in contact with, with flour. The dough is annoyingly sticky. Then separate the dough into pieces (one for each meatball) and flatten. I tried using a rolling pin the first time, but it’s much easier to use your flour-coated hands. The dough should be relatively thick (compared to a gyoza or something) and circular.
    9. Place the meatballs one by one into the dough circles and close the dough around the meatball, sealing at the top. Discard any extra dough so that the thickness of the dough is even around the meat.
      This one could use more green onions
    10. Put the knödels into boiling salted water, and turn the heat down (medium hot) so that it’s lightly boiling. Violent boiling might destroy the knödels.
    11. Cook for six minutes, then remove from the heat. Leave the knödels in the pot, cover, and let set for six more minutes.
    12. Remove from the water and serve. I usually pat them dry with a kitchen towel first.

SERVING
I had a bit of trouble with this, since it’s so fusiony I didn’t know what to serve it with, and I haven’t yet invented any fusiony side dishes yet. I serve it with a little chili oil for dipping, and it goes fine with sauerkraut.


Zhajiang Noodles (炸酱面?)
RECIPE
(for one bowl)

  • 100g Chinese noodles — any kind of skinny Chinese noodle is fine.
  • 100g meat from the recipe above — it’s easier to make a lot of it and keep it in the fridge while eating this for lunch every day for a week.
  • 1tbsp chili oil — I make it using a recipe similar to this one, but you can also buy little bottles of it (in Japanese it’s ラー油 and you usually see it in ramen restaurants).
  • 1tbsp soy sauce.
  • 0.5tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorn — I usually put in more than this, but that’s what the original recipe said.
  • 1tsp garlic water — a single clove of garlic, minced or pressed, and mixed with cold water.
  • 1tsp Chinese sesame paste (芝麻酱) — this is a very thick, concentrated sesame paste, I usually mix it with a little bit of hot water in a serving spoon before putting it into the bowl.
  • 1tbsp chopped green onions

STEPS

  1. Make the meat, as above.
  2. Put the non-meat ingredients into a bowl — chili oil, soy sauce, Sichuan pepper, garlic water, sesame paste (mixed with a little water), and green onions. (Note: the original recipe also calls for 1tsp of pork fat in the bowl, but since I use fatty pork and fry it in lard, I leave that out.)
  3. Cook the noodles.
  4. Put the cooked noodles on top of the mixed ingredients. Sometimes when I feel like a more soupy bowl I add a ladle or two of the noodle cooking water.
  5. Top with the meat and more scallions.

SERVING
Mix everything together and eat!

It’s those bowls of noodles there

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