Convenience is such a subjective term. Particularly in cooking; some folks are very persnickety about how they prepare dishes, from mise en place all the way through cleanup, attention to detail is key. That can also have a lot to do with the recipe itself, or if the cooking process holds some sentimental value with the individual. Then there are those times when you just want to slap something frozen in the microwave and call it a meal. But by and large, we all learn through experience that you get out what you put into cooking.
One particular dish that can be a little more involved than most is the mini “pie”. It has different names and presentations across various cultures; the gyoza, empanada, samosa, calzone, ravioli and pierogi are all examples of the same dumpling or pie-style dish with which most of us are familiar. Even standard dessert pies can be found in miniature form in most home recipe collections. Depending on the style and ingredients preferred, the process of preparing the dumplings can be labor-intensive, especially the closure of the dough or wrapper involved. In an effort to ease some of the discomfort of the home cook, several companies developed the dumpling press, a small plastic (or stainless steel) folding device designed to both enclose and seal ingredients inside the dough in a quick and (hopefully) clean fashion. This would be most helpful for those out there who don’t have much experience with folding dumplings or pies, or if you’re simply interested in a more uniform, pretty look for whatever dumpling-style dish you’re preparing. As I had always been a hand-folder of these little gems, I decided to give this dumpling press a whirl and see what transpired.
As previously stated, there are numerous brands and sizes of presses available, but most of them run in the $6.95 range – Williams-Sonoma, Joss & Main and Amazon were the same price. I happened to pick mine up at my local Bed, Bath & Beyond for about $4.99. It was the standard white plastic model (www.chefscatalog.com has a very high-grade stainless steel one for $29.95) pictured at left here from Helen Chun. And I will say that overall, it lived up to all of its claims and even my expectations. Any issues I experienced while using it originated entirely with me – not the device – and I am happily counting it as a lesson learned. I decided for my first try to do a mini calzone-style pie, with balsamic chicken, basil, a red pepper sauce and of course, mozzarella. They actually turned out quite well for a first attempt, although I think in the end I wound up spending more time making sure I got everything exactly right for the press to work correctly than if I had just taken the traditional route and folded the pies myself. For instance, if I happen to put in even the slightest bit too much filling, it would escape out the sides as I tried to close the press. I also feel that the press could have been just as effective if the rim, where the crimping of the dumpling takes place, had been somewhat narrower, allowing for a larger amount of filling to be applied.
A couple of important things to take into account if you’ve never made dumplings of any kind are both the type of dough (or wrapper) being used and the grade/texture of ingredients going into the dough. For example, if you are using a thinner dough or making smaller pies, you would perhaps consider having your ingredients be more of a homogenized mix rather than having large, chunky pieces, as it might either tear through the dough, or you would not have a significant quantity of filling in the dumpling. However, if you are working with a more sturdy, traditional dough, more hearty ingredients and larger amounts could be incorporated. In the end, the interaction between filling and wrapper is extremely important (in my opinion.)
As I said before, I was pleased with the way the press worked out and I definitely don’t feel like I wasted my five dollars. Will I be incorporating it in my cooking more often? Probably not. This will be one of those tools for “special” occasions, when I have plenty of time for prep and labor, want to make something a little different, or if I’m whipping up a dish for a party that I want to be aesthetically pleasing. Do I recommend it? If you haven’t tried one of these things, I absolutely suggest you give it a shot. It’s not difficult to use, it’s just a little more work. And in the end, I always feel like a dish tastes a little better when you put in some effort and earn it!