I love mandu (korean pot-stickers). I love taquitos (aka flautas, aka pulled pork roll ups that are deep fried). Put the two together, and you’ve got mandu carnitas. And they are bea-u-tiful. Beautiful.
Mandu Carnitas Recipe:
1. pull it: get yourself about a cup of pulled pork. I had some leftover from the time I made Country Style Rib Sliders. And this is why I think it is important when making a pulled pork recipe that you only sauce the amount of meat that you are going to eat that day. That way, the leftovers are a porky blank canvas.
2. cheese it: add about a quarter cup to a half cup of shredded cheese. In my taquitos, I like using a mix of white cheeses. This time, I used about a quarter to half a cup of four cheese pizza mix. White cheese provide a nice, creamy backdrop to pork. If you use yellow cheeses, it’ll start tasting like really bad appetizers from the freezer case. I think that’s pretty much a rule of thumb for me, when it comes to deep frying things.
3. sauce it: in contrast to the Famous Dave’s bbq sauce I used in the Country Style Rib Sliders, I used Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde. It is currently one of my favorite things to eat. You’ll need about a quarter to a half cup of it. Add it to the pork and cheese slowly. The pulled pork will be really thirsty and will soak up the salsa. Add some, mix it up and shred the pork really fine. Wait, and then repeat. You want the mixture to be moist but not watery. And also make sure that the pulled pork is super shredded. You don’t want big chunks, as that will likely end up tearing the mandu, which is not good.
4. dish it: fold a heaping table spoon or so of the mixture onto good mandu wrappers. The gyoza skins that you can buy in that weird section of the grocery store where they sell tofu and tofu hotdogs will be so-so. But if you’re serious about making this dish, you’ve got to go to a Korean grocery store and get the good stuff. The good stuff is more like a pasta dough, and it fries up like a little piece of crispy, savory heaven.
5. fold it: Dip your finger into a little bowl of water and then wash the top border of the mandu. This will make the dough stick to itself when you fold the mandu over. Press the mandu wrapper down over the filling, making sure to press out any excess air. You will have to pick up the dumpling at this point. When it’s done, set it down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until you’re done. It’s pretty much my standard mandu-making routine. On this particular day, I was able to get a baker’s dozen of moderately to lightly filled mandu.
6. fry it: fill a 10″ non-stick skillet with about a quarter cup of vegetable oil. I use Smart Balance. When it gets hot (i.e., the oil starts to get whispy), drop in 6 mandu at a time. The pork has already been cooked, so you’re really just looking to melt the cheese and get a nice fry on the mandu wrappers. So once they brown on one side, flip them over and brown the other side.
7. warm it: you’ll have to fry in batches. I set some paper towels on top of a half baking sheet. Once the mandu were cooked, I set them on top and put them in the oven on the “warm” setting. I didn’t want the pork to get too over-cooked or dried out in the oven, so I would alternate the oven on and off so that the mandu would stay really really really gently warmed.
8. rice it: I made rice. Usually, we get Near East Spanish Rice Pilaf from a box at Dominick’s. But the last time we were at Walmart, we picked up their generic brand. I made them according to the package instructions. And I was shocked to see how much salt it had.
9. garnish it: the garnish for this dish was inspired by the Tuesday chicken flautas lunch special at Taco Burrito King in Greektown. I shredded up some iceberg lettuce to make a bed for the mandu. Then, I topped the mandu with finely diced tomato. And I drizzled some sour cream op top that was thinned out with a little bit of milk. And on mine, because I love that salsa verde so much, I drizzled a little extra of that lovely green sauce (my wife got extra green sauce on the side).
10. eat it: this meal was exactly what I was hoping for and then some. The filling tasted just like the time I made taquitos. But since the mandu completely encapsulates the filling, the pork didn’t get burned and none of the cheese melted out into the fry oil.
Mixing the pork with the green sauce and cheese ensured that it stayed nice and moist. And the mandu wrapper fried up deliciously. I am certain now that I prefer this to taquitos on any day. The mandu wrapper is pasta-like and is a lot less salty than a corn or even a flour tortilla. This keeps the overall saltiness of the dish down, and the garnishes and rice don’t seem to have to compete as hard to get your attention.
The shredded lettuce provided a pleasant coolness, and it, along with the tomatoes, provided a nice texture contrast to the crunchy mandu wrapper. Plus, the tomatoes were wonderfully sweet.
The thinned out sour cream provided a different kind of coolness while also adding a different kind of richness to the dish. And a nice side benefit to using thinned out sour cream is that I don’t have to resort to the douche-y trend of using creme fraiche or crema.
Overall, this was one of the top 5 most delicious things I’ve eaten this year. And easily, it was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in immediate recent memory.