Running Aground
by Mark R. Vogel

            Whenever I’m on deadline and scouring my brain for ideas for an article, a simple trip to the grocery store or some random restaurant will often provide grist for the “Food for Thought” mill.  It’s not uncommon for me to encounter something that’s off the hook. 

            So here’s my latest excursion down the rabbit hole.  I was in a supermarket that I infrequently patronize.  Moreover, since my last visit they had reconfigured their layout.  I was reconnoitering the meat department in quest of ground pork, the traditional filling for the Chinese dumplings I planned to make.  Unable to find it I asked one of the butchers where the ground pork was located.  He pointed to an area of the shelf I had missed in my reconnaissance.  However, as I approached the designated location I discovered ground veal.  I re-engaged the butcher and explained it was veal, not pork.  His response left me thunderstruck.  He smirked and quipped: “What’s the difference, it’s the same color.”

            I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how a butcher could harbor such an appallingly concrete conceptualization of meat……….not a four year old, not a lobotomized lunatic, not even some lay person who couldn’t care less about cooking, but a butcher!  Equating pork and veal merely because of the color is a level of superficiality I just can’t seem to fathom.  His smirk added insult to injury; as if I was the one off my rocker for making a distinction between the two. 

            OK, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and outline some of the similarities between ground pork and veal.  All ground meats are often a hodgepodge of scraps leftover from trimming the primary cuts and/or miscellaneous segments of the carcass.  The pieces going into the admixture often contain a higher percentage of fat, gristle, and the like.  While your generic ground beef is a heterogeneous amalgamation, it is possible to procure ground beef from a specific cut of the animal such as ground chuck, round, or sirloin.  On the contrary, such specification is usually not offered with ground pork and veal in the average supermarket and thus, they will be comprised of the aforementioned mélange.  If you desire ground pork or veal from a specific cut you will need to go to a real butcher shop, or buy the whole cut and grind it yourself. 

            The second likeness between ground pork and veal is the unknown fat content.  Packages of ground beef will normally contain the percentage of fat in the mix, such as 85% ground chuck, (which means 15% fat).  Ground pork and veal are not labeled as such and it’s anybody’s guess what the fat content is.  In all likelihood it is notable, as the inclusion of fattier sections of the carcass in the grind is financially more efficient. 

            The third corollary between ground pork and veal are the safety issues.  In fact, these apply to all ground meats.  A far greater proportion of the surface area of ground meat comes into contact with equipment and people during its processing.  This means a higher chance of contamination.  Ground meat also spoils at a higher rate than solid pieces such as a steak.  Therefore you must use it sooner than you would a regular cut of meat.  If you don’t plan to use it with 24 hours of purchase, place it in the freezer.  Once in the freezer use it in less than three months.  It is also generally advised to cook your ground meat to a higher temperature than you would a steak or chop.  And finally yes, on the most superficial level, ground pork and veal are about the same color.

            But all of these concordances are inconsequential when compared to the blatant discrepancy between the two comestibles:  ONE IS PORK AND ONE IS VEAL!  Two very different meats from different animals with noticeably different flavor profiles.  Because they share the same physical attributes you can swap one for another in a recipe, but you will absolutely change the taste.  Case in point.  Since the supermarket in my introduction was devoid of ground pork, and I was too lazy to make another stop, I reluctantly went with the ground veal to make my Chinese dumplings.  It was a bad idea and I fervently advise you not to repeat my mistake.  The resulting dumplings were nothing like their porcine counterparts, despite the similar color, the salience of which is the limit of my butcher’s discernment of reality.  Here now is my recipe for Chinese dumplings, with ground pork.

 

CHINESE DUMPLINGS

(Makes 80-100 dumplings)

 

1 lb. ground pork

¼ lb. finely chopped shrimp

4-5 eggs, scrambled in vegetable oil and then finely chopped

½ lb. Chinese chives, finely chopped, (or substitute scallions)

5 leaves Napa cabbage, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chicken bouillon

Soy sauce to taste

Salt to taste

A splash each of sesame oil and vegetable oil

80-100 dumpling or wonton wrappers

           

            In a large bowl stir the ground pork with a small splash of water.  Do this two more times to produce a moist and somewhat sticky mixture.  Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well.  On a cutting board place a dumpling wrapper and dollop about a teaspoon or so of the mixture onto the center.  Do not overfill or it will be difficult to adequately seal them, and/or they can burst open during cooking.  Wet the edge of the wrapper with some water, fold it over, and then crimp the edge to seal it.  Arrange the dumplings on a parchment lined sheet tray.  You can freeze them at this point for later use.  To cook, bring a pot of water or broth to a boil, add the dumplings, and cook until they float.  They are completely done when you can poke their center and the dough springs back.  You can serve them in broth like wontons but traditionally they are dipped in a sauce.

 

DUMPLING DIPPING SAUCE

 

3 oz. soy sauce

1 oz. dark soy sauce

1 oz. rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon hot chile oil

A splash of sesame oil

Finely minced chives or scallions

 

            You can adjust any or all of these ingredients to suit your taste.  Simply whisk the ingredients together, dip the dumplings in the sauce and enjoy. 

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