January 30, 2004
To celebrate Chinese New Year last week, Jill and I made potstickers, sipped on hot miso soup and drank jasmine tea. It's easier now days to buy the frozen pre-made dumplings at the chinese grocery store (they are actually pretty good) but it's really nice to sit around with family and friends and make rows and rows of dumplings together. It's much like a quilting bee, but better because in the end you get to eat.
How you cook the dumplings changes the name of the dumplings. The default name for a dumpling is Jiao Zhi. Most Jiao Zhi are usually steamed. If they are boiled they are called Shui Jiao (Water Dumpling). If you steam-fry them in a pan they are called Guo Tie (Pot Stick) better known as Potstickers. In Japan Potstickers are called Gyoza. Wontons are another kind of dumpling usually served in soup with a similar filling but are folded differently than how you fold Jiao Zhi. This is how my mom makes Jiao Zhi and how she taught me.
2 lbs of ground pork (with fat please!)
1 head of nappa cabbage
2 Tbsps of finely grated fresh ginger
2 cups of dried shitake mushrooms
2 Tbsps of cornstarch
2 Tbsps of cooking wine or sherry, or chinese rice wine
2 Tbsps of sesame oil
1 Tbsp of salt
Soak the dried shitakes in boiling water and cover for at least an hour, til they are soft and reconstituted. Remove the tough stems and finely dice. If you have food processor this will be much easier.
Shred or finely dice about 4 cups of nappa cabbage. Blanch in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water. You want to end up with about 2 cups of cooked cabbage.
Peel the fresh ginger with a spoon (it really works!) and grate it either with a microplane or I prefer to use a ceramic ginger grater. It does a wonderful job of finely grating the ginger and leaving the fibrous strands behind. There is also a lip that catches all of the juice that is extruded.
Mix all of the ingredients together with the ground pork. You want to make sure you use pork that is not super lean. You want a good amount of fat in your filling otherwise it will be very dry and the wrong texture. Ideally, you should mix the filling by hand for at least 15 minutes. The ideal texture of the pork filling should be very smooth where you can hardly detect one ingredient from the other, much like a bolognese. Many chefs in chinese restaurants mix and throw the meat mixture for a really long time to get this perfectly smooth texture. A food processor would be perfect for this step. If the mixture seems dry or hard to work with, you can loosen it up with some more cooking sherry or water. (My mom also uses dried shrimp in her recipe, but I don't always have that around and actually prefer it without.)
Now you are ready to fold the dumplings. This amount of filling will make about 60-70 dumplings. So you want to get two packages of dumpling wrappers. They are readily available at most grocery stores. If not, you can find them at any asian grocery store. Or you can make them from scratch, but I'll show you how to do that another time. There may be different names for the kind of wrappers you buy at the store. Like I mentioned before, they are all basically the same thing, except for the way you cook them, so some packages may say "Potsticker" wrappers, and some may say "Shui Jiao", "Guo Tie", "Jiao Zhi", or "Gyoza". Even though they all say different things, they are the same wrappers. You want to get any one of these that are round. The square shaped ones are usually wonton wrappers and are usually a bit thinner. If you can only find square ones, you can still use them, just trim off the corners of the square wrappers to get a basic round shape. Usually they will come frozen, so you want to make sure you thaw them first. A half hour or so on your kitchen counter should do. You'll also want to keep the wrappers under a moist cloth to keep them from drying out as you are working with them.
You'll need a small bowl of water to use as "glue" to seal the dumplings. I've seen a lot of recipes that call for an egg wash to use as glue, but this is unecessary.
Start by placing about one and a half teaspoons of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges of the wrapper around the filling with the water.
Bring two opposite sides of the dumpling together and gently pinch the top. (Excuse my ugly pink nail polish.)
Now you want to make a series of pleats on one side of the dumpling to help them sit up and so they'll look good. On the side of the dumpling wrapper that is facing you, make a pleat towards the center of the dumpling and press.
Moving outwards, make another pleat next to the first one and press. You want to make sure you fold the pleats completely over themselves and that the edges of the wrapper line up.
Now repeat on the other side mirroring the first two pleats so that they all point towards the center. You should have a total of four pleats. Seal the rest of the edges shut by pressing together.
If you look at the dumpling from a bird's-eye-view it should have a crescent shape. The pleated side will have pulled some of the edge of the wrapper onto its side to help form the pleats and will be longer than the other side. This other side without pleats will be shorter and will form the inner crescent. This helps the dumpling to sit up while cooking which is helpful for steamed or pan-fried dumplings.
You can place the finished dumplings on a lined baking sheet and stick them in the freezer until you are ready to cook. If you have a lot to store, you want to freeze them like this first, making sure they don't touch. Then after they are frozen you can store them in a freezer bag without fear of them fusing together.
Now, you can just drop these in a pot of boiling water like tortellini (They'll be ready when they float), you can steam them, or you can pan-fry them, my favorite. There always seems to be mystery as to how a potsticker is made. I've seen many methods in different recipes that seem complicated (using more than one pan) or that don't seem like they would cook the dumpling completely. It's really pretty easy to do.
Start with a cold non-stick skillet that has a lid, and a few teaspoons of oil, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. A good non-stick, teflon pan is key. Put this over a medium flame. Before the pan gets too warm add the dumplings, fold side up, in the pan. You can put them in a pretty flower pattern if you have the patience. Now the pan should start to sizzle and squeak a little bit. Pour enough water into the pan so that the water level is halfway up the dumplings. Cover and let it cook for about 15 minutes. This method is called a steam-fry. Basically you are steaming and frying at the same time, in the same pan. Keep an eye on it and listen for sizzling noises. This means the water has just about evaporated completely and the frying is beginning.
Check the dumplings to make sure the top edges of the pasta are cooked (they should look just barely transluscent). If they don't look cooked to you, add more water, cover and wait for the sizzle. If they do look cooked, remove the lid to let the rest of the water evaporate and cook a few more minutes just till the dumplings are browned on the bottom. Lift a few of the dumplings to check the browness. Once they have reached a GB&D (Golden Brown & Delicious) state, transfer them to a platter. If you arranged your dumplings in a floral pattern, you can serve it like my mom. See, my mom is fancy, and she does this fancy thing where she gets a platter that is larger than the skillet. Off the heat, she puts the platter upside down over the skillet then flips the entire thing over onto the platter (this is where the teflon coated pan really helps). You end up with this gorgeous platter of a giant golden flower that tastes like heaven. I burned myself badly doing this once, so I rarely do it now, but what a presentation! If you try it, just be very careful.
I like to serve it with a spicy ginger-soy sauce.
1 Tbsp of rice wine vinegar (or any vinegar will do)
1 Tbsp of sugar
3 Tbsps of soy sauce
2 tsps of freshly grated ginger and its juice
1 clove of minced garlic
1 Tbsp of sesame oil
a dash of hot chile oil or chile paste
garnish with minced scallions