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Pot-stickin lip-smackin bites of delicious

February 15, 2010

Ever heard of pot-stickers? They pop up every now and then around the blogosphere, always with rave reviews like: “like bigger bits of tortellini but crispy!” or “soft and pillowy with a crunch!” but probably most often “dang these are good, but they are one heck of an effort!” I have to say I concur with that last sentiment: these babies are the result of a lot of steps. I posted a recipe similar to these back when I had the old uber site. What distinguishes pot stickers from Chinese dumplings is that a) they appear to be a sort of fusion food (Asia/West) and b) the main resemblance they have with the Asian variety is the way they are cooked. Originally I had purchased some wonton wrappers to make lasagne with (don’t, by the way), but then Laura’s post on them made me crave them so bad I went against my student-purachasing-instincts and picked up some prawns with the full intention of buying them even if they weren’t on special. It’s ok, though, because most of the filling was comprised of eggs.

Ro and I got bored and experimented with shapes. It was fun.

I filled them with what I usually use as a dumpling filler when I make them with my family: Chinese style scrambled eggs, chopped up prawns, and a nice big bunch of garlic chives. You could use normal chives I guess, but garlic chives really do make the filling special. You can grow them easily in a large pot (most garden places sell the seedlings too) or get them at Asian supermarkets, where they are usually in stock when in season (late spring to autumn I think). However, there are a myriad of things you could fill them with, just search google or tastespotting or foodgawker for potstickers and you will be overwhelmed with possibilities. Vegans can be satiated with veganyumyum’s beautiful and immensely helpful guide.

Now, are you ready? Ready for a heap of information which you are welcome to ignore and just plunge straight into the recipe, or, if you are anything like me, you are welcome to soak up the extra foodie bites of knowledge that will grant you genuine potsticker prowess? Okay, let’s take a breather first with a cut.

Phew. Who’s tired already?

Here are a few tips about the components of dumplings/potstickers: fillings, wrappers, wrapping, cooking, and dipping sauces. If you just want to get on with it already, scroll to the next picture.

Fillings

As I said, if you search google or tastespotting or foodgawker for potstickers, you will be overwhelmed with potential ideas for fillings. However, considering the effort these things take, I will let you in on a few little secrets that will shortcut your road to potsticker perfection.

Generally, do not cook vegetable or meat fillings before filling. Use raw meat or seafood, minced or finely chopped, the same goes for vegetables. Sure, some exceptions can be made: caramelise some onions, pan fry a little garlic before throwing in with your filling. But generally, twice cooked veges aren’t that great.

Use the power of raw egg to bind your filling – this will make it easier to get rid of air pockets (just…trust me on this one) and it will keep a combination of meat and veges from falling everywhere when you’re filling. It also adds moistness and flavour. Just add about one egg per 2c of filling, and stir it like mad until it completely disappears. If you want to keep things vegan, a little cornflour dissolved in water will do a similar trick.

Keep spices and sauces in the sauce rather than putting lots in the filling. Some herbs like garlic chives, garlic, chives, onions, any other alliums (onion family), and weirdly, fennel greens, are fine. Spices are best kept in the sauce. Although pepper is one exception. This is partly tradition, usually because making dumplings/potstickers involves a family affair, and its easier to cater for lots of tastes when you can offer a good basic dumpling with a variety of sauces. However, it also keeps things simply flavoured. So soy sauce for example is usually part of a dipping sauce, rather than being put in the dumpling.

Don’t use overly lean meat, as you will get dry filling. If you really don’t want fatty meat, try the egg and prawn filling I’ve suggested or use a vegatarian filling. Or you can add eggs and some oil, but it still won’t be as good.

A little filling goes a long way. Dumplings are usually served on their own, so keep in mind you will want some carbs with your meal (unless you’re on some strange diet). Also using less filling will make them much easier to wrap, especially if it’s your first time.

Wrappers

For ease and for pretty and for an unrivalled soft silken wrapper that crisps up beautifully, as well as providing a translucent window into your filling (see first picture), commercially made wrappers available at your closest Asian supermarket can’t be beat. They’re not bad value for money and leftovers can be easily cut into triangles and baked, pan fried or deep fried for easy crispy crackers. In Christchurch at most Asian supermarkets you can get about 50 wonton wrappers for around $3. They’re uniform in shape, size and thickness which is great if you’re having guests around. The reason I recommend them over making your own dough is that it’s much harder to screw up. The reason they also taste softer is that they’re made of much finer flour than you could pick up at a conventional supermarket. If you’re put off them though…

Making your own dough is a great experience, but it’s like having and bringing up kids. Ultimately, it’ll provide you with some deep inner satisfaction, but it’s a pain, hard to get perfect, and in the end you wish you’d just bought the damn pre-made wrappers. If you reaaallly want to give it a go though, Use Real Butter has a pretty good guide on the whole process too. It’s pretty long too though, and to add to the list of tips, I’d add: the wrappers need to be pretty thin (just over 1mm), and lightly floured. Don’t stack them. Bought wrappers have a little flour in between each wrapper to prevent them sticking :D Told you it’s easier to buy ’em.

One last thing about bought wrappers: go for wonton wrappers, as the dumpling wrappers are usually too thick and hard and don’t stick well. Dumpling wrappers make great ravioli though!

Wrapping

Use Real Butter has a good step by step guide on how to pleat traditional dumplings, but really, if you want to eat these before Christmas, you can fold them any way you like. HOWEVER. Keep in mind that if you pan fry them (that’s what makes them “potstickers” as opposed to boiled or steamed dumplings, by the way), you want less folds and bunches of dough, because otherwise they won’t cook through. I like wrapping them in a way that lets them fall on one side that is flat, which maximises the amount of dough that contacts the hot greased pan, and the amount of crunch from each potsticker. So usually this means simply folding in half diagonally if using square wonton wrappers. Unfortunately, wonton wrappers aren’t quite square, so what I do to make the potstickers look more symmetrical is fold up the corners to make them look like little hats with three pointy bits (see pictures below). Remember to dab water on any bits which you want to stick together, and press down firmly to seal.

If you’re short on time and pan space, Ro discovered another way to do it. They are bit size morsels though. Check the first picture: see those little square packages in the middle? Yep, you wrap them like a package. Pull the diagonals together, let them overlap about 2-3cm, stick together. Then pull the opposite two corners together, and stick together on the same side. Then if pan frying, sit them so the wrapped corners are on the bottom, so the dough bit will cook through properly but still have the soft bit on top.

If boiling or steaming, you are total liberty for how you wrap yours pretty much. Try to avoid bunching too much dough in any one place (I’d avoid making little money bags, for example), but other than that, go wild.

Cooking

Pan frying is usually best if you have a filling that’s not too greasy, and you have a very large frypan with a lid (unless you’re just serving yourself I guess). If you like crispiness, this is your best choice. Heat oil on medium high heat in the largest frypan you have. You want enough to generously coat the pan but we’re not shallow frying. Once the pan is hot (a water droplet should sizzle in the oil if it’s hot enough), add the dumplings flattest side down. If you have a normal electric cooktop, start placing from the outside inwards, as these are the coolest parts and they will take longer to cook. Do not let them touch or they will most likely stick. Let cook until the undersides are golden brown, then pour about 1/3c water in a circle onto the dumplings and cover immediately. Let cook until the water has completely evaporated and the bottoms have crispened up again (about 3-5 minutes). If cooking meat, lower the temperature when you cover the pan to medium, and let cook a little longer (5-7 minutes). Then let cook uncovered for about 30 seconds to get the bottoms really crispy.

If you don’t have a large frypan, you can have several frypans on the go.

Boiling is best if you’re using dumplings in a soup, or don’t have steaming equipment. Wonton or dumpling soups are really good comfort food, and they’re less greasy too. Simply bring a large saucepan half full of water to the boil on medium heat. Add dumplings, being careful not to add much more than one layer. Cover, and when the lid starts rattling and the water is boiling more rapidly, uncover, add 1/3c cold water, and recover. Repeat this step once more. Uncover, and if the dumplings have floated to the surface, they are ready, remove with a slotted spoon. If not floated to the surface, let cook a little longer.

Steaming is best if you want to go light on the grease, want a soft, moist dumpling and you have either a bamboo steamer or a steaming tray thingee. Bring water to boil inside steamer on medium high heat, then reduce once boiling to medium. Let steam for about 3-5 minutes, or until skins go translucent.

Dipping sauces

The easiest and probably most traditional is one part good quality soy sauce (I usually use Japanese soy sauces) and two parts vinegar, either Chinese black vinegar (my favourite), or just plain white vinegar if that’s what you have. Rice wine vinegar would be delicious too. The vinegar helps give everything a zing and also cuts down on the richness, plus apparently it helps you digest the excessive amounts of protein. You can then add any of the following according to your personal taste preferences: good quality Chinese roast chilli sauce (or chilli and garlic sauce), a few drops of sesame oil, chopped up chives or spring onions, freshly ground black pepper, roast sesame seeds, or anything resembling those. Try not to get too complicated, or you’ll overwhelm the flavours in the dumpling and undo all the effort that was required to bring them into existence. Simple, y’hear?

Ee-hee! Look at that shrink wrapped goodness! Ok, are you ready? Let’s do this thing.

Egg and prawn filled potstickers with garlic chives

Makes enough for 2  if that’s all you’re having (in which case, have some mouthwash on hand, heheh), or 3 if you have a side salad (which I would recommend) and a nibble of dessert. I didn’t count the number of potstickers we made, sorry…too busy nomming.

Filling:
5 large free range eggs (best you can afford, and even go organic if you can)
about 250g raw prawns or shrimp, with cases removed, and defrosted if frozen
a bunch of garlic chives, the bunch being about an inch in diameter
1/2 tsp salt
about 1/3c cooking oil
freshly ground black pepper

Whisk 4 eggs with the salt and pepper. Heat a non stick frypan on medium heat with the oil. Once oil is hot, add the whisked eggs. It should immediately puff up like an angry cat. If not, curse quietly to yourself, but breathe. It just means they might stick a little. Quickly scrape the outside bits once set into the centre, and keep manically doing this until you get scrambled eggs and there is not much oil left (whether or not your pan was hot enough). You want the eggs to be JUST cooked, so try to avoid any golden bits. Remove from the pan as soon as everything has JUST set, and empty into a medium sized bowl. Mash with a fork until you have lots of little scrambled egg bits. Set aside.

Chop up prawns with a knife (resist the food processor), sort of mincing it but chopping it somewhat unevenly so you get some prawn chunks no bigger than 1cm cubed. Add to eggs. Chop the garlic chives into 1cm lengths. Add to the eggs and prawns. Add the 5th egg to the mixture, and mix with a spoon until the raw egg disappears. Add a little more black pepper (none of the pre-ground stuff).

Wrappers

Have at least 30 wonton wrappers on hand

Wrapping

Prepare a little ramekin of water on the side for dipping your fingers in. Keep wonton wrappers covered with plastic so they don’t dry out. Extract a wrapper, and place about 1 tsp of filling in the centre.

Then dip your finger in water, and wet all 4 edges. Then bring one corner over the filling to its opposite corner and press down firmly to seal.

Also seal the other edges by pressing down firmly on them, and try to push out any air in the filling when the last bit of edge is sealed. Now you can do what Ro and I did to make them pretty or just leave them and move on to wrapping your next one. We basically painted the pointy corners on both sides of the filling with water, then turned the corners upward and pressed down firmly to seal. It’s very important to have everything well sealed so not too many juices leak out and then make your potstickers actually stick to the pan. Place your wrapped potstickers on a flat wooden surface so they don’t stick. If you have only plastic chopping boards that’ll do. Keep wrapping until you have enough to fill a pan.

Frying

Heat oil on medium high heat in the largest frypan (preferably non stick or cast iron) you have. You can use multiple frypans if you only have medium sized ones. You want enough oil to generously coat the pan but we’re not shallow frying. Once the pan is hot (a water droplet should sizzle in the oil if it’s hot enough), add the dumplings flattest side down. If you have a normal electric cooktop, start placing from the outside inwards, as these are the coolest parts and they will take longer to cook. Do not let them touch or they will most likely stick, either to eachother or to the pan. Let cook until the undersides are golden brown, then pour about 1/3c water in a circle onto the dumplings and cover immediately. Let cook until the water has completely evaporated and the bottoms have crispened up again (about 3-5 minutes). If cooking meat, lower the temperature when you cover the pan to medium, and let cook a little longer (5-7 minutes). Then let cook uncovered for about 30 seconds to get the bottoms really crispy.

Eating and dipping

Serve the potstickers as soon as they’re cooked. Usually the dipping sauce is prepared while the potstickers are cooking, so everything is ready to go after the lengthy process of making these. It’s nice to serve some sort of salad alongside these, as they are quite rich, and also that way you won’t have to time cooking vegetables as well. The process of eating these is very informal and best suited for a family or casual girly dinner where you eat, then make some more, then eat. Leftover dough is usually used to make oily spring onion flatbread (“scallion pancakes” as Americans would call them) and leftover meat fillings used for meatballs. You could simply stir fry the egg and prawn filling with vegetables if there is any leftover, which is unlikely if you have a whole packet of wonton wrappers. Sit back, and enjoy reaping the rewards of your efforts. Which, let’s face it, have been considerable, even if I did convince you to buy store bought wrappers.

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