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Notes on Potstickers

A few peeps asked for the potsticker recipe.  So here are my thoughts on the experiment.

I wanted the traditional pork filling, so I started with a pound of ground pork.  Now I believe in traditional dumpling preparation, the filling goes in raw, but I was overcautious (perhaps?) and decided to cook the mince first to help develop the flavors and make sure that I wasn’t eating raw pork, because I wanted the cooking time on the dumplings themselves to be very short – enough to brown, caramelize, and steam the skin, then pop them off, without having to worry about whether the interior was cooked.  Perhaps I over-thought it (wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of such), and I think my next attempt will be a more traditional method, but we shall see.

It also turns out that a pound is a lot more than you need – I still have most of my filling left – so there you go.

The mince veg:

  • Onion, white, small-to-medium sized, chopped fine (This is in contrast to the typical green onions typical to asian fare)
  • Garlic, about 5 bulbs, crushed and chopped (to capture the subtler, tangier flavors of the green onion)
  • Button mushrooms, about 5, chopped to bitty pieces (for body and flavor – umame, if you will)

I also used for spices:

  • Salt (always)
  • Soy sauce, at least 3 tablespoons, likely more (ironically, the low sodium variety – I like the more refined control I have when adding NaCl myself)
  • Cumin powder, half a teaspoon (for depth and bitterness)
  • Mustard powder, half a teaspoon (same, goes great with all pork)
  • Cayenne pepper, teaspoon (heat)
  • Hoisin sauce, about a tablespoon or two (available at most supermarkets these days, check the Asian section)
  • Worcestershire sauce (to round out some of the sweetness)
  • Sesame oil (just a couple of drops)

Sweat your onions on medium heat with some olive or canola oil (canola has a slightly higher smoking point, but olive has a better flavor – your choice!).  Remember to add some salt at this point so the onions develop flavor and sweat well.  Once they start turning translucent (about 5 – 10 minutes) but not brown, throw in your garlic.  Marvel at the awesome garlic aroma that will fill your kitchen.  Dance around in it a while.  Bask.  But only for about a minute or two, tossing the sweat.  Then add your mushrooms, and add another heavy pinch of salt at this point.  Cook until the mushrooms soften.  Now you build the base of your sauce.

Add your soy sauce, cumin powder, cayenne pepper, sesame seed oil and Worcestershire sauce to the the veggies on the pan.  Give it all a good stir and taste to ensure a good balance of flavors.  Make some space on your pan and throw in your meat – add a little more salt to the meat if it’s needed (this is why you need to taste the sauce before you add the raw pork in).  Brown the meat, making sure to break it up into little tiny bits, then fold in the vegetables.  Let the flavors develop for a few minutes.  Toss in the mustard powder, then add a heavy tablespoon of the hoisin sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Taste.

You’re looking for that nice balance between sweet and sour, with those nice Asian undertones.  If it’s too sweet, you can add some soy sauce or cumin; if it’s too bitter, add some hoisin sauce or Worcestershire sauce, but do it by degrees.  Once you have the perfect balance, pull off the heat and let it cool down.

You can buy wonton skins at the supermarket these days – they come cut into little squares in packs of 40 or 60.  Make sure they’re wonton skins and not egg roll wraps – totally different animals.  Also totally different are rice paper rolls: I’ve heard these are difficult to work with.  So make sure you get the right kind.

The wonton skins are really easy to work with.  I lay them flat on a piece of parchment paper, added about a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of the filling to each dumpling.  You mark two of the edges of one wonton wrapper with an egg wash, and seal them together.  (Don’t wash all the edges of the dumpling with egg wash, otherwise it won’t stick as well.)  I did just a simple fold across the middle for most of mine – you can do a prettier, tortellini-like fold by then folding this triangle down along your finger, but most of mine came out looking awful so I gave up this attempt after six or seven tries.

For the pot-sticking part of the job you will need:

  • Skillet – nonstick, please (define irony: cooking potstickers in a nonstick pan)
  • Canola oil (the high heat will necessitate an oil with a higher smoke point)
  • Chicken broth
  • Tongs
  • Patience and luck

Get the skillet nice and hot – I used a medium-high heat for the entire process.  The goal here is to promote sticking and browning as much as possible, then pull back from the edge of the brink before going into full on burning.  Add some canola oil to cover the pan, then toss in some dumplings.  Don’t crowd the pan – leave about an inch of lee way between each so you’ll have room to maneuver your tongs later.  Let them hiss at you.  You will think you’ve ruined your pan.  But believe me: It will be okay.  Let them brown for 1 minute.

Then add about a half cup of chicken broth and clamp on a lid.  The broth will steam almost immediately, and your lid will form a nice sauna.  Let this whole steam bath thing happen.  It’s pretty violent, so be careful.  Let them steam for 3 minutes in this way, or until all of the liquid has evaporated.  Then quickly – but gently – use the tongs to pry the wontons loose from the pot.  The broth, much like a deglazing liquid when making a sauce, will loosen the protein’s hold on the pan for a few minutes, allowing you to work them loose.  Throw into a tent of aluminum foil to keep warm.

By the time you finish your second batch, your first batch should be cool enough to handle and eat.  Enjoy.

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