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A Plateful of Potstickers

When I was home with the family during the holidays, my brother-chef Mike taught us how to make potstickers from scratch. It wasn’t just the meat mixture, but also the dough and the accompanying dipping sauce. It seemed simple enough, just making and combining three different things: the meat, dough, and sauce. Simple, right? Well, as I learned, it’s never as easy as it sounds, even if the brother says, “Oh this is easy. I just need ground pork and flour.” Right. It’s almost January 23, the beginning of Chinese New Year 2012, the Year of the Dragon. I have decided to make potstickers following my brother’s culinary lesson.

Chopping the Napa cabbage and green onions wasn’t so bad, especially when you’re chopping vegetables with cleavers. Adding them to the ground pork was easy. Then came the sugar, soy sauce, and pepper. So far, so good. And here’s where we get down to business, the mixing of the meat and ingredients with bare hands. You get dirty. The technique is to use your palms like a shovel, rather than like a mixing spoon. Once thoroughly mixed, my brother tenderized the meat by picking up a lump and then throwing it down. Whap! Again! He kept picking up and throwing down the meat back into the mixing bowl until it looked tender. Then he set the meat aside to work on the dough.

Having seen how he made the dough, I highly recommend using store-bought wrappers. You can get them at any Asian market. For the willing and brave with time to spare, making the dough is like making bread. I suppose if we had a kitchen mixer, it would have been easier. Though one of the trickier steps is spinning the dough while rolling it out into a circular shape. It’s all in the wrist, apparently.

Putting the wrapper and meat together to create the crescent-shaped potsticker is another learning curve in technique. For my brother, it’s 1, 2, 3. For me, it was more like “1, no, wait, 1, No that’s not right. 3, no, I mean 2,” and so on. It took one to two hours for me to finally wrap the potsticker properly. I’m proud to say that by the end of the lesson, my wrapping job produced potstickers resembling those from Chinese restaurants.

Making potstickers will always remind me of precious time with the family, where we laughed and learned the technique of cooking, wrapping and rolling. It was my brother Mike who taught the three of us (me, my sister, and my sister-in-law). Even my other brothers who aren’t known for their culinary skills joined the fun by creating empanada-shaped potstickers, i.e., not a potsticker.

Mike’s Potstickers

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • Napa cabbage, chopped medium fine
  • 1/3 bunch green onions (green part only), chopped
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • Sprinkling of pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • potsticker or gyoza wrappers or flour

For the dipping sauce

  • white vinegar, 4 tsp +/- to taste
  • soy sauce, 1/2 cup
  • garlic, 1 clove, minced (optional)
  • ginger, 1 tsp (optional)
  • sugar, 1 tbsp (optional)
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • hot pepper (hot pepper oil or chili paste Sambal Oelek), as needed

Making the Meat Mixture

Ingredients placed into a bowl

  1. In a large bowl, place Napa cabbage, ground pork, and green onions.
  2. Add sugar, soy sauce, pepper.
  3. Mix together. (My brother used his hands to mix the ingredients. No mixer needed!)
  4. After all the ingredients have been combined thoroughly, tenderize the meat. Make sure the meat and ingredients stick together. (My brother tenderized the meat by picking the mixture up and throwing it down on the counter. Again, the hands are the best tools of the kitchen.)
  5. Add sesame oil.
  6. Mix again (with hands)

    Throwing the meat

Making the Dough

  1. In a large mixing bowl, place approximately 1/3 of a 5-LB bag of flour.
  2. Add warm water and stir with chopsticks.
  3. Once combined, knead the mixture. Dough will be a little sticky. Add flour if the dough is too sticky.
  4. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. It should resemble a big loaf of bread.
  5. Cover the dough with a cloth for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Cut a little of the dough, cover the remainder with the cloth while working on a small portion at a time so that the dough does not dry out.
  7. Using your hands, roll the small portion into a 1-inch diameter breadstick
  8. Cut the “breadstick” into one inch pieces. Sprinkle flour all over the pieces.
  9. Shape each piece into a small cube-like/cylindrical form, then press it down into a small disc.
  10. Roll out each disc so that the center remains a little thick and the edges are flat. It should look like a circle.

Wrapping the Potsticker

  1. Form a C-shape with your hand. Place one wrapper on top of the C-shape of the hand, supporting its underside.
  2. Spoon 1 tsp of the meat mixture into the middle of the wrapper.
  3. With the hand not holding the wrapper, make the first fold of the potsticker by pinching one side of the wrapper together with your index finger and thumb.
  4. Continue pinching the fold together, while at the same time rotating the potsticker toward you.
  5. Voila! You’ve just created a potsticker. If there are holes in the folds, pinch them shut.
  6. At this point, cook or freeze the potstickers.

    Lovely potstickers ready to be cooked.

Cooking the Potsticker

  1. Fill a skillet halfway with water.
  2. Place 6-8 potstickers in the skillet.
  3. Bring the water to boiling. Boil the water and potstickers until the potstickers float. At this point, pour cold water on potstickers. Boil until potstickers float a second time.
  4. Test for doneness. When the potstickers are done cooking, pour out the water.
  5. Place a splash of cooking oil into the skillet, approximately 1 Tbsp.
  6. Fry the potstickers until golden brown on the underside.
  7. Serve with potsticker dipping sauce or soy sauce and hot pepper.

Making the Potsticker Dipping Sauce

  1. Combine white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, green onions, and hot pepper into a bowl.
  2. Stir and taste.
  3. Add more vinegar to increase the level of acidity (sourness), add more sugar to increase the level of sweetness.

Enjoy with friends and family. Happy Chinese New Year!

Photos © Sophia Quach.

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