Sunday, June 20, 2010

Potstickers. With step-by-step photo instructions!

I will be the first to admit it: I am a horrific stress-eater, especially during finals week and especially when I'm not only stressed-out but tired as well. Now that the school year is over, I have time to breathe, cook, and feed myself right again after weeks of overindulging in comforting, yet hip-and-waist-bound meals. And phoooey, do I sure need some toning down! But believe you me, I hate running or doing anything that in general, causes me to sweat profusely. Luckily for me, DT bought me the Wii Fit Plus set as a "graduation" gift. Now, exercise is a lot less boring. I have to say-- Nintendo is doing their part in lowering youth obesity. Yaaay Nintendo. In any case, I hope you all have been eating well and keeping healthy. Hooray for summer! This looks to be a potentially productive time for my food blogging exploits. :-)

Most of what I make is based on whims stemming from cravings for foods I've recently tried for the first time or foods that I eat regularly and constantly crave. This long-overdue post is dedicated to my love of the potsticker. I just can't get enough of these!

Many Asian cultures have some variation of the potsticker or dumpling. I'm declining to state a particular culture for my recipe and am opting to just call it what it is-- a delicious side that can be found in almost every Asian culture and on just about every Asian-style menu in Southern California. Living in San Diego especially, there is a vast plethora of Asian restaurants, each offering a different form of goodies tucked in a wrapper. But in San Diego, there is only one king of the dumpling. Yes, my fellow San Diegans, I speak of The Dumpling Inn. The very thought of it is enough to make me start salivating. Alas, eating out as much as I tend to gets expensive. Now and then, we must make do with what we can get at the grocery store and put ourselves to work!

I got the idea to make dumplings one night when I had a terrible craving for a plate of sweet, juicy pan-fried dumplings in the middle of the week. Granted, I have only been to Dumpling Inn once ever, but the impression it has made is permanent. Nothing I have had post-Dumpling Inn even compares. Luckily for me, earlier that week, my friend MKS taught me how to fold potstickers, the way his mom taught him growing up. It proved to be much less difficult than I had expected and lo, after an hour's worth of catching up and occasional cursing over a broken dumpling skin, we had produced several trays of dumplings, ready to be cooked to our liking. Definitely a recipe that not only costs very little for ingredients, but yields a high volume of  product as well. More bang for your buck! If you study other similar recipes, you may notice that I have chosen to omit a few common ingredients, namely corn starch and water chestnuts. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of water chestnuts and I've never really seen a use for corn starch. So what the heck, why not. They're my potstickers, I'll put what I want inside them! (You, my friends, are perfectly welcome to put whatever you want inside. Go crazy, get creative!)

After my first attempt at making potstickers (almost entirely) from scratch, I was pleased with the end result. They were juicy inside and a little crispy on the outside. It was also the first time I've ever dealt with cooking with shrimp (gasp!) so the experience was full of firsts. The method I describe below is simple yet still secure. Worst thing that can happen is that your potsticker tears open when you begin cooking it. The pleats I use, though not as nifty as many pleats in one direction, if done neatly, have a niceness all their own. If you want to be a real boss, try making your own wrappers from scratch. Personally, I'm a bad sport when it comes to making non-cookie doughs. Maybe someday! This particular dough recipe from Nyam's blog looks particularly promising. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one with a fear of dough...

Give this a try and make it a social activity! Gabbing and giggling over dumpling skins is half the fun!

Dumplings (or potstickers, gyoza, siu mai, wontons-- whatever you want to call them!)
1/2 lbs shrimp, shelled and deveined. (I used frozen, already deveined shrimp that I allowed to thaw and then chopped).
1/2 lbs well-chopped pork. (Not ground pork.)
2 c finely chopped Napa cabbage
2 green onions, finely chopped
1" ginger root, finely grated
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 T oyster sauce
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
1 t sesame oil
1 package of frozen dumpling skins-- my instructions call for round ones.

1. Combine and mix your ingredients well. You should end up with something that looks like this. You can use a food processor to pulse your meats, if you have one. I'm a poor college student, so I just use my trust kitchen knife. Bwahahaha. Fear not the raw meats!

2. Once that's done, it's time to make the dumplings! Most store-bought wrappers are already pre-floured so flouring your hands isn't necessary. For my recipe, I chose to use round wrappers rather than square ones, for the nice half-moon shape you get at the end. Lay out one wrapper in your hand like so:

3. Next, spoon on a bit of your filling in the center of the wrapper. Using one or two fingers, gently spread a thin amount of water just on the edges of the wrapper. About the thickness of a fingertip should do.

4. Fold the wrapper in half over the filling, but pinch only the very top. This is very important if you're going for a nice pleated shape.

5. Now, pay attention! This gets a little tricky the first few times, but you'll get the hang of it as you keep going. With the pinched side still up, push in one of the sides so that it creates 2 new loose folds. Do not fold them down just yet!

6. Still with me? Good. Now, the 2 folds should be pointing to the side. For consistency's sake, I always do the right side first (you're seeing it as left, obviously). Pinch closed the fold pointing up towards you.

7. Ok! Now, with the fold pointing down, pleat it flat onto the top of the dumpling so that it creates two more folds. Check out the photo below, hopefully it helps...

8. After all that, you get something that looks like this. Repeat the above steps for the other side, making sure that the pleats all face up in the same direction. I know this would be much easier to explain with a video, but alas, my DSLR doesn't have video capabilities.

Don't worry if the first few look a little disastrous. It takes some practice. Once you get them all lined up and ready for cooking, they'll magically look a lot more professional  MKS cites this as "The Cheerleader Effect". I was puzzled at first when he said it but he explained, "Dumplings are like cheerleaders. One cheerleader by herself might be ugly, but when you put them all in one line, they look good."

Well said, M. Well said.

All right. Now that you have all of your potstickers made, it's time to cook them! 

1. In a large skillet, heat up about a tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium-high heat.

2. Lay the potstickers flat in the pan, pleated side up. You'll see that the pleats actually make it so that they sit nicely flat, ensuring a good, even amount of cooking. Cook for about 1-2 minutes and then add 1/4 cup of water. Allow to come to a boil and then cover. This will ensure that the meat is thoroughly cooked.

3. Allow another 1-2 minutes of cooking and then uncover to burn off the water, occassionally (and CAREFULLY!) lifting the dumplings so that they don't become flush with the pan. You'll just end up with exploded dumplings. No one wants that. 

4. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Serve immediately!

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