Chinese dumplings, or the fried variation called Pot Stickers (more literally, the stuff that tears up because it is stuck to the bottom of the frying pan) were a fixture of my youth. My mom brought them from China to the U.S. and I remember huge get togethers where a dozen friends and family would crank out hundreds of these things for all of us to gorge on.
Although I was never much help making them as a child, one of the missions of my adult life was to figure out how they are made, and at least be able to create a reasonable facsimile of the dish in my own home. Ironically, my parents have moved on to the frozen sort, since the real stuff is too much work.
I don’t like giving people recipes for this sort of thing, because this dish is one of those that you cannot make out of a book. Someone who knows how to do it has to show you (preferably someone’s mom). But, I think I finally have a method that is tuned well enough to present here for those who are curious. Even so, you’ll notice various parts of the recipe that defy precise description. So, the following description is more for my own records than something that I expect anyone to be able to use as an actual recipe. I don’t know how to describe this so that you can do it without me around to show you once. But here we go.
If you make one batch of filling and two dough balls as below, this will net you maybe 60 dumplings. We usually do a double batch and get 120-150. This can feed 5 or 6 people and leave us with a tray or two to freeze. Yum.
1. Start with 2-3 cups of flour and one cup of cold water.
2. You must use crappy bleached bad for you Pillsbury all purpose flour. The fancy-ass organic whole wheat stuff will make you crappy dough. Trust me.
3. Put 2 to 2 1/2 cups of the flour in a bowl. Add most of the water but not all and stir it around with chopsticks.
4. If the flour does not soak up all the water, add flour. If it is too dry, add water. Stir some more, check again. Turn the mixture out on to a board and knead it until it holds together. Don’t worry about making the ball smooth.
5. Put the ball into a ziploc bag and stick it in the fridge for a few hours.
6. Pull the ball out of the fridge. The dough should be stiff but flexible. Knead it around a bit, adding flour if it is sticky. Put it back in the fridge for a few more hours.
Obviously I can’t tell you how to tell when the dough is right. That is what you need my mom for.
1. Put a pound of ground pork in a bowl.
2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 4-5 tablespoons of minced ginger (more if you like more), a dash of sesame oil, salt, 5 or 6 turns of pepper. Mix it up.
3. Finely chop up 1 bunch of scallions. Mix that in.
4. At this point I give it a whiff, decide it needs more soy sauce and add another tablespoon or two.
5. Put this into the fridge until the dough is ready.
Now you have to get the chinese cabbage ready. This part is critical and tricky.
6. You use about half of a large chinese cabbage per pound of meat. Cut it up into small pieces, then chop it in a Cuisinart until it’s a fine dice. The pieces should be around the same size as if you just diced a yellow onion to a nice size.
7. Put some cabbage into cheese cloth and squeeeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. This is critical. Keep the juice in a bowl. Salting the cabbage a bit will draw out the moisture and make this easier. Repeat this until you have worked through all the chopped cabbage.
When you have all the cabbage squozed, and you are ready to start filling, start mixing the cabbage into the pork. The mixture will dry up a bit. Add a couple of tablespoons of the cabbage juice back into the pork. You should be able to mix 2 or 3 cups of chopped cabbage back into the pork mixture. One pound of meat will make enough filling to use up between one and two batches of the dough recipe depending on how much flour you end up with in the dough.
Rolling and Filling
This is the part I can’t really tell you how to do.
1. Take the dough ball out of the fridge. Work it a bit. Cut it into thirds.
2. Form each third into a cylinder about 1/2 inch in diameter. Then cut it into 1 inch pieces.
3. Flatten these pieces with the palm of your hand. Then take a small rolling pin and roll the dough out into small flat circles.
The goal is to have a skin that is a bit thick in the middle and thin on the outsides. Each disk should be around 2.5-3 inches in diameter or a bit bigger, and reasonably thin. Take a look at a package of frozen dumplings some time. Those skins are about the right thickness.
This is where having the dough be soft enough, but not too soft, is key. If it is too soft, the skins will have no bite. If it is too stiff, you won’t be able to roll and fill.
Assuming you are right handed, here is how you fold the dumplings: take one of the rolled out skins and hold it in the palm of your left hand face up. Put a small amount of filling in the middle. Now with your right hand, pick up the skin in the “middle” and fold it over the filling and pinch it together on the other side. Then turn the thing over to the left, pinch the left ends together, and work your way back to the middle. Then do the same thing from the right end. When you start at this, you usually end up with something that looks like a ravioli. But, with practice, you’ll get stuff that looks more like a pot sticker and can “stand up”.
Take the filled dumplings and put them on a tray. I like to use sheet pans with floured wax paper. Don’t let them sit around too long before cooking. An hour or two at most. Anything you don’t cook should be frozen on the trays, then put into freezer bags.
To make the boiled dumplings, fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Drop the dumplings in one by one. Cook until they float, then a couple of minutes past or until you are sure the pork is cooked through.
To make pot stickers, get a large non stick frying pan. Heat it up. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil. Put the dumplings down in a single layer in the pan in the spiral. Mix a little water with a little vinegar. Pour this into the pan (you don’t want too much liquid, or the things will boil, just a thin layer on the bottom of the pan). Cover, turn the heat to medium and cook 10-15 minutes or until the dumplings char to the bottom of the frying pan. This is where the name pot stickers comes from.