2016 is off to a rapid start! Yipes! We’re already nearing the end of the first month of 2016! I am starting to get back on a schedule, and find my stride in the new year. It was difficult to return to reality this year with so many good memories of our family holiday.
Not long ago, we were with my whole family, enjoying the constant activity, noise and fun that comes when 11 relatives all come together in one big house. Each day we woke early to the joyful sounds of the youngest of our clan, and each night we stayed up late playing games of ‘banana-grams’. I don’t think a single one of those late night games ended without at least one of us saying, “One more game! This will be the last one!” There were so many great memories crammed into the last 10 days of December, and very little down time.
We were lucky to be the last family to leave my parent’s house at the end of the holiday. We had one quiet evening and one morning to spend with my parents before heading out. As early as October, our diverse little eater began begging Grandma and Grandpa to show him how to make potstickers during our visit. And before we left, Grandma and Grandpa stayed true to their promise, using that last quiet morning to make the filling and wrap the potstickers with their grandson. Best of all, we had a lovely pre-departure lunch!
Diverse Little Eater loved everything about that morning, except that we would be leaving after lunch. He loved the attention and one-on-one time with Grandma and Grandpa, he loved learning how to fold the potstickers, he loved touching and manipulating the food, and he loved eating the final product that HE produced with his grandparents. It was a very sweet morning, full of love, bonding and pride that can only come from producing something delicious with loved ones and for loved ones. It sounds sappy, but it’s so true. Magic happens in the kitchen with little people.
I remember making potstickers with my parents when I was the same age as my son. I remember having big potsticker wrapping afternoons with my mom, aunts, and cousins, and even more eventful potsticker eating parties that followed the wrapping! The wrapping always seemed to last so much longer than the eating!
Many cultures have dumplings, but potstickers are unique in that they are both fried and steamed – offering a crunch to go with the steamed texture. Guo-tie, the name for potsticker in Mandarine Chinese, literally translates as “pot (or wok) stick”. Guo-tie derived from the boiled dumplings called jioa-zi, which have been traced back to the Han Dynasty (202-8 B.C.) The exact history of the guo-tie dumpling is not known, but legend describes a royal cook from the Song Dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) who made jiao-zi one day in the traditional manner, by boiling the jiao-zi dumplings in a wok. However, he accidentally forgot about them until the water had already evaporated and the dumplings were browning in the pan. The cook removed the browned dumplings from the pan and served them anyway and they were supposedly a great hit with the Emperor! Thus, guo-tie were born.
Guo-tie are stuffed and folded the same way as jiao-zi, but instead of simply boiling them, they are first browned in a pan with oil. Then, once a nice crisp bottom forms, a little water is added to the pan and a lid put on to steam the dumplings. Once the water cooks off, the dumplings are then left to again crispen before flipping them over onto a plate with the browned sides up. Jiao-zi and guo-tie are typically filled with minced meat (in China pork, lamb, or beef) and salt and pepper. Other fillings often added include minced ginger, Chinese cabbage, chives, water chestnuts, or any other ingredients that a cook prefers. Recipes often vary depending on family traditions or tastes. Feel free to be creative. In the past, my father has placed frozen cherries in a few, just as a dessert surprise for my son.
Jiao-zi and guo-tie are crescent-shaped.
In Northern China, jiao-zi are a common food served at Chinese New Year celebrations. They symbolize prosperity in the new year because they are shaped like the ancient Chinese gold ingots, or money, known as yuan bao. Sometimes a chef will put a coin in one of the potstickers as a game for one lucky person to find. Jiao-zi are also a common breakfast food in China, although they can be found served all day long.
Potstickers are eaten by many cultures and have many different names. In the US we call them potstickers or Peking ravioli, in France at Asian restaurants, my diverse little eater often ordered “ravioli – si’l vous plait!”, in Japan they are called yaki (fried)-gyoza (a name that comes from the Chinese word jiao-zi), in Korea they are gunmandu, in Tibet and Nepal they are known as momo, and I’m sure the list continues. There are slight differences between all of these stick to the pot dumplings, and they are all delicious in my opinion!
How to make them!
Here is how my parents made their guo-tie on the last morning of our holiday:
For the wrapper we used the pre-made kind, available in the cold section of many grocery stores. You can make them from scratch, but the method takes practice to get the gluten and moisture content in the dough just right. It also takes practice to roll the dough to the perfect thickness. I will include a recipe at the end of the post for those who want to make their own wrappers.
Filling (makes ~30 potstickers):
Mix the following ingredients into the ground meat. Be sure to finely chop (mince) all of the vegetables. Remember you can make your filling with any ingredients you like. Generally, for meat filling, a good rule of thumb is 1 cup ground meat to 2-3 cups vegetable. However, the type of vegetable makes a difference (crunchy vs leafy) and the filling mixture should stick together nicely without releasing too much moisture when it is cooked. Leafy vegetables are more forgiving in that they blend into the meat without impacting the texture as much.
- Ground pork (use a fattier cut like pork butt or shoulder) – 1 lb
- Jicama (can substitute with water chestnut) – 1 cup minced
- Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage) – 1 cup finely chopped
- Parsley – 1/2 cup (can also use cilantro)
- Cayenne pepper – 1/4 tsp (or more if you like it spicier)
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Pepper – 1/2 tsp
- Soy sauce (splash)
- (optional additions: minced shrimp (for special occasions!), minced carrot, Chinese chives, minced mushroom, water chestnut, minced ginger, spinach or swiss chard (blanched and wrung dry), we added some New Mexican green chili to ours for a fun little kick!)
Vegetarian filling recommendations:
- Traditional vegetarian filling in China is baby bok choy (blanch, squeeze out the water, and chop very small)
Other recommended vegetarian filling:
- Kale (sauté, and chop very small)
- cilantro (finely chopped)
- shiitake mushrooms (others can be used, but these impart a nice umami flavor, minced)
- water chestnut or jicama (minced)
(crumbled firm tofu could also be added to either of the fillings above)
- Lightly dust your work surface with flour.
- Lay 2-4 wrappers down.
- Using either egg-wash (scrambled) or water use your pointer finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with liquid (store bought wrappers are often more dry than home-made and egg-wash holds these dumplings together more securely).
- Place a small mound of filling mixture in the middle of the wrapper.
- Fold the dumpling in half and squeeze the touching surfaces together around the filling, forming a half circle.
- From the top of the half circle, pleat the dumpling’s edges on both sides.
- Flatten the bottom and turn the two sides towards the same direction to form a little crescent-moon-shaped pouch.
- Place finished dumplings on a tray that has been dusted lightly with flour.
Cooking the Guo-tie:
To cook the Guo-tie: (a non-stick or cast iron pan is recommended, the non-stick pan will ensure easy removal from the pan)
- Heat the pan on medium high heat and add 1-2 tbsp cooking oil of your choice to you pan.
- Spread the oil to coat the pan.
- Arrange your potstickers in the pan with the flat side down in a nice circular or other pretty pattern.
- Brown the dumplings on medium high heat (watch carefully because timing will depend on your pan).
- Once the bottoms seem to be brown, add water to the pan (about 1 cm deep).
- Cover the pan.
- When the water begins to steam, turn the heat to medium.
- Steam covered for about 15-20 minutes. (Watch carefully to ensure that the water does not boil off. If it does, add a little more water and continue steaming).
- After 15-20 minutes, remove the lid from the pan and turn heat up to boil off remaining water.
- Using a spatula, begin to loosen the potstickers from the pan – beginning from the sides first.
- If the potstickers are not yet browned, leave on the heat until a crispy golden brown bottom forms.
- When done, turn off the heat.
- Make sure the potstickers are not stuck to the bottom of the pan using a spatula as above.
- Flip the pan over onto a plate to reveal the crispy potstickers! (note: Safety first! Flipping may take 2 people and lots of oven mitts! If it is not possible to flip the pan over onto a plate, just remove potstickers from the pan using tongs and a/or a spatula, arranging them up-side-down on a serving platter).
If you decide you would rather have Jiao-zi (boiled dumplings) here is how to cook them using what is known as the “three cold water system”:
- Bring a pot of water to a boil (just enough water so the dumplings do not stick to one another).
- Add the dumplings (if using an 8-quart (7.5 liter) pot, cook ~10 dumplings at one time).
- Keep the pot at a gentle boil. The dumplings will first sink but as they cook will begin to float.
- Once all the dumplings are floating, add 1/4 cup of cold water.
- When the water begins to boil again, add another 1/4 cold water.
- Let the water return to a boil.
- After 3 boils, the dumplings are done! Remove from the water, strain gently, and arrange nicely on a platter.
Preparing the Dipping Sauce:
- Soy sauce
- Toasted sesame oil
- Vinegar (rice wine, balsamic, or apple cider vinegars all work well)
- Optional: hot sauce of your choice (e.g., Sriracha, or chili garlic sauce)
Mix the sauce ingredients into a small bowl in ratios that suit your taste. It is fine to mix only soy sauce and sesame oil, but the tang of the vinegar adds a nice flavor and my son likes his sauce spicy. Dip away!
Enjoy making… and EATING these! They are fun to make with kids! Although the process seems time consuming, it’s a great way for a family to spend time together while preparing a special meal!
If you would like to make you own wrappers, here is a recipe:
- 2 cups white flour
- 3/4 cups boiling water
- Combine the flour and boiling water and mix either by hand or in a food processor.
- Knead the dough until it is a damp bundle.
- Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for 15 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature (this resting allows the gluten to be released from the flour, making dumplings that will hold together better).
- Dust your working surface with flour.
- Roll the dough out to form a small log and cut out small sections from the end of the log to make each wrapper. Try to be consistent in the amount so each wrapper is the same shape and thickness. This takes practice!
- Keep the dough covered with a damp cloth to maintain the moisture in the dough while working.
- Hint: to keep the dough circles the same size, my father uses a circular meat tenderizer that has a smooth side. He can then put down a small dough ball and press it to the shape of the meat tenderizer, ensuring relatively similar dough circles.
- The key with the dough is to find the right moisture content and to roll the wrappers to the correct thickness so that the dough doesn’t break when you make the dumplings. “Practice, practice, practice!” is the advice I was given by my parents!
Good luck! If you make these, let me know how it goes!