“Dumplings taste better when filled with memories.” ~ From an NPR series, “Dumpling Week.”
First it was NPR’s airing of vignettes about dumplings from around the world that got my memories and taste buds stirring last August. Then in October, fellow blogger Amanda from What’s Cooking ~ Fine Dining My Way posted these jaw-dropping delicious photos and description of her Chicken & Chive Pot Stickers with Ginger Chili Soy Dip. You could say I’ve had dumplings on the brain for a long time.
Dumplings hold special memories for me of my time in Japan. I made them a few times with friends, but trying to make them on my own intimidated me; I assumed they would be difficult, time consuming, and require more skill than I had. Recently, however, I received a new cookbook, Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings, and it further ignited my cravings for a good dumpling; I decided it was finally time to try!
This was my first venture making dumplings without the supervision of others who know what they’re doing, but somehow, incredibly, they came out amazing! I think it had a lot to do with the clear instructions and tips from pro Nguyen. I chose to try her recipe for Japanese-style pot stickers, or gyoza, but altered it a bit and subbed ingredients with what I had on hand. I love recipes that are amenable to adaptations and varying interpretations, and this one was just that. I was able to follow Nguyen’s expert techniques but create a gyoza with my own twist.
To keep my first gyoza simple, I used store-bought wonton wrappers, but Nguyen provides detailed guidance on how to make homemade ones, which I can’t wait to try someday. I also omitted the shrimp in her recipe and used all minced pork, and added shiitake mushrooms and lots of chives. At first glance, Nguyen’s instructions on how to salt and drain the cabbage may seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually quite easy and worth it to prevent excess moisture in the pot stickers. Nguyen’s seasoning for the gyoza filling was spot on — gingery, garlicky, and the perfect umami burst of flavor. In the dipping sauce, I used Colman’s mustard powder, which, just as Nguyen suggested, was a wonderful alternative to Japanese karashi hot mustard.
A note on the filling: While Nguyen’s recipe makes 32 dumplings, I kept mine light on the filling, which made it easier for me to fold and crimp them and keep all the filling inside, and so my version made 48! Because using raw pork as filling makes me a little nervous about it being undercooked, I felt better keeping the filling lighter. I also cooked the pot stickers on an extra side — in addition to pan-frying the bottom — in order to ensure it was cooked all the way to the center.
A note on the saltiness: I found the gyoza to be pleasantly salty, perfect accompanied by rice. If I were serving them on their own, however, or if I wanted to cut down on sodium, I’d decrease the amount of salt in the filling to just a touch and use low-sodium soy sauce.
NPR got it right in devoting a whole week to these little pockets of love. Now that I know I can make this simple version, I am eager to expand my repertoire. I’m even contemplating making 2014 The Year of the Dumpling. It’s going to be a delicious round-the-world adventure, and I’m happy to have Andrea Nguyen guiding the way. Now who’s with me?
Gingery Pork & Chive Pot Stickers
(Adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s “Japanese Pork & Shrimp Pot Stickers” recipe in Asian Dumplings)
— Makes 48 potstickers, serving 4 as a main course with rice, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
— This recipe takes about 50 minutes of prep time (less if you have helpers!) and 15 minutes of cooking.
- 2 cups napa cabbage, hard core of leaves removed and finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. plus 1/4 tsp. salt
- finely cut chives (about 20, making about 1/2 cup; kitchen sheers make this a quick job)
- 1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
- 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, tips of stems removed and finely chopped
- 300 g./ 10.5 oz. ground pork
- Scant 1/4 tsp. sugar
- Generous 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 1/2 Tbs. Japanese soy sauce or light (regular) soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. sake
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
Wrapper Assembly & Cooking:
- Store-bought package of 48 wonton wrappers (square or round are fine; I used square but Nguyen uses round)
- small bowl of water for wetting the wrapper edges
- 1 1/2 Tbs. canola oil, plus a few drops of sesame oil for pan-frying
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1 scallion, green & light green parts only, finely chopped
- 5 Tbs. Japanese soy sauce or light (regular) soy sauce
- 2 1/2 Tbs. unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/2 to 1 tsp. chile oil, or a light sprinkling of chile flakes
- Japanese hot mustard to taste, OR Colman’s mustard powder (to taste), plus a few drops of cold water to mix into a paste
- Salt the cabbage: In a large bowl, toss the finely chopped cabbage with 1/2 teaspoon salt and set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out excess moisture from the cabbage. Drain into a fine-mesh strainer, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Squeeze the cabbage with your hands over the sink, then put it into a clean kitchen towel, wrap it up, twist, and squeeze again to wring out any more drops of moisture. You should have about 1/2 cup firmly packed cabbage now.
- While cabbage is sitting, prepare the filling: Combine the chives, ginger, garlic, mushrooms and pork in a large bowl. Stir and lightly mash the ingredients with your hands until they start coming together. Add the drained cabbage when ready and mix thoroughly.
- Mix the seasoning: In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, the sugar, pepper, soy sauce, sake, and sesame oil. Pour these seasonings over the filling mixture and mix well to incorporate. At this point you can cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to develop the flavors further, or keep in the refrigerator for up to a day (bring back to room temp before assembling the dumplings). Otherwise, proceed to the assembly stage.
- Assemble the dumplings: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set out a small bowl of water and the wonton wrappers and filling nearby. On a small clean plate, assemble 3 or 4 at a time: spoon about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of filling into the center of the wrapper, then dip your finger into the bowl of water and wet all the edges of the wrapper and fold in half to make a triangle (or half-circle if you are using round wrappers). Press just the edges together to form a seal, then make two pleats on one side, and two pleats on the other side, pushing down ever-so-lightly onto the dumpling so it stands upright. Once sealed and crimped, place the finished dumplings in rows onto the parchment paper and cover lightly with a clean, dry kitchen towel as you continue assembling the remaining ones.
- Pan-fry the dumplings: (Do this in two batches or use two skillets) Heat a large non-stick skillet (you will need a lid for it later) over medium-high heat and add the canola oil and a few drops of sesame oil for flavor. Wait until hot (watch for slight rippling of the oil) then add the dumplings one at a time in a winding circular pattern. It’s okay if they touch. Fry the dumplings for 2 to 3 minutes, or until nicely browned on the bottom. Hold the lid close to the skillet to shield you as you pour 1/3 cup water into the skillet (be very careful of sputtering oil or water) and let it boil briefly, then cover with the lid.
- Wait: Let the water bubble away until it is mostly gone, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lid slowly and carefully, turn the dumplings onto one of their sides and continue to cook another couple minutes while the remaining water boils off.
- Fix the dipping sauce: While the dumplings cook, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, chile oil/flakes, and mustard paste in a small bowl; add the scallions.
- Finish: Turn the heat off and wait for the sizzling to stop before transferring the dumplings to a serving plate, bottom-side up so that they stay crisp. Serve with steamed rice and the dipping sauce.
–See notes above on the filling and saltiness level.
— A note on storing & freezing: Once all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with wrap and refrigerated for several hours; they can then be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their tray until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a freezer bag, seal well, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month. Before cooking, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing.