A Pot Sticker Pork-out

I have been messing around with recipes for pot stickers off and on for quite some time now, searching, as always, for one I would happily make over and over again. (Those of you who have followed my adventures on a popular food forum I used to frequent know what that’s all about. The rest of you are about to learn).

This particular experiment ended up being somewhat tricky, as there is an important, not-to-be-ignored relationship between the pot sticker itself and the sauce in which you dip it. I’m admittedly a bit anal in areas like this, which means, roughly translated, that I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to match the ideal stuffing with its ideal sauce, hoping to reach my own version of pot sticker nirvana. I shall not suffer you further with this idiotic perfectionist side of my food adventures. Suffice it to say that what I present to you here is the result of (quite a few) experiments in both areas of flavor. I have done an epicurious one with a pork filling (almost there). I then moved on to one using fresh water chestnuts and dried mushrooms (stay tuned on that one – the flavor and texture of the wonderful water chestnuts were lost in this particular execution, but they were truly awesome as an ingredient, and as they are readily available year-round in Asian markets, I plan to continue to explore their potential in other recipes). Then, I tried  one similar to the epicurious one, but from Ming Tsai, along with a few of his sauces, followed by a half dozen other pot sticker and sauce recipes, yada yada yada. The recipe here is actually my own, drawing what I consider to be the best in ingredients and technique from all the recipes I tried, adding a shortcut or two (bagged coleslaw?) along the way. I think the results are really fantastic.

For the filling I settled for a simple pork mixture calling for classic dumpling ingredients. Somewhere mid-journey I realized that the sauce was going to be such a critical part of the overall flavor that I didn’t want to diminish its contribution in any way by over-flavoring the filling. This realization came once I had finally landed on a sauce that brings together exactly the right ingredients in exactly the right proportions, magically putting the dipped pot stickers right over the goalpost, flavor-wise.  It has all the taste buds abundantly covered: rice vinegar lends tang, soy sauce a salty edge, sesame oil that incomparable touch of Asian nuttiness, chile garlic paste the requisite (for me, at least) heat, and scallions some fresh green zest.  I could frankly eat the stuff with a spoon, it’s that good. And, as to the proportions, they are so correct that another version from Ming Tsai featuring exactly the same ingredients but in different proportions, was (for me at least) not even a contender!

I made 70 of these on Sunday, for my daughter Jenn and her husband and their three kids, as well as my “auxiliary” grandson Timmy, the wonderful kid who lives next door to them who will not, on pain of torture, miss some new treat I have concocted for my grandchildren.

There are few, if any recipes I can think of that have received such universal acclaim from all four kids. Between us all we polished off the entire 70 of those suckers, and a few of the kids were still hollering for more. (Timmy was called home for Sunday dinner in the midst of our feast. We have yet to receive reports as to how his full tummy fared at the family table).

I serve my pot stickers in batches, as they cook up, so they are always hot at the table. This pacing allows for a wonderfully relaxed experience, and children love it. I bought special dipping bowls for the occasion, to hold the piquant sauce, and also what I call “trainer” chopsticks at the nearby Asian store, for the kids to practice with, a shortened version of the standard wooden disposable ones. They are made of rough wood, so the food doesn’t slip out of one’s grip so easily, which reduces the frustration level for newbies. Getting lessons on handling the chopsticks and practicing the art on everything in sight, including siblings (and, in the case of my 9-year-old grandson Ian, menacing his grandmother with chopstick pincers that could “squish” her) kept the kids plenty busy between batches, and made for one of the most enjoyable family dinnertime experiences I can remember. Here is the recipe. I hope you and your family will enjoy it as much as mine did. Please let me know how it turns out for you.

 

PORKY POT STICKERS

Loosely adapted from one of Ming Tsai’s recipes

NOTE: One package of pot sticker wrappers contains more than double the amount called for in this recipe, so it pays to double the recipe if you have the time and patience to wrap that many pot stickers at one sitting. (Helpful hint: enlist help. Keep in mind that any and all methods of coercion (including threats of toenail extraction without benefit of anesthesia) are acceptable when one has an Asian stuffing job at hand). These freeze exceptionally well, and can be cooked directly from the freezer.

If you are fortunate enough to live near an Asian grocery store with a butcher section, by all means take the time to go there for your ground pork. Asians of all persuasions know the importance of grinding a proper amount of pork fat into the mix, and it makes a world of difference in the final flavor of any dish calling for ground pork.

2 cups packed pre-shredded coleslaw
1/2 pound ground pork (not too lean)
1 T minced fresh ginger

1 small carrot, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp. salt
30 round pot sticker wrappers (gyoza)
1/4 cup canola oil

Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

*Available at Asian markets, gyoza wrappers can also be found in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets. Or, as a last-ditch fall-back measure, substitute square won ton wrappers (available in the produce aisles of most major supermarkets) and cut them into 3 1/4-inch rounds.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, pork, ginger, carrots, scallions, and garlic and stir lightly to combine (stir in one direction only, which ensures a cohesive mixture – the same rule applies for mixing meatloaf. Try it, it works).

In small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and egg, then stir into the cabbage-pork mixture. Stir in the pepper and salt.

On a dry surface, lay out 1 pot sticker wrapper, keeping the remaining wrappers covered with a dampened cloth or paper towel. Spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into the center of the wrapper, then moisten the top half of the edge of the circle with a wet finger. Fold the dry half of the wrapper over the moistened half to form open half-moon shape, then pinch it at the middle of the top of the semi-circle. You should now have a firm pinch at the center. This will help hold things together as you make your pleats. Now, form 6 tiny pleats using the dry edge of the wrapper, pressing each pleat against the wet edge as you go along. Arrange the pleats so that on each side they are folded in to face the center, 3 on one side, and three on the other. As you make the pleats, this will create gentle curves at the ends of the dumpling. Press the flat and pleated sides firmly but gently together, to ensure a uniform seal. The moistened border will stay smooth and will have formed a semicircle. Stand the pot sticker seam-side up on baking sheet, and gently press it to flatten the bottom. Cover loosely with a dampened cloth or paper towel. Form the remaining dumplings in the same way, keeping them covered as you continue.

Using a 10” skillet with a lid, heat the oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then remove it from the heat and arrange the pot stickers in a tight circular pattern standing up in the oil, flattened side down. They should touch one another. Cook, uncovered, until the bottoms are pale golden, 2 to 3 minutes. With the lid in one hand, quickly add 1/2 cup water, tilting the skillet to distribute, then cover tightly with the lid and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the bottoms of the dumplings are crisp and golden, 7 to 10 minutes. If they seem to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat. Add 2 tablespoons more water if the skillet looks dry before the bottoms are browned. Remove the lid and cook, shaking the skillet to loosen the pot stickers, until the steam evaporates, 1 to 2 minutes.  Serve the pot stickers warm with the dipping sauce.

 

SPICY SOY DIPPING SAUCE

Ming Tsai

1/3 cup thin soy sauce

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup sliced scallions

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 T chili garlic chile sauce or sambal oelek, or, if you’re a wuss, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Don’t make the sauce too far in advance, as it gets stronger as it sits, and the scallions will go limp as well.

 

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