When our three sons were young enough to spend New Year's Eve with this set of parents, we formed a tradition of making pot stickers from scratch, and then eating every one, and not much else, for our celebratory meal. Sometimes we followed with Croquembouche for dessert: more hand work, more engineering for active, eager hands. Some years we had a fourth set of young hands helping when a beloved cousin/nephew joined the fun. Every year this day was a highlight—at least for the parents! Please Note: The ingredients and amounts are taken from the recipe in the wonderful book, Chinese Gastronomy, by Hsaing Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin. I have written the instructions based on our annual adventures with this wonderful food. Like all great homemade food that starts with excellent ingredients, we have always found the results delicious, though not necessarily perfect. This is a homemade recipe, untested by professionals, so use your own cooking sense as needed to make improvements.
Adapted from Chinese Gastronomy, by Hsaing Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin
Dough for the wrappers: 5 cups (1 pound, 2 ounces) plain flour, sifted 1 ½ cups (12 fluid ounces) water
Filling: 1 ¾ pound Chinese cabbage (or bok choi, Savoy cabbage or plain old green cabbage) 8 cups boiling water in a large pot 1 pound minced or ground lean pork or beef ½ pound minced or ground fat pork (or another ½ pound lean pork or lean beef) 2 green onions (scallions), very finely chopped 3 slices fresh ginger, very finely chopped 3 level teaspoons salt 3 Tablespoons soy sauce; we use Kikkoman 1 level teaspoon sugar
To make the dough: Mix the flour and water in a large bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, and knead it on a lightly floured counter top or board for 10 minutes. (Yes, that's ten minutes. It gives the wrappers their strong, chewy texture.)
Cut the round ball of dough into roughly equal quarters. Shape each quarter into a smooth tube shape that is 12 inches long. If you are not ready to shape and fill the pot stickers yet, cover the four rolls with a barely dampened cloth so they will not dry out.
To make the filling: Wash the cabbage, remove the thickest stalks from outside leaves if they seem touch, and sliver or chop it very fine. Do not grate—that will make it too juicy. Drop the cabbage into the boiling water. Cook three minutes. Dump the pot's contents (carefully) into a colander or strainer. Rinse with cold tap water, and drain thoroughly. Squeeze lightly or pat with paper towels to get it quite dry. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and mix it with the pork, green onions, ginger, salt, soy sauce, and sugar. Wash your hands and plunge in, mixing the ingredients very thoroughly.
To form the pot stickers: Cut each of the four rolls of dough into 15 pieces each. Dust very lightly with flour. With a stroke or two of a rolling pin, roll each piece into a flat circle, about 3 ½ inches across. Put the pieces on a lightly floured cookie sheet or tray, not touching. (The light flouring is essential.)
Put a round of dough on one palm, and then put one rounded kitchen teaspoon of filling in its center. Gather the edges of the circle to meet above and to the sides of the filling. Pleat and pinch them a little, sealing the packet. Seen from the side, the shape will look like a half moon with rough outer edges. It is important that each pot sticker have a flat bottom, a little circle to come in close contact with the skillet and brown nicely. Set each shaped piece on a floured tray.
To cook the pot stickers: The idea is to brown the crescents on their flat bottoms, and boil the whole thing so it gets cooked and chewy all the way through. Use your heaviest 10 inch skillets or frying pans. You will need lids for each. We use four 10" cast iron skillets to cook the full recipe all at once. You will need to cook the pot stickers in batches unless you have four large skillets and can put them all squarely on a good burner at the same time.
Put two tablespoons peanut or grapeseed oil in each skillet and heat it until it shimmers and is fragrant. Put the pot stickers around the outside edge of the skillet in a tight circle, snuggled up to each other. Fill the center of the circle with more pot stickers. You may be able to get 15 pot stickers in each skillet. Resist the temptation to crowd the pan, because that will harm the texture that is such a part of pot stickers' deliciousness. Reduce heat to moderate and fry the pot stickers for three minutes, until the bottoms are medium brown. Watch them carefully (and use your nose) so they do not burn. After three minutes, hold a lid above the skillet, facing away from you, and with your other hand, gently pour ½ cup water into the skillet. Use the lid as a shield against splatters, and then put the lid on the skillet. Lower the heat to medium-low. Boil the pot stickers for 10 minutes. If the skillet still contains liquid, evaporate it by boiling until it evaporates. Watch and smell closely to avoid burning. As the potstickers finish, lay them on a white side on a serving dish to protect the crunchy-chewy-crispiness of their flat, browned bottoms until they are moved to a lucky eater's plate.
Serve with small bowls of dipping sauce for each person. Small ramekins work well for this.
To make the dipping sauce: (Adapted from Fine Cooking, December, 2006) Mix together these ingredients, and divide among the individual small bowls:
½ cup soy sauce 1/3 cup rice vinegar 1/3 cup finely sliced green onions, about 3, both white and green parts in tiny circles 2 Tablespoons Mirin (sweet rice wine) 1 Tablespoon Asian sesame oil 1 teaspoon ginger, chopped extremely fine
Add red pepper flakes or hot chili oil if you wish.
Another sauce option that we used for years:
1/2 cup soy sauce 1/8 - 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 - 1 cup water 1/4 c. or so rice vinegar Red pepper flakes Sesame oil Chopped scallions (green onions): Don't use them all in the filling!
Stir all together, divide into small bowls, one for each person, and enjoy.
About the meat for the filling: We used half pork and half beef many years. One year we tried 1.5 pounds pork tenderloin, freshly ground, and it was fantastic, perhaps the best of all.
One last note: Plain Boiled Crescents are also wonderful. From Chinese Gastronomy: Cook the crescents in two batches, dropping them into 6 1/2 pints (16 cups) boiling water for 10 minutes. They are served with soy sauce and vinegar.