Just about every culture has some type of dumpling. They range from elaborate fillings with intricate folds, to seasoned clumps of dough with no filling. Dumplings can be steamed, fried or cooked in soup. The potsticker combines the best of both worlds — the dumplings are pan-fried until they stick to the pot or pan (hence the name), then a small amount of water and a lid is added to steam the dumplings. The lid is removed, and the dumplings continue to cook until the remaining water has evaporated. The finished texture is great, with a crispy bottom and steamed, squishy sides. The dumplings or potstickers are ready to enjoy with a dipping sauce or in a soup.
The filling in the recipe is just a suggestion, add or subtract ingredients as needed. Feel free to come up with your own filling. Try bacon cheeseburger, Philly cheesesteak, enchiladas, vegetarian, replace the pork with shrimp or crab — you can go as wild or as tame as you want. The filling should have some moisture, but not be so loose that it is hard to work with or fill. Many times, the addition of cabbage or other vegetables may not seem like they add a lot of flavors, but as they cook they release a lot of moisture and help ensure that the dumpling is juicy. One rookie mistake is to blindly follow the recipe with vegetables and seasoning and not taste the filling. But, tasting the filling of anything that has raw meat may not be in your best interest. To make it safe, take a small amount of filling and cook it over low heat with a small amount of oil in a pan until fully cooked. Don’t cook at such a high heat as to create a crust, this will add flavor that will not be created when the filling is steaming inside and not give you an accurate idea of the true flavor. You may need to add salt (in the form of actual salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or any other highly rich sodium product), pepper, sugar or acid. You also may need to adjust a few times and cook another test patty until you have achieved the desired taste. It is a terrible feeling to get all of your dumplings filled and cooked, just to realize that they would be amazing with a bit more acid and salt.
Many grocery stores will have eggroll or wonton wrappers in the produce section. While they will work to make dumplings, taking a special trip to the Asian market to grab some real dumpling wrappers or skins is worth it. You are looking for dumpling or Gyoza wrappers. If you are feeling like a challenge or are having a hard time finding the wrappers in the store, you can easily make the wrappers with just three ingredients.
In a bowl mix the salt and flour. Measure out the water and heat in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove. Pour the water over the flour and salt mixture and stir with a spoon until the dough starts to come together into a stringy mass. Dust the counter with a small amount of flour and dump the stringy mass of dough onto the counter. Knead by hand for about 5 to 8 minutes until the dough becomes smooth. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes up to 24 hours (the dough will oxidize if left too long).
Once the dough has rested and you have the filling made, cut the dough into about ½ ounce pieces. This is about 24 to 28 pieces. Wrap your thumb and index finger around the piece of dough and with your other hand pinch the top and bottom, forming a disk. Keep each disk covered with plastic wrap or a floured towel until you have shaped all of the dough. Lightly flour the counter and grab the first piece of shaped dough. A rolling pin or small dowel rod (about an inch or a little larger works best) work great for rolling out the wrappers. Smash the disk down with the palm of your hand. Grab the center of the disk with your non-dominate hand and roll about halfway into the disk then rotate counterclockwise about a third to a quarter turn each time after you roll. Repeat until the disk is about 2.5 to 3 inches. Just remember when rolling the wrappers that cornstarch is your friend. It will help to keep the wrappers from sticking to each other. If you have a small strainer you can dust the counter before placing the finished rolled wrapper down then dust the top, if not just sprinkle with your fingers heavily as you go. Repeat until all the wrappers are rolled. Now you are ready to fold.
Take about a tablespoon of filling and place it the center of your wrapper. Lightly wet the opposite half of the wrapper with water. Fold the center of the wrapper to the opposite side and pinch, keeping the left and right side from touching the opposite side for now. Lightly wet the back of the right side, make three pleats towards the center and pinch to seal. Try to make sure as you pinch to squeeze as much air out as possible. Lightly wet the back of the left side, make three pleats towards the center and pinch closed, also making sure to squeeze out as much air as possible. The dumpling should start to form a crescent shape. This will help the dumpling stand up and not fall over when being cooked. If it needs a little help, you can pinch and bend to exaggerate its crescent shape to help it sit up. As you complete each dumpling, you can place into a lightly oiled sauté pan (an 11- or 12-inch pan will hold about 12 to 14 dumplings) if you are going to cook immediately (make sure you have a lid that fits the pan you are putting dumplings into).
If you would like to save the dumplings to cook another time, lightly coat a tray or sheet pan with cornstarch and place the dumpling onto the cornstarch dusted tray. Once they have all been filled, place the tray into the freezer until the dumplings are frozen solid (6 to 8 hours). Remove the dumplings from the tray and place into a bag and keep frozen until ready to cook. Follow the same cooking directions, just let sit at room temperature once placed in the pan for about 10 minutes and steam an extra minute with the lid on to help thaw.
The sauce can be anything you want — you may want to change it depending on the filling. Below is a simple sauce that can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept in the fridge. The sauce can help cool down the hot lava filling that is inside the potsticker when it first comes out of the pan. You can use a fork or chopstick to make a small hole in the tip of the potsticker so the dumpling can soak up the sauce and cool down.
Potsticker Paradise Recipe
Makes about 24 dumplings
Cornstarch as needed to dust
Mix flour and salt, stir hot water into the mixture with a spoon until it forms a stringy dough. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Knead 5 to 8 minutes until the dough is smooth. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes up to 24 hours. Once the dough has rested, cut into 24 to 28 pieces. Shape, roll and reserve for filling (see directions under rolling and folding).
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 leaves cabbage, shredded
Oil as needed to coat the bottom of the pan
1/3 to 1/2 cup water to steam
Sesame oil as needed to drizzle at the end
Mix all ingredients and cook a small portion to taste the filling. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to overnight to meld flavors. Fill dumplings and place into an oiled sauté pan. Cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes until the bottom starts to crisp and becomes light brown. Add in water and cover. Steam for 3 to 4 minutes and remove the cover and let the water evaporate. Once the water is evaporated, drizzle sesame oil around the dumplings and tilt to allow sesame oil to get under the dumplings. Once the bottom has become golden brown, try to start removing the potstickers. They may take a little nudge from a spatula to remove. Serve with a dipping sauce and enjoy.
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cilantro
Mix ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved. Can be made a day or two before and stored in the refrigerator.
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.