The worldwide online cooking event Is My Blog Burning? (IMBB) returns once again. As announced by Jarrett, the mind behind Food Porn Watch, the theme for the seventh installment of IMBB is "You're Just the Cutest Little Dumpling!"
I tossed around a few ideas for this edition of IMBB, considering everything from gnocchi to xiaolong bao (soup dumplings) to knishes. In the end, I decided to make guotie, or potstickers, the delicious and addicting Chinese dumplings that are steamed and pan fried to a crisp on one side.
I have strong memories of eating these savory pork dumplings as a kid growing up in Northern California. We always ordered potstickers when we went out to eat at Chinese restaurants, and I couldn't imagine dinner without sharing a plate of them as an appetizer. But, when I moved to New York (almost 10 years ago), I rarely saw them again.
This is not to say that I haven't partaken of some amazing dumplings here -- from the aforementioned meaty and rich soup dumplings to the light and delicate shrimp and watercress dumplings at Sweet-n-Tart Café. However, aside from the occasional potstickers that have rolled my way at dim sum, or encounters with tasty gyoza, the potsticker's Japanese cousin, the dumplings seem to be largely absent from Chinese restaurants in New York. Instead, bland and doughy dumplings -- which may be ordered steamed or completely deep fried -- are the norm. These dumplings are nothing like potstickers, which are steamed and fried. (Of course, please feel free to correct me by pointing out some New York sources in the comments.)
The Legend(s) of Guotie
An article about potstickers appearing last year in the San Francisco Chronicle (which includes a recipe that is the basis for this post) recounts the legend of how potstickers were born:
According to the tale, recounted in [Rhoda] Yee's cookbook, "Dim Sum" (Taylor & Ng, 1977), the aged chef to the royal household left a pot of dumplings on the stove too long and discovered the bottoms had burned. The horrified chef thought this would mean his head, but his smart son decided to present the dumplings to the emperor himself. When the emperor asked why the dumplings were burned, the son quickly explained it was a new recipe for something called potstickers. The emperor liked the crunchiness of the browned bottoms and a new dish was born.
Another account also puts the Chinese emperor at the center of the dumpling's origins, but with a variation on the story:
Legend has it that the Guotie came about sometime in the Ming Dynasty when an Emperor traveled incognito around China. Among the places on his itinerary was a very famous shop serving boiled Chinese dumplings. Before His Majesty could arrive at the shop. The shop, the proprietor got wind of the impending arrival of the Emperor. So he prepared the dumplings ahead of time, taking care to put in the best and the freshest ingredients.
Unfortunately, after he had prepared everything, the Emperor did not turn up. Just as he started to feel disappointed, the Emperor turned up, half a day late. The proprietor was taken completely by surprise. He started to worry as the dumplings had by then turned cold. All of a sudden, he had a brainwave. He sprang into action and fried the boiled dumplings in a flat frying pan, taking care to brown only the underside of each dumpling to a crisp golden brown colour. He proudly presented this to the Emperor.
Upon tasting it, the Emperor was delighted. He was amazed at the nice interplay of textures and the fragrant taste of the meat and vegetable filling. It was both crispy on the bottom and soft on the top – all at once! The Emperor had never tasted anything like this before. He asked the proprietor for the name of the dish but the proprietor had not thought of one, given that he had conceived the dish at the spur of the moment. So the Emperor proclaimed: "I shall confer on this delicious little morsel, the name of Guotie."
Preparing the Potstickers
Following the recipe noted above, the filling is mainly a combination of ground pork, napa cabbage, garlic, ginger, and garlic chives. The last ingredient, though listed as optional in the instructions, gives the potstickers a wonderful scallion-garlic flavor.
Just this past week, VanEats pointed to a fantastic step-by-step account of making the tasty dumplings. Particularly helpful was the recommendation (which I adopted) of salting the cabbage during preparation of the filling in order to release its water and avoid ending up with soggy dumplings.
I was somewhat wary of making the wrappers. After all, pre-made wrappers are widely available. Nevertheless, they turned out to be very easy to make. Once I had made the dough (only flour and water), I divided it into four pieces. I rolled each into a long, one-inch thick dowel, and then cut off small pieces which I formed into balls. Using a rolling pin, I rolled the balls out into small disks to create the wrappers.
The Chronicle article provides detailed illustrations to demonstrate how to form the potstickers, but as hard as I tried, I don't know if I ever got them perfectly right. As I formed each one, I set them on a baking sheet, some of which I set aside for freezing.
To cook the potstickers, I heated a non-stick pan, to which I added a a few tablespoons of peanut oil. Once the oil was hot, I carefully placed the potstickers into the pan. When they had turned golden brown on the bottom, I added water to halfway up the side of the dumplings and covered the pan to let them steam for about 10 minutes. Once the water evaporated, the the dumplings crisped for about another minute in the remaining oil before removing them to a serving platter.
The potstickers were amazing. Dipped in a salty and tangy dipping sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, the crispy and succulent dumplings were just as good as I remembered . . . maybe even better.
SECRET INGREDIENT Potent garlic chives (above) lend a spicy bite to succulent, crunchy, and addicting potstickers (top).