Chicken & Watercress Potstickers
I act a bit like a culinary cowboy sometimes, thinking that by SHEER FORCE OF WILL ALONE I can make something that I’ve never tried before and it will magically turn out. Sometimes it does, other times….not. For example, the first time that I made potstickers I was about 21 and I decided to just wing it. I made them in a pot. They stuck. Potstickers – yes, I know. The name, of course, is a vicious taunt because if they stick to the pan then you’ve probably done something wrong. Isn’t it fun to make food that needles at your fragile psyche before you’ve even had the opportunity to fail on your own?
My mistake this time was in thinking that despite the fact that we had friends over for a wine and cheese on Friday and I knew that I would be viciously sleep deprived (read: hung like a dog) on Saturday morning, I would still have time to shower, go shopping at the Chinese market, make 3-4 varieties of fiddly dim sum and dumpling appetizers, and still have time to casually apply a fresh coat of lipgloss before our guests arrived….at four o’clock. Instead, I woke up at noon feeling like part of my brain had leaked out of my left ear over night. I stumbled my way into the shower, eventually dragged my pitiful self down to the store…spent a half hour looking for parking (AND FAILED. Goddamned grocery store…I’m still full of rage), realized that it was 2 pm and time was a luxury that I no longer had, and ended up arriving home with an hour to pull things together before people arrived.
I am no Iron Chef. People got greeted at the door by a wild-eyed woman who had pork covered hands and a cornstarch dusted shirt.
On to more positive things, everyone was still fed within reasonable time, and the dumplings DID get made. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about potstickers. I may not be a wizened Chinese grandmother (wizened, yes, but I bought a new night cream to work on that) but here are a few tips which I’ve found helped me enormously:
- Flash freeze the dumplings for a half hour before cooking them. They’ll hold together and seal better this way.
- Make sure that your pan is HOT, HOT, HOT before you start to fry the dumplings.
- ‘Pot’ stickers is a malicious lie. You’ll get much better results if you use a large, flat, heavy bottomed frying pan.
- Use vegetable or canola oil for the frying, which has a nice high smoking point. In our house we always have a few varieties of olive oil and a smattering of hippie oils like hemp seed or walnut, but I’ll buy a small bottle of vegetable oil (which will last us for about a year) for purposes such as this.
- Buy the right wrapper. Translucent and delicate dumpling wrappers that are perfect for Har Gao or Siu Mai will not hold up to the vigors of a frying pan.
Potstickers are often referred to as Gyoza in a Japanese restaurant, Jiaozi in a Chinese restaurant, or Mandu (which has a slightly more savory filling that often includes tofu) in a Korean restaurant. Regardless of what you call them, they’re small elongated half-moon shaped dumplings that are fried (usually only on one side) and then steamed. If you’re a more diligent cook then I am, you could make your own wrappers. If you’re buying them, try to look for wrappers that say ‘gyoza’ or ‘potsticker’, because they tend to be slightly thicker than wonton wrappers. However, you can use wonton wrappers in a pinch – just handle them with a bit more care after steaming.
Chicken & Watercress Potstickers
Makes approximately 35 potstickers
- 500 g ground chicken
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
- 2 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp soya sauce
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 4 shiitake mushrooms
- 8 whole water chestnuts (about one 200 ml can)
- 1/2 cup finely minced bamboo shoot
- 1 cup finely chopped watercress
- salt and pepper to taste
- 35 – 40 potsticker or wonton wrappers
- 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil
Put the ground chicken in a medium bowl and add the sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, mirin and cornstarch. Grate or press the garlic in as well.
If you are using dried shiitake mushrooms, you will need to rehydrate them by soaking them in hot water for a half hour or so. Because I was both rushed and lazy, I used canned shiitake mushrooms for these dumplings and the previously posted Siu Mai. However, you do not need to develop my slatternly habits if you would prefer the (much more flavorful) dried version. But seriously, if your brain felt like it was being held together by cotton wool and toothpicks, and you had T-2 hours to get your home AND dinner in order, wouldn’t you go for the canned version too? I bet you would. I don’t feel penitent in the slightest.
Cut the tough and woody stems off before giving the mushrooms a fine chop.
Finely mince the bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. I love water chestnuts (particularly when they’ve been wrapped in bacon or soaked in sake), and they just provide that little bit of texture and watery crunch that dumplings love so much.
Rinse a small bunch of watercress under cold running water and spin or pat it dry when you’re confident that it’s clean. Watercress tends to be somewhat filthy, so if you have a bit of inner OCD this is a good time to let it out. Cut just the root ends off of the bunch and then chop the watercress as finely as possible – stems and all. Just remember that if you leave the stems in there, you can’t take the villain’s way out. ’Finely chopped’ means ‘finely chopped’, not ‘run your knife over it a couple of times and then call it a day.’
Mix the watercress in with the chicken mixture and massage it together with your hands until it’s well mixed.
Making the dumplings is easy, but can be time consuming. Dollop a good tablespoon of filling into the middle of each dumpling. The amount will vary according to the size of your wrappers, but you’ll quickly get a feel for what is ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ after the first few have been made. Dip your finger into a small bowl of cold water and use that to moisten all around the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half to make a half-moon shape, and firmly press down on the circumference to seal the edges. Finally, if you like (and I do), plop the dumpling down with it’s seam side up in the air like a wee dumpling mohawk. This just gives it a bit more shape before you fry it.
Heat a tablespoon of oil over high heat in a large, flat, heavy bottomed frying pan. You will be able to tell when the pan is hot enough by holding your palm about 2-3 inches above it and counting out steamboats. It should be hot enough for “One steam boat, two steam boat, three – JESUS H.C!!!!” Place the dumplings in the pan either on their rumps or their sides, and let them cook for less than two minutes. Gently flip one over to make sure that the bottom is lightly browned.
As soon as the dumplings are browned on one side, lift them with a metal spatula (to make sure that they aren’t sticking) and add about 1 cup of cold water to the pan. It should be enough to entirely cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/4 inch, assuming that your pan is relatively full of delicious dumplings. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, turn the heat down to medium, and let it steam for 6-8 minutes. Most, if not all, of the water will be absorbed and the dumplings will be cooked through.
Potstickers need an assertive dipping sauce, like many fried foods. I like either a vinegary dumpling sauce or a fiery hot chili sauce to cut through some of the heaviness.
Oh, pretty dumplings. My little dears, your life was short but lived well.
Go forth and make dumplings, I say! And good news: I’ll have at least one more Asian post for you before I return to the Lebanese. Ooh, and then the things we’ve been doing with whole grain lately. DANG, whole grains are hot. Who knew?
(Sorry potstickers, you’re sexy too.)