Happy Lunar New Year everyone! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it than with potstickers, the Chinese dumpling Americans love most. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like potstickers — even bad, Costco potstickers, which can be pretty gummy. You eat them and you say to yourself, “Damn, these are pretty gummy… but hey, at least they’re potstickers!” It’s a dumpling thing.
I’ve made potstickers over the years, but always with store-bought wrappers. After all, the wrappers are super-easy to find in supermarkets, and they work just fine. It was not until I bought my friend Andrea Nguyen’s book Asian Dumplings that I learned how to make the wrapper by hand. It is not only easier than I thought, but the result is markedly different from store-bought.
What a handmade potsticker wrapper has that a store-bought one doesn’t can be summed up in a word: flexibility. First off, handmade dough is a lot more pliable than store-bought. But secondly, handmade wrappers are not all the same width — which, as we will see, if vital for a good potsticker.
Andrea’s technique for wrapper-making requires an odd, cross-cultural bit of equipment: a tortilla press. Yeah, she lives just down the road from me in the Bay Area, where we have lots of Asians and Mexicans, so it’s a natural! The press helps you make perfect circles of dough, which you then roll thin with a handmade roller — a short piece of a wooden dowel about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. (You can buy thick dowels at your nearest home improvement store.)
The result is really cool: The wrapper is thick where you crisp it up — the “potsticker” part — because it needs to be to not break. And the wrapper is thin where you seal it, which keeps the pleated edges dainty. Brilliant, really.
As for the filling, it is straight from Andrea’s book, although I used wild onions and venison instead of ground beef and green onions. Any ground meat will work here, or if you are a vegetarian, use minced mushrooms.
Once you makes these dumplings, you can freeze them on a baking sheet until solid, then fill freezer bags full of them. They will keep for a few months that way. But beware: I made a batch that says it’s good for 4 people, and Holly and I ate them all at one sitting. Gluttonous? Maybe. But that should tell you how good they are.
My advice for beginners is to make these potstickers with store-bought wrappers to start. Only after you’ve made a couple batches should you bother to make your own wrappers. While making the filling is uber-easy, getting the pleated fold is mildly tricky. Best not to overwhelm yourself the first time.
Once you have the fold down, go ahead and make your own wrappers. Instructions for doing that are at the end of this recipe. If you get lost, Andrea has a great page with how-to videos here. Remember you will need the tortilla press and your little dowel.
NOTE: You will also need a few tablespoons of safflower, peanut or other vegetable oil for pan-frying the potstickers.
Serve your potstickers with a zippy soy dipping sauce, sriracha or something else that is sweet-and-spicy. Just make more than you think you need. You’ll find yourselves fighting over the last one…
Serves 4 normal people, or 2 gluttons.
Prep Time: 2 hours, or about 45 minutes if you are using store-bought wrappers.
Cook Time: 20 minutes per batch, split into 2 rounds of cooking
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
- 1 hot chile, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 3/4 pound ground venison, duck or other meat
- 3/4 cup Chinese chives, green onions or other wild chive-like green onion
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup chicken stock (Asian if you have it) or water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
Either 30-36 store-bought potsticker wrappers or:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
- 3/4 cup hot water
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together and let sit at room temperature while you make everything else.
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the filling together until well combined. It is better to let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to overnight, but you can use it right away.
- Fill each wrapper with a scant tablespoon of filling. Close each one into a half-moon, making sure there are no air pockets. It is probable that some of the filling will squirt out the ends as you seal them — this is normal, just drop it back into the bowl with the rest of the filling. If the wrappers are dry, get a little bowl of cool water and wet half of each wrapper circle with the water; this will help it seal tightly.
- Pleat the edges: I usually start from the center and do 3 pleats on the left of the dumpling, then another 3 on the right of the dumpling, As you make the pleats, settle the dumpling on your work surface so it sits flat. You will need this flat surface to get a nice crispy bottom to your potsticker. Set each finished dumpling on a baking sheet lined with either parchment or a little semolina flour or corn meal.
- To cook your potstickers, get a large, non-stick frying pan out and heat about 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use peanut) over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, about a minute or two, lay the potstickers down in one layer; they can touch each other. Fry like this 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottoms are browned.
- Add enough water to come up about 1/4 inch. The pan will sputter and spit, so have a lid ready. Turn the heat down to medium, cover the pan and cook for 6 minutes. After 6 minutes, move the lid partway off the pan to let steam escape. Cook 2 more minutes, then remove the lid entirely. You will soon hear the cooking change from boiling to sizzling — that’s your cue they are done. Serve immediately.
To Make Wrappers
- Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Boil some water, turn off the heat and pour in a healthy 3/4 cup of the water into the well you’ve made in the flour (when I mean “healthy” I mean to err on more water, not less). Stir the mixture with a fork until it gets shaggy, then knead with your hands (the dough will not be too hot to handle) for a few minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a plastic bag and let sit on the counter for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
- Roll the dough into a thick snake and cut it in half, then in half again. Put the three pieces you are not using back in the plastic bag.
- Roll the snake you are working with until it is about 1-inch thick. Cut it into 8 disks. Use your hands to return each disk to a nice cylinder. If the dough is tacky, dredge it lightly in a little flour.
- Open your tortilla press. Put the cylinder between two pieces of plastic or wax paper (I use sheets cut from a freezer bag) and squash it with the tortilla press. Move the circle of dough to your work surface and do the other 8 pieces of dough.
- Now use your little dowel to roll out the outer edges of each circle. You want to keep an area about the size of a nickel at the center thick, so hold the wrapper here while you flatten the edges out with the dowel. Do this while constantly rotating the wrapper. It does not matter if the wrapper is perfectly circular; just try your best.
- Once you have your 8 wrappers, fill them and pleat as above. Continue with another 8 wrappers at a time until you finish.