Potstickers: Crowd-pleasers, hunger-appeasersJanuary 17, 2007
Like my husband, my parents love to cook. (Hence my, ahem, well-fed appearance.) And my parents love to cook for their parties. Nearly all of their dishes are a success, but there are, of course, a few standouts. Potstickers are one of them. Inevitably as the partygoers would wend their way around the buffet table, a bottleneck would result in front of the plate of delicious, artfully-wrapped beauties.
The result? More manual (and dirt cheap) labor on the part of my siblings and I to produce still more potstickers to satiate our ravenous guests.
My dear husband was a fixture at these parties, and could often be seen planted in front of the potstickers on the buffet table. He’d skillfully take a polite and restrained number of the delicious meat dumplings … and then swoop back in for seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths.
It was only a matter of time before the potsticker-lover (and soon to be family member) was drafted into the process of making them, too. Being an impassioned cook and eater, he quickly caught on and adapted the family recipe as his own. And now that he’s taken command of the kitchen, I’ve been released from my duties as potsticker wench (though I can still make a mean decorative ruffle in that wrapper). But one thing that hasn’t changed: The unabashed success of beef potstickers at parties. Or, frankly, their success at any event where satisfying hunger is the order of the day.
So, if you have a party — or just an empty belly — consider potstickers. They’re guaranteed to satisfy.
In continuing the hors d’oeurves theme we started with spanakopita, I pilfer from my in-laws again. I’m a dirty rotten son-in-law and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But alas, we must discuss the dish and not my culinary kleptomania.
If my in-laws home has a signature dish, it would be potstickers. It even seems like her family with its distinct Chinese character, but with a very clear Western palate. As for my role, I’ve been making these for over a decade, first at their side and now in my own kitchen. During that time, I’ve modified and codified the recipe. Aside from chocolate cookies, which I’ve made at least 30 different ways, this recipe has gone through more variations in my kitchen then I’d care to admit. I’ve added new ingredients like mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tomatoes. I’ve varied the amount of heat by adding peppers and various chilies.
In the end, I’ve learned that the dish works because it’s build squarely on three pillars—the ginger, the soy sauce, and the green onions. While the other ingredients play a role, like the beef for flavor and substance and the water chestnuts for crunch, it is these three that keep it fresh tasting. The ginger gives a great zest, the soy sauce gives it salt and an Asian flavor profile, and the green onions give it a sense of freshness and color. It is these three things that you taste most distinctly when you eat these potstickers, and it is what keeps people wanting more.
Finally, I’ve one piece of advice: Don’t fear the wonton! They are easy to find in most grocery stores, and while the effort is labor intensive, it pays off when entertaining. I cannot tell you how ugly I’ve made a few in my days, and how I’ve never had a single person be less then impressed. While it takes a little practice to produce pretty ones, you’ll pick it up or find a new way to fold them that is even better. Trust me, I’ve some of the least delicate hands and I can make them look edible, so you can as well. If that fails or you plan mass production, bring in the family. Over the years, we’ve sat around the table before doing hundreds for Christmas parties and various family functions. It’s a great family project, even if you have to bare listening to the Carpenter’s Christmas album for the millionth time while doing it. So don’t fear the wonton, and thank my in-laws again for this awesome offering.
1/2 lbs ground beef
1/4 cup water chestnuts (diced)
6 green onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger (about a 1inch finger)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1. In a bowl, mix together the filling ingredients. Set aside.
2. Lay out your wrappers. This is the assembly line theory of making potstickers. At first you will be slow, but soon you will be quick. Once you have them laid out, place about 1/2 teaspoon of filling in the center of each wonton. It’s important to not overfill. It will make it difficult to close the wrapper later.
3. Time to fold. Dab your fingers, or a pastry brush, in water and wet two sides of the wanton. The wet sides should be two sides off the same corner. Now fold over the sides and form a triangle. Press along the edges of the triangle to make sure the wonton seals. Now pinch up the sides toward the apex of the triangle. The result should be a ‘money bag’ shape holding the filling. Though, trust me, people rarely comment if you make ugly potstickers. If yours look like they were done in the dark by a drunken monkey, people won’t notice. Practice and yours will likely be better then mine in no time.
NOTE: At this point you can stop if you are doing prep work. You can simply cover and refrigerate. They will be okay overnight or a day in advance. The only storage issue is to be careful if you store them touching. If they are at all wet, they will stick together. This risks tearing the wontons before you’ve even cooked them.
4. In a large non-stick (trust me, this makes your life easier) pan over medium high to high heat, add about two tablespoons of oil. There should not be a lot of oil. Just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Swish the pan to make sure oil is evenly and thinly distributed. Leave it over the heat for about 45 seconds or until the oil lightly shimmers when moved. Once it shimmers, delicately place about 10 of the dumplings into the pan.
NOTE: My preference is for sesame oil, but I’ve used vegetable and canola with good results. Olive oil may not be right because you are going to cook on very high heat and olive oil tends to have a low smoke point.
5. For the this step, the key is to be ready in advance. You need about 1/4 cup of water and a lid that will cover the pan. You are now looking for signs that the dumplings are starting to firm and become golden brown on the bottom. You should see them turn in about 1-2 min. Once the wontons are there, add the 1/4 cup water and place the lid quickly over the pan. The potstickers are now steaming. Turn down the heat to medium and allow them to cook for another 3 min.
WARNING: When you lift the lid, stand back because you will get blasted with very hot steam if you are not careful.
6. Remove from the heat and transfer the potstickers to a serving plate or warm location (an oven at 200F works). Wipe the pan clean or rinse off with water, and then prepare another batch following the same steps. Serve hot. Enjoy!