Friday Recipe: Chinese Potstickers (aka Jiao Zi)

Jul 24 2009 Published by under Recipes

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My wife is chinese. So in our house, comfort food is often something chinese. For her, one of her very favorite things is dumplings, also known as pot-stickers. They're time consuming to make, but not difficult. They're really delicious, well worth the effort. They're best with a homemade wrapper, but that's not easy. If you go to a chinese grocery store, they sell pre-made dumpling wrappers with are pretty good. Not as good as homemade, but more than adequate. The wrappers are circular, and about 2 or 3 inches in diameter.

These are traditionally made with ground pork. But I don't eat pork, so I use chicken thighs. Definitely make sure you use thighs - to come out right, the meat inside can't be too lean - it needs to have some fat in it. Thighs work really nicely; breasts, not so much.

When my wife stuffs them, this recipe makes around 30 dumplings. If I'm stuffing them, it's more like twice that - she somehow manages to stuff an amazing amount of filling into each dumpling. If I try that, I can't close 'em.

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
  • 1/2 medium sized head of napa cabbage (about 1lb).
  • Thinly sliced green parts of two scallions.
  • 1 tablespoon Oyster sauce.
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil.
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)
  • A small dish of cold water.
  • Dumpling wrappers.

Instructions

  1. Put the chicken thighs and the oyster sauce into a food processor. Pulse until you've got what looks like coarsely ground meat.
  2. Finely mince the cabbage. Don't do it in a food processor - that'll just pulp it. You want it minced into little pieces.
  3. Fold the cabbage, soy sauce, and sesame oil into the ground meat.
  4. Now you've got the finished filling. Take a wrapper, put a dollop of filling into the center of the wrapper. Lightly brush the edges with water, and then fold the wrapper in half, sealing the edges. (The really correct way of doing it crimps it so that it actually looks like a crescent moon, and stands up by itself. But I have no idea how to explain that! And it tastes good even with the lazy fold.)
  5. Keep doing that until you run out of either wrappers or filling.
  6. Heat up a shallow frying pan on medium to medium-high heat. Cover the bottom with oil. You want enough oil to fry the bottom of the wrappers, but not enough that they're swimming in it. And you only want the bottom to fry. (Don't use a wok for this. This is one of the only times that I'll ever say that about chinese cooking - but you really want a flat bottomed pan.)
  7. Put the dumplings into the pan in shifts. You don't want them too close together, or they'll stick to one another. Let them cook for one or two minutes, until the bottom is a nice dark brown.
  8. Take about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, dump it into the pan, and immediately cover the pan tightly. Let it cook like that until almost all of the stock evaporates. Then take the dumplings out, and put them in a serving bowl. They'll stick to the bottom a bit; pry them up gently with either a spatula or tongs. (There's a reason that they're called pot-stickers!)
  9. Keep going in batches until they're all cooked.
  10. Serve them with a dipping sauce. Spoon a bit of sauce over each dumpling right before you eat it.

There are a ton of dipping sauces you can use. My own favorite is:

  1. about 1/4 cup of clear rice vinegar
  2. About 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  3. 1 teaspoon of sugar
  4. one clove of crushed garlic, finely minced.
  5. One slice of ginger, crushed and finely minced.
  6. Greens of one scallion finely minced.
  7. One drop of sesame oil.
  8. One half teaspoon of sambal or sriracha chili sauce.

These little suckers are seriously good eating. They're sort of like potato chips, in that once you start eating them, you can't stop. So make a lot!

If you really want to make homemade wrappers (which is a lot of work, but which makes these wonderful little things so much better that you'll never go back to store-made wrappers), there's a great recipe for them in Ming Tsai's "Blue Ginger" cookbook.

22 responses so far

  • Greg Laden says:

    Excellent, thanks for posting this. This looks better than any recipe I've seen for 'pot stickers' (which I was thinking might be a midwestern term to avoid confusion with the many other "dumplings" in the region). Chicken Thighs = excellent suggestion.

  • qma says:

    Yum. I sometimes add a tsp of grated ginger in the filling.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Yeah, one of the things that always bugs me about the recipes that I usually see for these, as well as many other chinese dishes, is the way that people ignore the essential simplicity of the dish.
    Real chinese cooking is very simple. The dominant aesthetic of it is balance and purity. You don't pile 50 ingredients together with a sticky sauce. You use just a couple of ingredients that balance each other.
    In the dumplings, you've got the meat - which because it's a fatty meat, winds up being very tender and juice, and rather rich in flavor. Set against that, you've got the cabbage - which has a very mild flavor, but a pronounced crunch in the texture.
    Then there's the dipping sauce - which again, is basically simple and balanced, and is a direct counterpoint to the meat and cabbage. Sour, salty, and a bit spicy. (It doesn't taste sweet - the sugar just cuts the pungency of the vinegar.)
    It's all simple, and it's all balanced.
    Most american recipes for dumplings will do things like add hoisin sauce, sugar, etc. That stuff just muddles the flavor - which completely ruins the beauty of the dish.

  • Anne says:

    I usually buy mine frozen, but will have to try making them! I have learned that making spring rolls is very easy and make them all the time now.

  • ebohlman says:

    The scallions seem not to have made the trip from the ingredients to the instructions. I take it that they get minced along with the cabbage and added at the same time?

  • Greg Laden says:

    The American version will also tend to ignore the texture as an important characteristic of the meal (in some cases more important than the flavor, though that would not apply to dumplings)

  • John Marley says:

    Awesome.
    I love well made pot-stickers. I'll have to try this.
    Thanks.

  • KenM says:

    @ Greg Laden (comment 1)
    Actually, "pot stickers" is a direct translation of the (other) Chinese for these: Guotie 锅贴.

  • Alex Besogonov says:

    I'm Russian and we have our own sort of dumplings, they are called "pelmeni" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelmeni ) and are incredibly easy to make.
    You need the following:
    1) Unleavened dough
    2) Three types of ground meat. The classic recipe is 50% beef, 25% lamb and 25% pork or mutton. You can also add ground onions and garlic. Do not use chicken meat, though, it'll ruin the taste.
    3) Salt, pepper, etc.
    You just need to mix different types of ground meat (add salt and pepper), then fill the dough wrappers with meat.
    Then you need to freeze pelmeni in the freezer. It's crucial, or the wrappers will unstick while you're boiling them.
    After that, you just need to boil them (they're ready after 2-5 minutes when the start to float), also add bay leaf to water. You can use broth left after boiling as a soup.
    Pelmeni are especially tasty with sour cream and vinegar. Or with almost any other sauce.

  • Mu says:

    Fry in goose fat for the kreplach effect, and in pork fat and onions for maultaschen.

  • psweet says:

    These (or at least the pork ones we do -- haven't tried chicken) work great boiled as well. Toss a few into a large pot of boiling water, wait for the water to boil again, toss in a half-cup of cold water, wait for the water to boil again, toss in one more half-cup of cold water, and wait one more time. When it boils again, pull 'em out and throw in the next batch. Add a cup of home-made hot & sour soup, and you have our traditional (American) New Year's dinner.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #11:
    Yes, of course, I should have mentioned that.
    Personally, I much prefer the texture of the potstickers to the boiled dumplings. I love the crispy bottoms, and the chewiness of the semi-fried and semi-boiled/steamed wrappers.
    I also think that for the boiled ones, you really need homemade wrappers. The store-made wrappers are just too thin.

  • Mu says:

    Well, we're looking forward to next Friday for "Potstickers Part II: Make your own wrappers".
    I've never used the store bought wrappers, which is why I usually boil first and only finish off pan frying. Will be interesting to try your approach.

  • First, a little precision, what is called potstickers in english is usually known as Guo Tie in chinese rather than as Jiao Zi, which is more the generic term for all kinds of dumplings (including the steamed and boiled).
    And I agree with some other comments, it is much better if you do the dough yourself, which is pretty easy (just water and flour, some special flour for dumplings can be bought in chinese grocery stores).
    Also, I use chives instead of scallions.
    As for the dipping sauce, personally, I prefer a more basic one: Black vinegar and fresh minced ginger.
    And then, I have a question, for anybody out there. The best guo tie I ever had are from a north-chinese restaurant in Singapore (Fong Kee for those who want to try), and I suspect they actually deep-fried the dumpling very shortly before frying it, or maybe is it fried in a proper wok (without a flat bottom) which may create the exceptional crisp of the whole guo tie, I don't know, has anybody tried such alternatives ? With which result ?

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    I've tried deep-frying them, if you're looking for crispness all over, that's the way to get it.
    I've also tried just turning them in the pan - so brown the bottom, and then turn them to brown the other side.
    Personnally, I'm not thrilled with either way. I like the contrast of the bottom being crispy, and the top being chewy.

  • Thanks for the info, I don't think I want to deep-fry them though.
    As for the chewy top, I associate it more with Gyoza than Guo Tie, as every guo tie I've had in "chinese" countries are actually crispier than gyoza, even though some chewiness is still there on the top, so the contrast between the top and the bottom is still there, it's just not as pronounced as in gyoza, and so far, at home, I only succeeded to do the gyoza style (by applying the method you described).

  • psweet says:

    "I also think that for the boiled ones, you really need homemade wrappers. The store-made wrappers are just too thin."
    We actually use won-ton skins. (no particular reason, just too lazy to do it the hard way. Besides, I'm usually busy with the soup) I don't know if they're a bit thicker (I suspect so, Mom usually complains that they aren't quite thick enough), but they do seem to work. At least, they usually match my memories of how they tasted in Taiwan. Of course, I was only 9 at the time.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #17:
    Wonton wrappers are thicker, but I think they're tougher. I actually prefer packaged wonton wrappers to packaged dumpling wrappers - at least with the brands we buy, they've got a nicer texture. Not sure what the difference is, because the ingredients aren't printed in english :-). The color of the wonton wrappers is yellower - which could either mean a different flour, or some egg in the dough. I don't know which.

  • John Miller says:

    I made this tonight, including making making my own wrappers. It's no where near has hard as it looks and the results are wonderful. Here's one less reason to crave Panda Express. Thanks!

  • rap says:

    Thanks for this post. My friend living near the Eiffel Tower may need to look into this. However, I am skeptical at drug companies and their promises. I wonder if this will be another one of those "lifetime treatments" or cures

  • mike says:

    Lucky to have such a wife. Can she make bao zi? That's my favorite.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #21:
    I can make bao zi. They're much easier to roll out, and to fill and close.

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