Pot Stickers – 鍋貼

Pot Stickers

Right! Here we go. The quintessential dumpling post that any Chinese person worth their salt needs to have up their sleeves.

These were made on the day of Chinese new year, and thank goodness for my friends helping to wrap! The meat and veg are easily interchangeable, be it pork, chicken or even lamb, with some sort of leafy cabbagey veg (pak choi, Chinese leaf, cabbage). I’ve gone for the absolute staple combo of pork and pak choi.

The wrapping technique I’ll be showing you here isn’t actually my preferred technique, but it’s your ‘this is what a dumpling looks like’ so it’ll be nice to start there before we advance to other styles right? I can actually make the wraps for this, but for the purposes of simplicity get yourself some wraps from your local Chinese supermarket. I’m also teaching you the Chinese style of pot stickers, not the Japanese ones. Which, to be fair is only really a difference in dumpling skin thickness. The nice thing about the Chinese thicker wraps is that they’re a bit more forgiving with the wrapping and can be boiled vigorously for a delicious water/soup variety of dumplings (水餃). The following makes around 30.

Pork and pak choi dumplings:
1 packet of thick dumpling skins (not the thin gyoza ones)
250g minced organic pork (not too lean)
100 - 150 g pak choi (baby ones better)
50 g spring onions (about half a bunch)
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp light soy
1 tsp dark soy
3 tpsp sesame oil

Finely chop all your veg. Get everything (bar your dumpling skins obviously) into a mixing bowl and mix and squeeze everything with your hands. No messing about with a spoon or whatever. It’s quite hard to give you guys ‘proper’ veg weights as I like to eye ball my proportions. But basically you want a meat to veg ratio of around 60:40. The more veg the better I think, but you want there to be enough meat to bind it all together. Mix with your hands for around 5 minutes.

Ready to wrap? Get a shallow bowl of water and a tray dusted with rice flour ready. Let’s go:

How to fold pot stickers

1. Place a wrap flat on your hand.

2. Add about 1 tablespoon of mix in the centre.

3. Dip your finger into the water and make a ring all the way around the edge for your seal. Fold in half. Seal it and make sure there are no air bubbles.

4. Pleat!

5. Pleat-pleat-pleat-pleat. All done.

6. Take your dumpling by the pleats and gently press it onto your work top to form that flat base and curve it so it looks more crescent like. Yay! Dumplings.

So now that you’ve got all your dumplings, let’s turn them into delicious pot stickers. I hope you have a really decent non-stick frying pan with a lid, because you’ll need that lid to steam. The key to these is to NOT TOUCH THEM. I can’t emphasise that enough. Just trust that they are cooking okay? You can only move them when they are cooked and have a firm enough base to move. They aren’t called pot stickers for nothing.

Heat at medium high, frying pan on. When at heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil (corn or rapeseed good) and evenly coat the base. When the oil is nice and hot, add some dumplings. Space them out a bit they’ll expand, I also like to add them in a clockwise array just so I know which ones have been taking the heat longest. Now you’ll want to not touch these and let the bases take on a bit of colour, maybe 3-5 minutes? Now add enough water so that there’s a centimetre of liquid in the pan. Lid on. Heat up. Bring that liquid to a boil to create a load of steam. Steam for around five minutes.

At this point the water is evaporating out of the pan or you’ll need to take the lid off to evaporate the rest of the water away. Once the water is almost all evaporated, take a wooden chopstick or skewer and carefully run it around each dumpling to remove any access gloopy flour. Turn the heat down to medium high again (or even medium if that’s too scary) and get those bases crunchy. Another 2-5 minutes perhaps. At around this stage I like to give my pan a bit of a shake to loosen them up. Carefully lift to see what their colouring is like, you want nice and golden brown, not burnt. Keep frying them until they’re nice and crisp.

Serve up! I like having these with some Chinese black vinegar and freshly sliced ginger, but a huge jar of chilli is never too far away. If you have any spare, place them separately on a lightly floured tray in the freezer until solid. Then pack them all up in a bag. Nothing nicer than a lazy evening when you suddenly remember you have a few of these bad boys ready to go. If you’re cooking from frozen you can follow the above instructions, just have them on the first fry time a bit longer.

pot stickers cooking

Spinach & Prawn Wontons – 菠菜蝦雲吞

spinach and prawn wontonsOne of the traditional things to do on Chinese New Year is to gather together and wrap dumplings. I can see why because you wrap all the morsels faster and get to eat the fresh dumplings quicker, plus everyone gets to enjoy that feeling that they all had a hand in the meal. Fun times. Two types of dumplings were made at my CNY party, and my friend kindly managed the teaching and the wrapping of these on the night while I was manic in my mini kitchen with the other food. I believe her wrap technique was a form of Taiwanese fold, but I’ll be teaching you the Hong Kong folding style. Obvs.

The following filling makes around 28 wontons. Head to your local Chinese supermarket and get your mits on some wonton wraps. Yes. You can try to make these yourself, but one of the joys of nice wontons I find is the loose thin noodlely bits and I can guarantee that you won’t be able to roll the dough thinly enough. Just buy a packet already. There’s no shame in it.

Spinach and Prawn Wontons:
1 pack square wonton wraps
140 g raw prawns - deveined
225 g baby spinach leaves
2-3 garlic cloves - crushed
2-3 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cornflour
splash of light soy
pinch of fine salt
pinch of white pepper

Small frying pan on medium heat. Sesame oil in. When at heat, add your crushed garlic and fly until fragrant but not crispy. Set aside.

Get a pot of boiling water onto the stove and quickly blanch your spinach. When it’s wilted down strain the leaves and submerge in ice-cold water. Reserve the spinach water for some broth. Keep the leaves submerged while you deal with the prawns. Change the cold water every so often. This helps with getting rid of that metallic taste in your spinach.

With a pair of scissors over a mixing bowl cut up your prawns into half-inch bits. Add your pinch of salt then your corn four. Mix mix mix. Strain your spinach leaves and squeeze out all the liquid, you should end up with a couple of tennis ball-shaped spinach balls. With your scissors chop into these roughly and add the cut up bits of veg directly over your prawns. Finally add to this the garlic and sesame oil and the rest of the seasonings. You don’t want this mix too wet so easy on the soy, compensate with a bit more salt if you fancy. Mix thoroughly.

You’re now ready to wrap. The key to nice wontons is a lightness of touch and some finger dexterity, so hopefully these steps and my little photo How To will help. The only things I will emphasise is that these wraps are delicate and you don’t want to overfill them. You’ll need some flour dusted trays to stop the wontons from sticking and a small bowl of water to seal them.

Wonton How To Steps

1. Make a ring shape with your thumb and forefinger

2. Place a wrap on top of this

3. Add a teaspoon of mix to the centre and carefully press down

4. Using your finger dab a ring of water just around the mixture

5. Carefully pleat the corners over and lightly seal just around the top of the mix with length of your forefinger from your other hand.

6. Done! Try to avoid bunching/clumping the top frilly bits. You’ll want these lovely and loose in your broth.

When you want to cook these, get a pot of water to boil. When boiling use a slotted spoon to agitate the water and carefully drop the wontons in. Keep carefully agitating, this stops them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the water comes back to the boil and the wontons float to the surface you’re ready to dish them up.

I served mine with a broth made with some reserved spinach water, with splashes of soy and fish sauce. Add to this some fresh dill, coriander, chilli and thinly sliced ginger.

Oh! If you want to save these they won’t keep in the fridge so you’ll have to freeze them, set them apart on a tray and place them in the freezer, once solid collect them all and pop them into a freezer bag. Cook them in boiling water from frozen later. My kinda fast food.

Radish Cake – 蘿蔔糕

Radish Cake

My first dim sum post! How exciting. So as promised, I’ll be blogging Chinese New Year celebratory dishes and here’s the humble radish cake – a symbol of prosperity and the dim sum staple. A dish that can so easily flit from greasy and bland to chewy unctuous yumminess. It’s surprising how common this dim sum dish is as it’s tricky to master, but having failed making this dish so…so many times…This year, I’ve finally got it right.

In attempts of the past I’ve always got several things wrong, but mostly it was the balance of radish to water and flour. So if you find me getting a bit pedantic in these areas you’ll know why. There is no saving a radish cake that has the texture of a rubber door stop. For those of you who’ve never had radish cake, it’s not really a cake in the traditional sense. It’s not a fluffy dessert, but a savoury appetiser of sorts that’s got a lot of preserved and cured meat in it, so if you want to make a veggie version I would suggest sticking with a mix of shiitake mushrooms and maybe some Buddhist veggie meat found in your local Chinese supermarket. This takes absolutely ages to make, so set aside a good few hours at least. I made mine the night before New Year’s day.

Radish Cake: Serves 8-10
1100 g daikon radish - tops trimmed
170 g mix of Chinese cured meat*
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup of Chinese dried shrimp
2 tsp Shao Hsing rice wine (the brown one)
1 tsp sugar
2 cups rice flour
1 tsp sea salt

*I used 3 types of cured meat. This worked out at a bit of Chinese bacon (臘肉) a small cured sausage (臘腸) and small duck liver sausage (膶腸).

In a bowl soak your mushrooms in 2 cups cold water to soften them up. In another bowl soak your dried shrimp in 1 cup cold water. I like to stack the shrimp bowl onto of the mushroom bowl so the mushrooms get fully covered in water and thus soften up quicker.

You should have about a 1 1/2 inch piece of Chinese bacon, cut your sausages up into similar sizes. Place all this cured meat into a shallow dish and steam the meat for 30 minutes to soften it up.

While that is steaming, peel all of your daikon. Then on a large chopping that can retain liquid grate all of that radish! Damn. This is super tiring! It took me half an hour to peel a grate this lot. I’m not sure what that says about me (weak. I’m blatantly weak. Not enough Asian stamina), but I just kept thinking of my little Chinese grandmother and the thought that she’s been making this dish six times (on top of another 6 taro cakes as well) for all her children’s families every Chinese New Year…it’s just…unbelievable. Anyway. Grate like a mad person.

Grating radishWhen done place all of the grated radish and it’s liquid into a pot and combine it with a litre of cold water. Bring this all to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for a further 30 minutes until tender. Once this is done you want to drain the radish but reserve the cooking liquid.

While the radish is cooking you want to deal with the now steamed dish of cured meat. Remove and discard the rind of fat from the bacon and dice your cured meat into little cubes around 0.5 – 1 cm. Reserve the oily liquid in the shallow dish. Set the diced meat aside.

With the soaked mushrooms and shrimp you’ll want to save their soaking liquids in their separate bowls. So when your mushrooms are soft enough squeeze out the water from each mushroom, set the soaking liquid aside, discard the stems from the mushrooms and dice them in a similar manner to the cured meat. Drain the shrimp and set their soaking liquid aside.

Basically you should have four main components with separate flavoured liquids to accompany them: radish and radish stock; cured meat and steamed juices; diced mushrooms and soaking liquid; shrimp and soaking liquid.

Get a large pot or wok on the stove. Fry up your meat for a few minutes until they start to brown and release fat. Now add your diced mushrooms and shrimp. When fragrant add the meat juices from the steaming dish, the rice wine, sugar and salt. Remove from heat. To this large pot, now add your drained radish, combine well and set aside.

In a large bowl add your rice flour. Now to this add 1 cup of hot turnip stock, 1/2 a cup of the mushroom liquid (carefully avoid the debris at the bottom of the bowl), 1/2 of the strimp liquid (same again, avoid the debris). Whisk up the flour and liquid and pour into the turnip, meat and mushroom pot. Stir throughly it should resemble rice pudding and do a quick taste test (yes it’ll be a bit floury but you want to have enough salt). Whack all of this mixture into a large enough cooking dish. Traditionally we use metal trays but mine with perfectly into a 8 inch diameter pie dish that was 3 inches deep. Nice.

At this point you’ll want to set a large wok up for steaming. Place a trivet at the bottom of the wok and add enough hot water in before it reaches the top of the trivet. Lid on. Boil that liquid to produce steam. Add your dish of radish rice pudding to the centre of the wok without letting the dish touch the sides of the wok. Lid on again and steam for 1 hour, or until the ‘cake’ is firm to the touch. Poke it with a skewer to check that it’s all cooked. Keep an eye on the water and top it up if necessary so there’s always steam.

Steaming Radish CakeThis is what mine looked like when it was done. I was hopping around with joy at 1 am because I knew it was right. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours before you serve.

When you’re ready to serve this, you’ll need to carefully cut it into pieces that are approximately half and inch thick. Frying pan on. Heat medium high. Add a bit of vegetable oil (corn or rapeseed good) and fry your radish cake so you get nice crispy cakes. Dish up. Bit of chilli sauce and maybe some soy and you’re good to go.

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