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.

Simple Cold Tofu – 冷豆腐

Cold TofuHappy Easter everyone! It’s sunny and I’ve had a pretty eventful and relaxing break. What more could you ask for? House parties, brunch, museums, coffee, catchups, drinks, potluck, cleaning, DIY, bookkeeping….*tick tick tick tickety tick*

So my excuse for the lack of posting was that I was actually in the Alps snowboarding and drinking hot wine with friends in this beautiful winter wonderland magical paradise. I’m not going to lie, it was amazing and sadly I’m already starting to forget that delicious feeling of breathing in frosty air. Prior to my week off in the snow I went to nutritionist who not only put me on a probiotic replacement therapy course, but also kindly informed me that I should avoid wheat and dairy for a month…to which I simply replied:

“But, I’m going to France!”

It was tough, but I think I did alright (a mad crazed fondue incident aside). Which brings me neatly (not really) to this popular tofu dish that I make all the time, which made not one but three appearances during my Chinese New Year shin dig. And happily for others out there who are vegetarian, wheat and dairy intolerant, you too can make and consume this dish.

Simple Cold Tofu:
A packet of silken tofu - firm or soft good
Spring onions - finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce (GF if poss)
2 tsp dark soy sauce
(GF if poss)
2 tsp Sesame oil
1/2 tsp Fresh ginger - grated
1 tbsp mushroom floss
pinch chilli flakes or fresh chilli
pinch sesame seeds
1 tbsp roasted peanuts - crushed

If you have time to kill, the following will make the tofu even silkier and remove some of that out-of-a-box taste. It’s not necessary, but it’s nicer. Get it out of its packaging and place it on a small plate. Boil a pot of water with enough water to submerge your tofu. Once boiled, remove the pot from the heat and submerge the tofu and plate for 20 minutes. Drain, and set it aside to cool. You can put it over ice, or whack it in the fridge, it’s up to you.

When you’re ready to serve, slice the tofu thinly, drizzle with the soy sauces and sesame oil, get the spring onions on. Add the chilli, grated ginger, sesame seeds, peanuts and mushroom floss*…

*Okay, I probably need an aside is needed for this little addition. This is the vegetarian version of ingredient that for health/religious reasons my mum no longer really eats so I get gifted the veggie version whenever I go back to Hong Kong. But for those of you relatively au fait with Chinese or Thai snack foods, the following statement is irrefutable: Pork floss is delicious.

If you have never heard of pork floss, it is *exactly* as it says on the tin. It’s seasoned pork that’s spun into a savoury meaty candy floss. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s that kind of black food magic which makes the world go round. Go try some. Preferably on those moorish spicy rice crackers…who do I know in Thailand at the moment to get me some?…who…do…I…

…hang on. Sorry I got side tracked. Basically, you get it. This tofu dish is supremely adaptable. If you’ve got your three main flavours of soy, sesame oil and spring onions, you can add essentially anything you want. Be it crushed garlic, a splash of black chinese vinegar, a raw quail egg, natto, grated yam, umeboshi, grated carrot, a thousand year old egg, coriander. Maybe not everything I’ve listed at once. Experiment and make some: it’s simple.

Red Cooked Beef Shin – 紅燒牛腱

red-cooked beef shin

Whenever my mum throws a party, there are staples that family and friends expect to be served. Of these are drunken chicken wings, and red-cooked beef shin or turkey gizzards (which may sound totally horrific to those uninitiated, but my god, gizzards are delicious). So this Chinese New Year I decided on the beef shin and found myself making a large pot of aromatic red broth to braise my meat. I actually tried to source some turkey gizzards, but I think all the local butchers I called around thought I was a bit loopy. Oh gizzards. I shall find you one day.

I remade this again last night because my guests who were as quick and hungry as gannets gobbled it all up before I could take a picture. I doubled this amount to be a bit of a nibbly appetiser for around 20 people. So, below will probably be a starter to serve 4?

Red Cooked Beef Shin:
700 g beef shin
5 or 6 shallots - roughly chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Peel of an orange
2.5 cups cold water
1/2 Shiu Hing (brown) cooking wine
1 cup light soy sauce
3 tbsp rock or granulated sugar
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp liquorice powder
A drizzle of sesame oil to serve

Get a colander in the sink. Rinse the meat in cold water, trim some of the outer fatty bits if you must. Then take some boiling water and douse the meat to seal it a bit.

Chop your shallots fry them in a bit of vegetable oil until fragrant – remove and save for later. With a peeler, peel the orange rind off in one long spiral. Now get a pot and put the water, soy, sugar, shallots, orange peel and and spices (basically all the ingredients but the sesame oil) into it. You want the pot small enough that when you add the beef it is completely submerged in the braising liquid.

Shin in and bring it to a boil, after 5 mins turn the heat right down to a simmer. Notes from my mum said ‘braise for at least 40 mins until tender’. I ended up simmering it for 2.5 hours. You want to check the water level is always submerging the meat, and maybe flip it around every so often so all sides get infused with the flavour. Check tenderness with a skewer, it should be soft enough to melt in the mouth but still have structure when you slice it.

The absolute best thing about slow cooking with shin is the ribbons of tendon and fat which render down into impossibly guilty deliciousness. You can just about see the marbling in the photo above.

Once tender, remove the beef from the braising liquid and let it rest for 15 minutes. Now thinly slice against the grain of the meat and serve with a drizzle of sesame oil and a splash of the red braising broth. If I were to be a bit more organised about this, I might even scoop some of the red broth out into a smaller pot and reduce it down into a thicker dipping sauce. So maybe you wanna do that if you have time.

Glut of Cucumbers: Simple Asian Cucumber Salad

I’ve been getting a lot of cucumbers in my veg boxes as of late, and I was simply not getting through them enough. So at times like these I really love to make this simple Asian salady side dish. There’s a lot of variations of these dishes across the swathe of Asia and the only reason I’m not calling strictly calling this a Chinese pickle recipe is because I’ve not added any rice vinegar (but it is cured with the salt). Serving cucumbers in this fashion is most like Korean namul and it’s those variations of veggie sides that I love most about Korean BBQ’s.

Simple Cucumber Namul Ingredients:
1 whole cucumber or 2-3 smaller varieties
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or 1 small red chilli
1/4 tsp white pepper
1-2 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 spring onion finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)

You want to slice the cucumber into long strips at around 2-3 mm thick. I used to do this by hand with a filleting knife, but my cousin and his wife bought me a voucher for a cooking store last year and I got a mandolin…man…I’m loving the mandolin. When you’ve got lovely long thin strips, cut away the cucumber seed areas. Yes, I know you can eat these, but for the purpose of this dish they add way too much water, so get rid.

In a sealable container add all the above ingredients and mix until all evenly coated. You might think that there’s just a bit too much salt in this, but the salt helps draw out the water from the cucumber giving them a nicer bite (and that water will eventually dilute the salty flavours anyway). Now put them in the fridge overnight and enjoy the next day.

This recipe is pretty adaptable to your tastes, you can even add a bit of soy, grated ginger or garlic if you would like. The veg is really interchangeable: cabbage, carrots, beans, bean spouts, radish, kohlrabi…some of these veg you’ll want to par boil. I’ve served my cucumbers with a congee made with rolled oats – a healthier version of congee perhaps, but mostly because I didn’t plan to cook the rice early enough for making nice creamy congee.

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