Potstickers have become commonplace at Asian and fusion restaurants in the States, but most patrons of such establishments have no idea that the dumplings they’re scarfing down are pale shadows of the little masterpieces made in places like Tianjin.
More on Zester Daily:
A city on the Bohai Sea, Tianjin serves as Beijing’s seaport. Cooks in this seaport do fantastic spins on northern Chinese foods, borrowing many ideas from such sources as its large Muslim population and turning them into delicacies like these filled pasta that are beloved by China’s cognoscenti.
Potstickers in Tianjin are amazingly good partially because the ethereally light wrappers are handmade and also because the filling is so juicy and flavorful that only a touch of dipping sauce is needed. Contrast this with the potstickers served up in most Chinese joints outside of China, which are usually little more than previously frozen pork dumplings with boring fillings and leaden skins. These commercially made things have little to recommend them, and I avoid them like the plague.
Once you’ve eaten handmade guotie (or wor tip as they’re called in Cantonese), you will fall in love, too, with thin pasta that melts in your mouth, acting as little more than a gossamer hankie on three sides for the juicy, flavor-packed pork hiding within. But, as with all great potstickers, the greatest draw are its bottoms crusted a golden crunchy brown.
In China, potstickers are long and thin, with both ends open so that the juices can run out and join in forming the crispy crust. These are perfect either for breakfast with a hot bowl of congee, or as an afternoon snack, or as part of a dim sum feast. They even can be made ahead of time up to the last step, which means they are great for entertaining.
You may have noticed that these are called “lacy.” That is because there is one other thing that sends these potstickers into the culinary stratosphere: a crispy filigree surrounds them, making them look magical and even more enticing than you probably thought possible.
Lacy potstickers — 冰花鍋貼 Bīnghuā guōtiē
Makes 24 potstickers and serves about 4
For the wrappers:
2 cups regular Korean flour or all-purpose flour (see Tips)
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoons rendered lard or shortening
½ cup boiling filtered water
Extra flour for rolling out the dough
Small bowl of cool filtered water
For the filling:
1 pound ground pork (30% fat recommended), preferably a heritage breed such as Berkshire
1 teaspoon Chinese mushroom seasoning or sea salt (see Tips)
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 green onion, trimmed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons peeled fresh minced ginger
For the lace:
1½ tablespoons flour
1½ tablespoons wheat starch (see Tips)
¾ cup cool filtered water
¾ cup fresh peanut or vegetable oil for frying
1. First, make the wrappers: Pour the flour into a medium work bowl and toss in the salt. Cut up the lard and toss it with the flour. Pour all of the boiling water into the flour mixture and mix with chopsticks until the dough becomes flaky. Use your hand to knead the now cooler dough inside the bowl until it sticks together, and then turn it out on a flat surface. Knead the dough without adding any more flour; it will take about 5 minutes to form a smooth, gentle dough. Place the ball of dough in a clean plastic bag and let it rest for at least 15 minutes to relax the gluten.
2. Turn the pork out onto a clean chopping board and use a heavy cleaver or knife to chop it until it is fine and a bit sticky; turn the meat over every once in a while and fold it in on itself so that every morsel gets whacked completely. Place the meat in a medium work bowl and add the rest of the filling ingredients. Use your hand to stir them around in one direction to fully incorporate them, and then pick the meat up and slam it back into the bowl around 10 times to make the meat bouncy and resilient. Divide the filling into 24 pieces and roll these into small balls or cylindrical shapes.
3. Mix together the lace ingredients until smooth and then pour them through a fine sieve into a measuring cup.
4. Shape the rested dough — it should be as soft as an earlobe — into a rope 24 inches long and cut the rope into 24 one-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a small ball and dust it lightly with some flour. Cover the balls with a clean tea towel as you go. Working on one piece at a time, flatten a ball on a lightly floured board with your palm to form an even circle about 2 inches in diameter. Then (if you are right-handed), hold this circle near the center between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand while you wield a Chinese rolling pin (which is like an inch-thick, 12-inch dowel) with your right hand. Roll the circle out gently and evenly, pressing down in the center of the circle with the rolling pin and rolling in and out 2 times before turning the dough 45 degrees. Keep rolling and turning the dough this way to form a circle 5 inches in diameter. The wrapper should be smooth, elastic, and even. Lightly dust it with some flour and cover it with the towel. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have 24 wrappers.
5. Now, wrap the potstickers one at a time by placing a wrapper flat on your left hand while smearing one of the meatballs down the center to form an even layer of meat about ¾ of an inch wide. Wet the edges of the wrapper with some cool water and pinch the edges together, leaving a ¾-inch opening at both ends. Lightly crimp the edges in a wavy pattern, if you like. Cover the filled potsticker with a tea towel and repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling until all are filled. (The potstickers can be frozen at this point in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Place them in a freezer bag once they are hard. They can be used without defrosting — either steamed as directed in Step 6 or pan-fried as in the directions below for regular potstickers.)
6. Prepare a two-layer bamboo or (preferably) stainless steel steamer by spraying the bottom with oil and bring the water underneath it to a boil. Place the potstickers inside the steamer baskets so that they do not touch each other and steam the potstickers until done, about 7 minutes. Remove the potstickers from the steamer. (The potstickers can be prepared ahead of time up to this point and then reheated in Step 7 right before serving.)
7. Fry the potstickers just before serving: Heat a flat-bottomed frying pan (preferably nonstick) over medium heat until the edges of the pan are very hot. Depending upon the size of the pan, pour in some oil (about 1½ tablespoons per potsticker) and swirl it around. Arrange as many potstickers in the pan as will fit without squeezing, but they should touch each other. Then, pour the lace batter (about ½ tablespoon per potsticker) into the pan; immediately start swirling the pan around nonstop so that the batter forms a thin layer all around and between the potstickers. Once the lace has formed, loosen the edges of the lace with a thin spatula and turn the potstickers out upside-down onto a serving plate. Repeat with the rest of the potstickers, oil, and batter until done. Serve immediately with a dipping sauce of your choice (see Tips).
Regular potstickers: You can make regular potstickers easily with this recipe: just omit the lace and the steaming. Instead, pour some oil (about 1½ tablespoons per potsticker) into a hot, flat frying pan sitting over medium heat. Arrange as many potstickers in the pan as will fit without squeezing, but they should touch each other. Then, pour filtered water (again, about 1½ tablespoons per potsticker) into the pan and immediately cover it with a tight-fitting lid. Fry-steam the potstickers for around 5 minutes, or until you can hear by the popping oil that the water has been absorbed. Remove the lid and continue to fry the potstickers until their bottoms are a golden, crispy brown. Loosen them with a thin spatula and turn them out onto a serving plate with the brown bottoms on top. Serve hot.
— Regular Korean flour works best here, as it has the right amount of gluten to make soft, supple wrappers with good texture.
— Wheat starch is available in Chinese grocery stores in the flour aisle under the name 澄粉chéngfěn.
— Mushroom powder is optional, but it adds a nice layer of seasoning.
— I buy organic white shortening by Spectrum that is non-hydrogenated, and so much healthier. It’s a good substitute for lard because it doesn’t taste of butter.
Top photo: Lacy Tianjin potstickers. Credit: Carolyn Phillips