Cooks love the idea of encasing any number of fillings in a wide assortment of edible wrappers. Plump pot stickers, spicy samosas, and tender bāo (stuffed buns) are staples of dim sum restaurants, street-side stands and homes throughout the world. Whether they are soft as ravioli or as crisp as fried pot-stickers, dough wrappers seal in fillings, add textural contrast and keep juices and aroma intact.
People have been perfecting the art of the dumpling all over the globe for centuries. No one does it better than in China, where they have been made since ancient times. Chinese dumplings may be round or crescent-shaped, steamed, boiled or pan-fried. The filling may be sweet or savory; vegetarian or filled with meat.
In northern China, it is customary for families to spend New Year's Eve preparing batches of Jiaozi (crescent shaped dumplings with pleated edges filled with meat, shrimp or vegetables) to be enjoyed after midnight.
To save time, you can buy round gyoza wrappers from an Asian grocery store or won ton wrappers (trim corners to make them round) from the supermarket. You can make dumplings that are filled with everything from traditional pork and cabbage to kimchi, shrimp and diced mushrooms.
Dumplings are a lot easier to make at home than you might think. You can buy a handy dumpling press to seal the edges (available on-line for around $5). If you don’t have a dumpling press just pleat the edges with your fingers.
Homemade dumplings will taste better than anything you buy in the store. Make a double batch and freeze half after they have been formed, so they will be ready to cook when the dumpling urge hits.
Pot Sticker Dumplings With Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Quick and Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott, Chronicle Books ($19.95).
A chilled bottle of Carpene Malvolti 1868 Extra Dry Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($18.99) pairs deliciously with these crisp and chewy New Year’s treats.
Yield: About 36 pot stickers
1 pound ground pork or ground beef
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
36 won ton wrappers or round gyoza wrappers (10-oz to 12-oz packages have about 50 wrappers each)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
To make Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce:
In a large bowl, combine the pork, green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, salt, and sugar. Squeeze the spinach with your hands or press it into a strainer, extracting most of the water. Add the spinach to the bowl and use a large spoon or your hands to mix everything together until all the seasonings are incorporated and the spinach and green onion are evenly mixed in.
To make dumplings:
To fold the dumplings, set up a work space with a dry cutting board, a small bowl of water for sealing the dumplings, the stack of won ton wrappers, and the pork mixture.
To shape a potsticker dumpling, place a wrapper on the cutting board. Scoop up a generous tablespoon of pork filling and place it in the center of the wrapper. Dip your index finger into the bowl of water, then lightly moisten the outside edge of the wrapper. Fold it in half, enclosing the filling and pinching the top edges to make a tight seal. Try to squeeze out any air bubbles that may form. Create 3 small pleats on one side of the seal, folding toward the center and pressing to seal it well. Form 3 small pleats on the other side and press the entire sealed edge. Press the sealed edge down lightly to plump up the dumpling and make it stand up straight.
Continue folding dumplings in this way, one at a time, or setting up 3 or 4 wrappers at a time for an assembly line. Place the folded dumplings in rows on a dry platter so that they don’t touch each other.
To cook the potstickers, heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and then add the vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. Carefully place about 12 potstickers in the pan, tucking them to form a circle in one direction; squeeze a few into the center if you can. (Packing them tightly is fine.) Place a serving platter by the stove to hold the cooked dumplings.
Let them cook undisturbed for 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a pale golden brown. Holding the skillet’s lid in one hand, add ½ cup water around the sides of the pan and then cover quickly. Let potstickers cook for 8 minutes, and then uncover the pan.
Continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes more, shaking the pan gently and using a spatula to discourage the pot stickers from sticking too much. When the water has evaporated and the dumplings are a handsome crispy brown, turn them out bottom side up onto a serving platter. Serve hot or warm, accompanied by Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce.