Saturday, May 11, 2013

Accidentally Like a Pot-Sticker

Red Jade pot stickers, among the best in the city of SF.
I'm months behind in my reading of the New Yorker, and the article I'm currently reading is called "Music To Your Ears" by Adam Gopnik.

Part of the article, which is rather technical, tries to address how the ear actually hears music - is it art? Or an artificial form on communication not unlike language? Many of the components of music do not exist in nature: harmony, melody; even notes (as understood in the Western musical canon) are rare to find.
"The two expressive dimensions whose force in music Levitin (a music producer and professor at McGill University) had measured and made mechanical were defections from precision. Vibrato is a way of not quite landing directly on the note; rubato is not quite keeping perfectly to the beat. Expressiveness is error."
This was a revelation, and got me to thinking immediately about what I had eaten for dinner: pot stickers.

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Pan-frying a small serving for lunch.
On one hand there is a school of thought in "professional cooking" that seeks to train cooks to produce the exact same dish over and over - and there is utility to this, certainly.

However taken to it's extreme, sameness in cooking leads inevitably to mechanization of cooking, interchangeable parts, a sort of horrific Henry Ford vision of food as assembly line: the McDonaldization of food.

The pot sticker (simplified Chinese: 饺子; traditional Chinese: 餃子; Japanese: 餃子(gyōza); Vietnamese: bánh chẻo; Nepali: म:म: or ममचा) is a humble dumpling and, thankfully, no two are ever exactly alike.

The pot sticker surely came to being on accident: a dumpling braised in water or broth until the liquid disappears, burning the bottom of the dumpling as it scorches against bare metal.

It is also my standard barer for the mark of an acceptable Chinese restaurant (paging chef Danny Bowien, you would instantly be my hero).

Naturally they are not too difficult to make at home.

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Wonton Gourmet, Cleveland
If you live in a city with a large enough Asian population you will likely be able to find wonton wraps fairly easily (possibly on the supermarket shelves).

You want round wraps, like these: http://www.nasoya.com/products/asian-style-wraps/round-wraps.html - coming in packages of a few dozen to over 100 wraps per package.

After opening, if you do not use all of them, wrap with a damp paper towel and place that in a resealable plastic bag. Use within a week.

Basic Pork and Shrimp Pot Sticker Stuffing:
  • 1 lbs ground pork.
  • 1/2 lbs peeled, deveined shrimp (grind at home in a food processor).
  • 1 cup of chiffonade of Napa cabbage that has been rinsed, salted, and drained (pressed) of excess moisture.
  • 3-4 green onions, chopped.
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, agave syrup or brown rice syrup.
  • 1 tablespoon of kosher salt.
  • 1 teaspoon of ground white pepper.
  • Optional 1 teaspoon of ground "pink peppercorn".
Mix and make a small patty to fry up in a pan to test for seasoning. Adjust sugar/salt as needed.

This recipe assumes a 3" diameter round pot sticker. If you are using the smaller, square wonton wraps then halve the amount of stuffing.

Wet edges of your wonton wrap with water. Place 1 teaspoon of the mixture in the center.

Fold over the wrapper, carefully pushing out any air that may be trapped.

Crimp the edges*.

[ * Or don't. I haven't mastered this yet, but when I do, I promise I'll post a video. Otherwise, look online. You can't go wrong with Martin Yan. ]

Arrange on a sheet pan dusted with cornstarch or rice flour to prevent sticking and allow to air dry before cooking in batches.

Vegan Pot Stickers, the Dry Duxelle:
  • 1 shallot.
  • 3 cups of chopped button or crimini mushrooms.
  • 1 cup of  chopped shiitake mushrooms.
  • Optional: dry porcini mushrooms, chopped.
  • Sliced canned water chestnuts (or fresh if you can find them!), drained and chopped.
  • 3-4 chopped green onions.
  • Optional: 1 egg (no longer vegan, oh well).
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar, rice syrup or agave syrup.
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed white pepper.
Cook shallot and mushrooms and a pinch of salt over medium heat until dry. Remove from heat, add remaining ingredients.

Pot Sticker Preparation, the American Way:
  • 1 searing hot #9 Lodge cast-iron pan.
I don't own a wok (currently), nor do I have the BTUs (British Thermal Units) to power one properly. I do have a cast-iron, which is both a "non-stick" surface when properly seasoned (as is a wok), but give nice "wok hei" to the end product by transferring lots of nice charred carbon bits to the dumpling.

Heat the cast iron. Add a small amount of fat (this is a perfect application for duck fat, or more traditionally pork lard) and arrange dumplings flat side down.

Add a small amount of water or stock, about 1/3-1/2 cup, and cover with lid for about 4-5 minutes. Then uncover and allow liquid to boil off completely.

Dumplings will release as pan cools, using a metal spatula.

Basic Dumpling Dipping Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar.
  • 1 chopped scallion.
  • 1 teaspoon of dark sesame seed oil.
Of course there are a million dipping sauces in the naked city. The components I like are salty, sweet, sour and savory (sesame seed oil is full of that good "umami"). Try youzu sauce, lime juice, simple vinaigrettes, soy and chili paste, vinegar and chili paste, etc, etc.

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Red Jade
245 Church Street
San Francisco, CA

Wonton Gourmet & BBQ
3211 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio