Tag Archives: Asian food

achieving wok hay

Ever since reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper last year, I’ve been hankering to get into more authentic Chinese cooking. I realize “authenticity” is subjective and can be cause for debate, but in the broad sense I mean food that would actually be prepared in a Chinese home, rather than  dishes that were created Stateside and appear on every Chinese take-out menu from Dubuque to Des Moines.

With that in mind, I picked up The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young from the library recently. It focuses in on the techniques of wok cooking as a necessary component of Chinese cookery, as opposed to some Asian cookbooks that reassure the cook that it’s fine to just stir fry in a skillet if need be. The way Young describes the use of a wok, it’s practically an ingredient unto itself. Anyone who’s had a well-prepared stir fry can identify the flavor of wok hay, the essence or “breath” of the wok, as Young translates it. It’s that underlying hint of smokiness that you just don’t get unless you cook at extremely high temperatures, and it is simply not possible to accomplish with a Western skillet.

So vital is the selection, care, technique and culture of the wok that Young spends the first 65 pages of her book discussing these topics before any recipes are given. I read most of those pages, but the other night I was feeling eager to dive in so I thought I’d forge ahead and try my hand at one of the recipes, a scallop & asparagus stir fry. Apart from one misstep at the very beginning (minced garlic that turned black within seconds of being added to the uber-hot wok), the recipe was a breeze. Best of all, when I tasted the dish, there it was- the slight “grilled” flavor of wok hay! It felt like a revelation. I served it with a very non-authentic but delicious variation of my favorite carrot and avocado salad, where I subbed in ginger, hot chili paste, rice vinegar and a touch of soy sauce for the French vinaigrette.

Even if you only make the occasional stir fry, I would highly recommend reading Young’s chapters about wok use and putting her advice into practice. That little bit of knowledge just might have you creating some wok hay of your own, and I’m here to tell you it’s worth whatever small extra effort might be involved. My scallop stir-fry was easily one of the best I’ve made- the scallops seared but juicy; the vegetables crisp-tender; the sauce just a sheer glaze that nicely flavored without drowning the ingredients. I have a feeling the wok is going to be put to use a little more often in our household in the near future.

I can’t summarize Young’s 65 pages for you, of course, but here are a few tips for achieving wok hay in your own kitchen:

  • Use a carbon-steel wok, never nonstick.
  • Have all ingredients close at hand; the process goes lightning fast and there’s no time to realize you forgot a component during cooking.
  • Don’t exceed the amount of ingredients a recipe calls for or add too much to the wok at one time; it brings the temperature down too far and your food will steam instead of sear.

Scallop & Asparagus Stir-Fry (adapted from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)
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Notes: The original recipe called for 1 lb of asparagus. I only had about 3/4 lb so I subbed in some snow peas for the remaining 1/4 lb. The important thing is not to go over 1 lb total of vegetables, because it will reduce the wok’s heat too much. The only other change I made was to sprinkle the garlic on top of the scallops when I put them in the wok. When I put the garlic in first, I found that it instantly burned and I had to start over.

1 lb. scallops (if you want to splurge, use fresh dry sea scallops, but I used frozen, thawed bay scallops and they tasted fine)
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed & cut into 2-inch pieces
1 ¼ tsp salt
4 tsp Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 ¼ tsp cornstarch
1 ½ tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 Tbs peanut or other  vegetable oil
1 Tbs minced garlic

Put 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan with 1 tsp salt and bring to the boil. Add asparagus. When the water returns to a boil, remove from heat and drain the asparagus; set aside. (If using any snow peas, they do not need to be blanched.)

Rinse the scallops and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Combine in a bowl with the sesame oil, white pepper, 1 ¼ tsp of the cornstarch, 1 tsp of the rice wine and the remaining ¼ tsp of salt; mix well to combine. In another bowl, combine the remaining 1 tsp cornstarch, rice wine, and the oyster sauce with ¼ cup cold water.

Place scallops, asparagus, sauce and garlic within hands’ reach of the stove. Heat a 14″ flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1-2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil. Add the scallops, carefully spreading them in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic on top. Cook undisturbed for 30 seconds to allow them to brown; then stir-fry with a metal spatula for 30-60 seconds or until scallops are light brown but not cooked through. Add the asparagus. Stir the sauce mixture and add to the wok. Bring to the boil to thicken the sauce and finish cooking the scallops, about 30 seconds.

Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal.

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sesame soba noodle salad

Confession time: I’m not much for TV food personalities (I don’t even have cable!), but when I was first really getting into cookbooks, I was pretty into Nigella Lawson. There was just something in her breezy “if I can do it, anyone can” manner that was very appealing, and I enjoyed reading her cookbooks as much as I did cooking from them.  Nowadays, I’m at a point where most of her recipes (with the exception of baked goods) are things I could whip up on my own without having to consult a cookbook.  But there are a few dishes that have stuck with me and become part of my regular repertoire.

This soba noodle salad is one such dish.  I’ve made it for countless potlucks and barbecues, and almost always get asked for the recipe.  The two great things about it are that it’s ultrafast to make, and that it’s pretty healthy as far as “pasta salad” goes.  The original just calls for noodles, scallions and sesame seeds (in addition to the dressing), but I’ve taken to add-ins such as the peapods pictured, or carrot matchsticks, or any raw veg you see fit, really, to make it a bit more salad-y and substantial.

Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which can also make this salad a good gluten free option if you substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce (I’ve been told tamari usually does not contain wheat gluten, but check labels!).  It’s also vegan.  I’m not gonna lie, it’s not really substantial enough to have as a main dish, but it makes a great component to an Asian-style meal.  We had it the other night as part of a Japan-esque motley dinner of salmon sashimi with yuzu juice, an heirloom tomato, tofu and shiso salad from the Momofuku cookbook, and a mess of stir-fried purple-tinged leafy mystery greens we bought from one of the Asian produce vendors at Eastern Market.

Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (adapted from Nigella Fresh, aka Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
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8 oz dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
¼ cup sesame seeds
3-5 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
6 tsp soy sauce (or sub Bragg’s Aminos for gluten free)
2 tsp honey (non-honey-eating vegans, just sub brown or regular sugar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
optional: additional vegetables, such as peapods or julienned carrot pieces

Notes: The soba noodles I buy come in little 3.5-oz bundles (see photos), so I just use two bundles- close enough. The ginger is optional but a nice touch if you have some on hand.  If you’re using additional vegetables, depending on quantity you may want to lightly salt them or toss them in a bit more soy sauce prior to adding them to the salad.  This recipe doesn’t make a huge quantity of salad, but it can easily be doubled if serving more than a few people.

Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Toast the sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over low heat, taking care not to burn them. Remove from heat when toasty and fragrant, and allow to cool. Combine all the dressing ingredients (including the ginger, if using) in a large bowl and mix well.

When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and stir them so they don’t clump.  The noodles will cook VERY quickly- test for doneness after 3 minutes.  The package instructions (and Nigella, in her version) say 6 minutes but in my experience this yields gummy, overcooked noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked through, drain in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled.  Shake to remove excess water. Toss the noodles in the bowl with the dressing.  Add the sesame seeds, scallions, and any other vegetables and toss again to distribute.  If you have time, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes or so before serving for the flavors to develop.

thang long’s duck & cabbage salad

Although I’m an adventurous eater and love all kinds of Asian foods, it hasn’t been until relatively recently (the last 5 years or so) that I discovered how much I love Vietnamese food.  Sad, because out of all the types of Asian cuisines I’ve tried, Vietnamese cooking calls out to me the most, with its pungent flavors of fish sauce, chilies, lime and fresh herbs.  It’s ironic because although I lived in France, where there is a large Vietnamese population, my experience was limited to snacking on the occasional nem (fresh roll), which you could buy at the counter in many Vietnamese-owned groceries.

Here in Metro Detroit, there is also a significant Vietnamese population in the Madison Heights area (see this post about some of the Asian specialty stores in that area).  A couple years ago Marvin turned me on to a restaurant on John R just north of 11 Mile Rd. called Thang Long *insert immature jokes here… you know you want to* and I’ve been hooked ever since.  It’s not much to look at when you walk in- the decor is all rose-colored and clearly hasn’t been updated since the early ’80s; the vinyl seats are torn in places.  There’s a long table in the middle of the restaurant where the family congregates to do food prep, wrap silverware, etc.  But none of that matters because when you go to Thang Long, you go for the food.

I’ve tried several dishes at Thang Long, but my favorite is the Duck & Cabbage salad.  Cabbage is shredded and doused with a dressing of vinegar, fish sauce, chilies and garlic; there are slices of red bell pepper, mint and basil leaves, a sprinkling of peanuts, and best of all, pieces of shredded duck breast. Last year I acquired Andrea Nguyen’s book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (check out this post for a great stuffed tofu recipe from that book), and happily it contained a recipe for a very similar salad that used poached chicken breast in place of the duck.  I made a batch and was delighted to find that, with just a little tweaking, I could now make my beloved duck salad at home.  Best of all, it’s an incredibly easy recipe AND super healthy- there’s not even any oil in the salad dressing.  The salad is great when it’s first made, but I also like it after it “marinates” in the dressing and the cabbage softens a bit.  Either way, you’ll be glad it makes a big batch because it’s addictive and easy to eat huge portions!

Photo notes: The first photo is of the salad I made at home with chicken, following the original recipe without any modifications.  The photo of the salad with the herbs and red pepper is the actual duck salad at Thang Long (hence the crappy lighting). The things on the side of the plate are delicious fried shrimp chips.

Vietnamese Duck & Cabbage Salad (adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen)
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Notes:
If you’re looking for a more weekday version of this dish, this salad works just as well with chicken rather than duck.  I’m not usually a fan of the rather flavorless white chicken breast meat available in most stores (use Amish or organic if possible!), but the salad has so much flavor of its own that it works out.   For the chilies, in a pinch you can do what I did and use dried bird’s eye chilies; just pour a small amount of very hot water over them and let them soak a bit before using.  The items marked “optional” are ingredients that Thang Long uses in their salad that were not included in Ms. Nguyen’s recipe.

For the salad:
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 bone-in duck or chicken breast (both sides)
1 small red onion or two shallots, thinly sliced
½ to ¾ cup distilled white vinegar
1 small head green cabbage, about 1 lb, quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (I use the large holes of a box grater)
a good handful of cilantro, finely chopped (about 2-3 Tbs)
¼ of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
2-3 sprigs mint leaves (optional)
2-3 sprigs basil (optional)
2-3 Tbs finely chopped unsalted peanuts (optional)

For the dressing:
1-2 Thai or serrano (red) chilies, chopped (see notes)
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbs fish sauce
6 Tbs unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar

Directions:
Choose a lidded saucepan just large enough to hold the meat.  Fill half-full with water and the 1 Tbs fish sauce, and bring to a rolling boil.  Drop in the duck or chicken breasts.  When the water starts bubbling at the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly; let sit undisturbed for 30-40 minutes.  If you’re at all nervous about undercooked meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has reached 160°.  (Alternately, if time is not an issue, you can cook the meat in a slow cooker on low for a couple hours; folks on Serious Eats claim they get a moister result this way.)

Meanwhile, place the cabbage, carrot, cilantro and red bell pepper (if using) in a large bowl.  Put the onion or shallots in a small bowl and add the white vinegar just to cover (the vinegar tames the onion’s bite).  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain well and add to the cabbage.   When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the meat by hand along the grain; when cool, add to the bowl of cabbage.

Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, chilies, sugar and salt until they form a fragrant orange-red paste.  Scrape the paste into a small bowl and add the rice vinegar and fish sauce, stirring to dissolve and combine.

Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine.  Taste and adjust the flavors as needed, balancing the sour, salty, sweet and spicy.  Transfer to a serving plate, leaving behind any unabsorbed dressing.  Garnish with the herb sprigs and the peanuts, if using (or leave on the side for your guests to add as desired).

a trip to the chinese grocery

chinese-grocery-items-3Last weekend I had some errands to run near Oakland Mall.  Normally I hate going to this part of town, but when I do have to venture out that way, I make a point to try to stop by the 13 Mile & John R area (in Madison Heights), where there is a little cluster of ethnic grocery stores.  On the southwest corner there’s Saigon Market, as well as a middle eastern grocery in the same strip mall.  Across the street (north of 13 mile) is another strip mall with a Chinese market, a place selling barbecued duck, and a small Hispanic grocery.  I love going into the Asian stores and wandering the aisles looking at the various sauces and condiments, picking out new things to try, or just puzzling over what something could be (often the labels are vague and merely tell you it’s a “food product”- not sure how they get that past our ever-vigilant FDA! haha).  This time I went to the Chinese place, but honestly based on the products it seems more Southeast Asian or at least Pan-Asian.  So this is what I ended up with (from left to right):

1) A bag of dried chilis, the kind you’ll find floating whole in a Thai curry or Indian Dal.  I believe they’re referred to as bird’s eye chilis.

2) a bottle of Banana Sauce, a popular Filipino condiment akin to ketchup.  It contains no tomatoes; I think it’s dyed red.  I had this somewhere once when travelling but can’t recall where; I was hoping it would jog a taste memory. 

chopsticks-close13) a 6-pack of boxes of coconut milk- I liked the fact that these are a smaller size than the cans, because I often open a can and don’t use it all.

4) some nice simple bamboo chopsticks with pretty metallic red characters on them (anyone know what they say?)

5) some dried squid- I had this as a snack in Japan and thought it was pretty tasty- it’s basically like jerky

shredded-squid6) a small bottle of mustard oil- I had read about this in one of my Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks and was excited to find it, although after smelling and tasting it, I think vegetable oil plus a little dry hot mustard powder could potentially be substituted. 

7) “Dried Black Fungus Sliver”- these look like the kind of mushrooms you see in Hot & Sour soup, or at least that’s what I’m hoping they are.  I plan to use them that way, to sprinkle in soups.

What’s the most exotic item you’ve ever picked up from an Asian market, and how did you use it?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section…

braised chicken with cilantro, ginger & mint

As part of my cooking spree last weekend, I wanted to try a new recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks acquired in 2008, All About Braising.  This cookbook is so great, I really need to do a review of it soon.  I usually think of chicken as a little boring, to be honest, but this recipe, with cilantro, ginger and mint, sounded anything but dull.  If that wasn’t enticing enough, the sauce includes rum and cream (but not so much as to make you feel your arteries are clogging at each bite).

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I normally wouldn’t have thought to make root vegetables with this, but Marvin requested that I cook up a big pan of them so he could eat them all week.  I tried to put some exotic spices on them to liven things up, but I didn’t want to overdo it so I used a light hand and in the end I think it was too light, as I couldn’t really taste much.  But hey, in my book, roasted root vegetables taste pretty good au naturel.  Besides, I got lots of pretty photos out of it:

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Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Ginger & Mint (adapted from All About Braising) (printer-friendly version)

Molly Stevens, the author of the original recipe, called it “Goan Chicken”, because she was inspired by an article she read about Goa, a state in India that was formerly under Portuguese rule.  This was her interpretation of the fusion between European and Asian influences.  Her recipe calls for heavy cream, but I think that coconut cream could be substituted with a good result. If you do open a can of coconut cream for this, you can freeze the remainder.  Serve the chicken with some basmati or jasmine rice to soak up the sauce.

8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned or skin-on

Marinade:
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tbs finely minced or microplaned ginger
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbs vegetable or olive oil

Braising liquid:
2 tbs vegetable or olive oil
1/3 cup golden or amber rum (not dark)
3/4 cup chicken stock (low-sodium if canned)

3 tbs heavy cream or coconut cream
1/2 tsp brown sugar
freshly ground white or black pepper

Garnish:
1 scallion, finely sliced (white and green parts)
about 1 tbs each minced cilantro and mint leaves

spoon-skillet-crop

Directions:  If chicken thighs have skin, remove the skin and any large fat deposits.  Discard or save for making schmaltz. Rinse chicken with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place all of the marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag along with the chicken, smooshing it around so that the marinade coats all the pieces.  Refrigerate for 8-24 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the bag and scrape off the herbs as best you can with a spatula, returning them to the bag.  Don’t worry if some of the herbs refuse to dislodge themselves.  Heat 2 tbs oil at medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accomodate all the chicken.  Sear the chicken, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes or until it gets nicely browned on the bottom.  Turn with tongs and cook the other side for another 4 minutes or so.  Transfer to a large plate.  Pour off the excess fat from the skillet, leaving behind any browned bits.

Put the pan back on medium-high heat and add the rum, stirring to deglaze the pan.  Add the reserved marinade. and boil until the rum is reduced to a tablespoon or two, about 3 minutes.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Return the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any juices on the plate.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and braise gently.  Check afer a few minutes; if the liquid is simmering too violently, reduce the heat further.  Braise for 15 minutes and then turn the chicken over and braise for another 15 minutes.

Remove chicken from the skillet and place on a platter or serving dish; cover loosely with foil.  Increase the heat to medium-high to boil and reduce the cooking liquid, about 5 minutes.  Add the cream and sugar and simmer a few more minutes, until the sauce coats the back of your spoon. Pour any accumulated juices from the platter back into the sauce, stir, and taste for salt, pepper and sugar, adding a pinch more if you feel it needs it. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and garnish with the chopped mint, cilantro and scallion.

chinese-style kale, and variations on a dumpling

kale-ingredients-crop-11In my potstickers post, I had mentioned that I would post my recipe for Chinese-style kale as well as some variations on the potstickers.  In addition to the pork potstickers, Kathy also made some with a really great seafood filling.  She was hard pressed to give me an exact “recipe” since she was kind of winging it, but I’ll try to approximate it for you all.  Also, although the browned plate of potstickers looks awfully impressive, Kathy tells me that her favorite way to prepare them is actually boiled, so I’ll give instructions for that too.  I think there’s just something more “comfort-food”-ish about eating them boiled, and they soak up the dipping sauce a little better than the pan-fried version.  In regards to the kale, it was something I came up with on the fly several months ago, and it was so addictive that I’ve made it several times since.  I hesitate to call it Chinese, since I only have a vague impression whether they would combine these particular seasonings, but the use of the dry mustard powder called to mind that sharp Chinese hot mustard, so I’m running with it.  I’ll try to give amounts, but honestly I usually just eyeball everything, so you may want to add the spices in increments and taste as you go.  Also, the kale cooks down a lot so you may want to double the recipe if you’re feeding more than a few people or want leftovers. (I wouldn’t necessarily double the spices though- try increasing them by a third and see how it goes.  You can always add more, but you can’t subtract once they’re in there!)

Chinese-style Kale (printer-friendly version)

1 large bunch kale
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder, or more to taste
1 tsp dried red chili flakes or Huy Fong chili sauce (the kind with seeds)
2 tbs soy sauce
1/4 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tbs rice wine or Shaoxing (Chinese cooking wine)

Optional garnishes: toasted sesame seeds or fried shallots or garlic (these are available at Asian markets… try them and you’ll soon find yourself garnishing anything & everything with them!)

Remove the large stems from the kale.  Chop into strips about 1 1/2″ wide; wash and set aside in a colander to drain.  In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven), heat about 2 tbs of vegetable oil (add more if it doesn’t cover the bottom of the pan) and 1/4 tsp (a few dashes) sesame oil over medium-low heat.  Add the minced garlic and cook GENTLY until the garlic is browned, turning the heat down as necessary so it doesn’t burn.*  If you are using the dried chili flakes, add them to the oil and cook them for about 30 seconds to bloom the flavor.  Add the mustard powder and stir out any lumps.

kale-crop-w-hands

Add the kale to the pot and stir to coat with the seasonings.  It’s ok if the kale is a little wet; the moisture will help it steam and cook down.  The kale probably won’t fit all at once, so cook it for a few minutes until it cooks down and then add the remainder.  You can cover the kale to assist the steaming process; just make sure to stir it often enough so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  When the kale is tender but still green, add 1 tbs soy sauce and the chili sauce, if using.  Stir and taste for seasoning, adding the remainder of the soy sauce as you see fit.  You may also want to add a dash or two more sesame oil, chili sauce, or more mustard powder to taste.   Sometimes I add a small splash of rice wine or Shaoxing as well (increase the heat for a moment to cook off the alcohol).

*A note on browned garlic:  I know that most cookbooks advise you NOT to let your garlic brown, as they claim it acquires a “bitter” flavor.  However, in some Asian and Indian cooking, cooks do brown their garlic and enjoy its characteristic flavor.  If you do it gently and make sure not to over-brown or burn it, you’ll be fine.  But feel free to sauté it for a shorter time if you disagree.

Filling for Seafood Dumplings (Gyoza)

gyoza-ingredients1

14 oz. raw shrimp, peeled & deveined
6 oz. mild, white-fleshed fish such as sea bass or rockfish  (you can alter the ratio of shrimp to fish if you like, as long as it totals 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs)
1 small bunch Chinese leek (available at Asian markets; see photo above)
2 tbs soy sauce
2 packages round gyoza wrappers, thawed if frozen

Roughly chop or snip the Chinese leek (you should have about a cup).  Process with the shrimp, fish and soy sauce in a food processor until almost smooth (a little texture is OK, as long as the mixture holds together).   Pan fry a tablespoon or so to check the seasoning.  The filling will be a lovely pistachio green color when cooked.   It should have a delicate flavor and not be over-salted.  Wrap the dumplings as specified in the recipe for pork gyoza.

Boiling Instructions for Dumplings (courtesy Kathy Lee)

Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil.  Add dumplings to boiling water.  When water comes back to a boil, add a cold 8oz glass of water.  Repeat 2 more times; then remove from water and toss around to keep the dumplings from sticking to each other and enjoy!

pork potstickers in portland (day 2: 11/14/08: kathy’s kitchen)

gyoza-kale-color-adjustAt long last, here it is: the potstickers post I have been referring to for weeks now!  I have no excuse, as Kathy has already so kindly typed up the recipe for me.  So, as those of you who have been reading know, I visited Portland and Seattle about a month ago, staying 2 1/2 days in each city (see posts on Portland, day 1 & day 2).  My second day in Portland, Kathy taught me how to make guo tieh (literally, “pot stick”; also known in English/ Japanese as gyoza).  She invited her friend Rhonda over to help out, and the three of us had a great time learning and assembling together (not to mention consuming prodigious quantities of wine).   I also made a pot of my “Chinese-style” kale to go alongside, since the gyoza were our main dish. (Since this post is going to be rather long, I’ll post the kale recipe in a seperate blog entry, along with alternate versions of the potstickers.)

I just want to say that when you read this recipe it may seem like a lot of work, but if you have a friend or two over, it actually goes very quickly.  We made a batch of pork and a batch of seafood potstickers, and with three of us wrapping it only took about half an hour.  It’s a fun and impressive dish to make for a party if you have helpers… or you can offer to let people take some home for their labor!  They also freeze well, so it’s worthwhile to make extra as long as you’re taking the trouble.

Guo Tieh (Potstickers) with Pork (recipe courtesy Kathy Lee, with ever-so-minor tweaks by Noëlle)gyoza-on-tray-color-adjust

1 1/4 lbs unseasoned ground pork
1 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed in a strainer and squeezed dry
4-5 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
3 tbs cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
soy sauce to taste- about 4 tbs recommended
sesame oil to taste- about 2 tbsp recommended
2 packages round gyoza wrappers, thawed if frozen
vegetable oil for frying (2 tbs per pan of potstickers)

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 Directions:  Place the pork in a large mixing bowl.  Adding water a little at a time, stir pork in one direction.  Continue adding water until the pork stirs easily and is sticky.  Stir in the spinach.  Put the cornstarch and baking soda in a small dish and add just enough water to dissolve; stir this mixture into the pork along with the soy sauce and garlic.  At this point, you can put the filling in the fridge if you’re not going to assemble the pot stickers right away.  

When you’re ready to do the assembly, stir in the scallions and sesame oil.  (Noëlle suggests frying up a small ball of the meat mixture to taste if it is seasoned to your liking before filling the gyoza; adjust seasonings as needed.) 

gyoza-in-hand-color-adjust

To wrap the potstickers:  Line a couple cookie sheets with wax paper.  Put a small dish or glass of water at your “work-station”.  Place a wrapper in your hand and put a spoonful of filling in the center (better too little than too much; you don’t want the potstickers to break open).  As you go, you’ll get a feel for how much filling your wrappers can accomodate without being overstuffed.  With your free hand, dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. 

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fig. 1: "pleating" the gyoza wrapper

 Now, there are two ways to seal the potstickers, the easy way and the “fancier” way.  For the simple method, just fold in half, press the edges together to seal, and indent the bottom (the “fat” part).  To seal them the way we did, fold in half but don’t seal the edges; grasp the wrapper as if it was a taco that you were holding shut at the top.  Basically you are going to pleat one side of the “taco”, leaving the other side smooth.  Fold over a little flap of wrapper towards the center, making a little “pleat” (see fig. 1).  You can either do two or 
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fig. 2: the finished product

three pleats on each side of the center.  You should end up with this (see fig. 2):  the top is pleated while the bottom is not; this gives them a nice shape for nesting them in the pan.  

*Note: if you have made extra potstickers and want to freeze them, leave them on the wax paper and put them in the freezer until they are frozen enough not to stick together; you can then put them in a freezer bag.

Frying the potstickers (go here for boiling instructions):  Put 2 tbs vegetable oil in a cold non-stick skillet.  Add potstickers to the pan in a circle, nesting them snugly against each other, until the pan is full (see below).

gyoza-nestinggyoza-nesting-2

Place the pan on the stove over medium heat.  Do not use more heat or the wrappers will burn!  Let sizzle.  After about 5-7 minutes, gently lift a gyoza and peek at the underside to check for browning.  Total browning time will be between 8-12 minutes, depgyoza-flip-cropending on your stove, skillet, etc.  Once the gyoza are nicely browned, fill a glass with cold water and add to skillet.  Stand back, as this may cause oil to splatter.  You want the water to cover the potstickers about 3/4 of the way.  Cover the skillet to steam (ideally your skillet will have a lid, but use a plate if necessary).  After a few minutes, check the water level.  When all the water has cooked off, remove from heat.  Cover the skillet with an inverted plate the same size or larger than the skillet.  Put an oven mitt on.  Put the oven-mitt hand on the plate and, holding the skillet with the other hand, invert skillet.  Voilà a beautiful plate of golden brown potstickers!

gyoza-platter

gyoza-sauces-crop

Dipping Sauces for Potstickers 
For dipping sauce, Kathy uses a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili sauce; combine to taste.  I make a similar sauce but sometimes add a dash of sesame oil.  The Lee family uses another dipping sauce comprised of nothing but soy sauce and copious amounts of minced garlic!  I also like sweet chili sauce, a thick, syrupy bottled sauce (you can make your own by cooking down sugar syrup and chili sauce; sometimes the bottled kind has high fructose corn syrup).