Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jiao Zi - Potstickers with Chicken and Mushrooms

The last couple of nights I made these chicken potstickers for dinner.  I decided to take on the last (most difficult) recipe of February because (a) I had chicken (b) it's the New Year holiday and (c) I wanted to test my limits.
Potstickers are indeed tricky.  The longest step of the process was actually mincing the chicken.  We have a great new vendor at the farmers’ market who sells fresh chicken parts so I don't have to use the whole bird at once.  The rest of the filling was a breeze.  I used canned water chestnuts and discovered that while I don’t really care for their metally flavor, the empty can was just the right size to cut out the dumpling rounds.  The recipe calls for what seemed to be an alarming amount of sesame oil (1 Tb) but it didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients.  It really complemented the earthiness of the dried shiitakes.  Yum.
The dough was the real challenge.  Most recipes for potstickers involve going to the store and buying pre-made dumpling wrappers.  Making dumpling dough from scratch, however, is a careful balance between too-sticky and too-dry - capturing the oft-elusive ratio of water and flour that varies with ambient humidity, when the wheat was harvested, and the price of tea in China.

After developing the gluten to the point that the dough was still a bit sticky but pulled away from my hands, rolling it and assembling the dumplings was a breeze.  I'm not convinced that you really need a circular cookie cutter to make these.  They could be any shape as long as you crimp the edges together.  I assembled fourteen on Sunday, six on Monday morning and six for Monday dinner.  The first two batches went immediately into the freezer.  Having a stash of homemade dumplings in the freezer makes me feel rich indeed.

True to their name, these dumplings have the remarkable ability to stick to any cooking surface.  The first batch I fried in palm oil and then steamed.  Even though they stuck to the pan in places, it didn't destroy them.  It was messy and oily but delicious.  I tried cooking them in the steamer basket; they stuck to that too.  Then I steamed them on bits of waxed paper and they even stuck to the waxed paper!  In the future, I think I'll stick with the fry-start because I liked the texture best.

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