I had been dreading this month's Cook the Books challenge since I signed up. It's a monthly challenge of cooking from a particular cookbook, and this one involved Asian dumplings. I've tried to make potstickers at home a couple times and it has never ended well. I've found them to be a big hassle to make and I could never get them to stay together and I'd end up with a skillet of wonton skins and their innards all spewed out and calling the whole mess "stir fry". So I settled on eating them frozen or going to a Japanese restaurant to get my fill of gyoza, but I adore them.
This month's selected cookbook is Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen, who is a food writer who often appears in Saveur. So, I set my jaw and my mouse clicker finger and interlibrary loaned it from the library. It took a while to get it - the book appears to be pretty popular. All the copies were checked out in the network - perhaps it wouldn't be too bad if everyone is checking it out. I started reading it when I had the foreshadowing that this might not go well for me. First of all, there is lots of special equipment required - a wooden dowel rolling pin that can only be found in "housewares and restaurant supply houses in Asian enclaves". While Ann Arbor is home to a good many Asians - many on the University of Michigan faculty and the headquarters for both Toyota and Hyundai in North America are in our town, there isn't any restaurant supply stores nearby, and there's only one Asian grocery store, and it is very small. I thought I could just make my own rolling pin from hardware store dowel rod, but that would require more effort than I was willing to put into the task. I do have a Chinese steamer and a scale, but I didn't have the required tortilla press and I refuse to buy one. The author makes the whole dough process sound so difficult - the basic dumpling dough calls for only 2 ingredients - flour and water, but she writes a whole paragraph about how to boil water and let it rest first, because boiling water is "dangerous". Really? Dangerous? Then, each piece of dumpling dough is supposed to be weighed to "be precise". I decided I was going to have to take her up on her judgmental "lazy day tip" and buy premade wrappers instead of making my own dough.
I decided to make gyoza - the Japanese adopted Chinese potstickers. I headed out to my town's sole Asian grocery and bought some frozen gyoza wrappers - they had many varieties of frozen wrappers, not just gyoza style. I also needed some sake for the recipe, which I don't particularly like drinking and still have most the bottle in my fridge, to go along with the remaining napa cabbage it called for. Napa cabbage heads are big, and the amount needed is small. Curiously, throughout the book, Ms. Nguyen makes many recipes that start out with two cups of lightly packed, finely chopped napa cabbage, that she claims will reduce down to 1/2 cup after salting and rinsing it. but I didn't find that to be the case. All you really need is a couple leaves of napa to for a batch. I'll need to figure out something to do with the rest of it.
Ms Nguyen's recipe goes on for 3 pages and with every possible step explained into minutiae. It has some strange warnings, like how to hold the lid of the skillet to "lessen the dramatic affect of water hitting hot oil"....huh? This gal has some serious worries about hot water. Every little step of every recipe is explained in annoying detail. It got to the point where I was waiting for her to tell me when to breathe. The bottom line is that I discovered that despite her best effort to disguise the fact, making gyoza wasn't really all that hard. I read through her descriptions of how to make the master shapes of dumplings and found out that I loved the pea pod shape - like a pair of sweat pants, it lets you stuff the dumpling with filling and pleat it up at the seam. It was super easy and they looked authentic, too:
Even though I used the "lazy day" method by buying frozen dumpling wrappers, I'd definitely recommend making gyoza from scratch instead of buying the frozen ones - they tasted way better. Here's how I made Ms. Nguyen's recipe....
Japanese Pork and Shrimp Potstickers
1 cup finely chopped napa cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 t grated fresh ginger
2 green onions, copped (white and green part)
1/2 lb ground pork
6 medium shrimp, shelled, deveined and chopped fine
pinch of sugar
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 T sake
small package of frozen gyoza wrappers
Sprinkle cabbage with salt and let it sit in a fine mesh strainer for 15 minutes. Squeeze any moisture out through the sieve, and dump into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until it's well blended. Let it sit for a half hour or so to let the flavors blend. Meanwhile, thaw the wrappers.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and form dumplings....I'll let Ms Nguyen show you how to do it herself here:
It's not hard at all to make them. Cover the pan with a towel as you create them so they don't dry out. To pan fry them, head a tablespoon or so of canola oil and the same amount of sesame oil in a nonstick frying pan. Place the dumplings in the pan and fry them for a couple minutes until they are light brown on the bottom. Add water to the pan to make it be about 1/4 of an inch deep - no need to freak out...but know that you are adding water to a hot pan. It will sizzle, but it's not going to kill you or anything. There is no drama. Cover the skillet and lower the heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes, then vent the lid and cook for a few minutes more. While they are cooking, make dipping sauce:
3 parts soy sauce
1 part rice vinegar
dash hot chili oil
Adjust ingredients to suit your taste. Remove the lid from the pan and cook the dumplings until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Serve with the dipping sauce.
The bottom line? The cookbook isn't one I'd want to own. Many of the recipes are repeats of the same thing with one or two ingredients changed. As previously mentioned, it belabors even the smallest points of cooking, instead of making things sound easy. What I learned is that dumplings are easy - I'm definitely going to make more. But I'm not buying the tortilla press....sorry. Frozen wrappers are just fine for me! Call me lazy....