Most people reading this blog know that I lived in China for three years. The pictures above are from my very favorite adventure there-- hiking a treacherous three mile stretch of the Great Wall with a group of tenth graders, including a campout in one of the watchtowers.
I did not look this perky on day two, let me assure you.
Whenever anyone asks me about my time in China, they ask what the best part was about living there. For me, it was two things. Acupuncture and massage at ridiculously affordable prices, and the food.
I also miss the hilarious signs I saw around the country, but that is a post for another time.
Back to the food. One of my most favorite things to do in China was go out for dumplings. Potstickers. Gyoza. Whatever you call it. In China, you can get these like fast food. Pick your filling, wait a couple minutes, and for about $2 you have a plate full of fresh potstickers. Or you could go to Din Tai Fung, which has the world's most amazing (and unhealthy) dumplings. But that, too, is a post for another time.
Anyway, dumplings. One of the problems with coming back to the US after living overseas is trying to find food that compares to what you experienced abroad. (Like, for example, I would have cut off my right arm for decent Mexican food in Beijing. Not to be found.) So has been the case for dumplings. I know you can buy them frozen, and Trader Joe's makes a somewhat acceptable version (the ones labeled "potstickers", NOT the ones labeled "gyoza"), but in truth, there is only one place one can find delicious dumplings in the US.
And that is at my mother-in-law's.
We've established the fact that my MIL makes the best Asian food this side of the Pacific Ocean. But these dumplings are so good that they are the #1 requested for item whenever my equally awesome sister-in-law comes to town. So, for your eating pleasure, the experience is documented here.
You will need:
1 3/4 lb ground pork. (This must be freshly ground from a reliable source. My MIL gets hers from Cub Foods in Eden Prairie. I would not question this, if I were you.)
1 lb fresh Won Ton wrappers. We used these:
(the package should be very bendable, to ensure freshness)
A bunch of green onions. We used four, chopped.
2-4 tablespoons of soy sauce. Depending on taste. L's Mom doesn't measure, but I think that's about right. It should be enough to coat the outside of the pork and make it turn brown-ish.
Black pepper, about a teaspoon. Maybe more.
Sesame oil. A teeny tiny drizzle. That stuff is powerful.
You mix all the ingredients together (except for the won ton wrappers, obviously), in a bowl. L's Mom prefers a pie tin. She also mixes everything with a knife which she will later use to fill the won ton wrappers.
'My mission in life is to dirty as few utensils as possible.' -my mother-in-law
So your ingredients are all mixed. Super easy. Then you lay out the rest for filling:
This was our filling station, including a tiny plate of water. When you open the won ton package, you'll notice one side is floury, and one side isn't. You want to stuff the non-foury side:
Then you dip your finger in the water and lightly dab half of the edges of the won ton. Then you wrap:
(Once you make a rectangle add another drop of water on the lower right corner.)
It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it, which is pretty good if you know me and my lack of dexterity. When you finish, lay them on a cookie sheet like this:
This next step is important. Crucial. You MUST FREEZE THEM THIS WAY. Do not-- REPEAT-- do NOT just throw them in a bag and freeze them. They will stick together if you do that. This is a lesson many dumpling-novices have learned the hard way.
When they've frozen (about a couple hours), THEN you can take them out and put them in a ziploc to freeze until you're ready to cook them.
Fast forward to cooking day.
You'll need enough (vegetable or canola) oil to coat the bottom of the pan:
Then you artfully arrange them, like so. Pack them in nice and tight. Trust me.
Once they're a little brown on the bottom (a couple minutes), add a cupful of water. This is different than the directions on the back of the ones you buy at the store, that say you only need a tablespoon or so. You want the pan to look like this:
Then you cover the pan, and go play with the kids for about twenty minutes:
When you come back to the pan, the water will be pretty much absorbed. You have a choice. You can either flip them one-by-one, or your can be all strong and powerful and flip them all at once. Guess which one L chooses?
Then you fry up the other side for a couple of minutes until it's brown on the bottom, during which time you assemble your dipping sauces:
L's Mom's La You (hot sauce-- recipe later), LA CHOY LITE SOY SAUCE (no exceptions), HEINZ RED WINE VINEGAR (no exceptions), and sesame oil, combined as you like it.
Oh, and Kim Chi, if you're really nutty, like most of L's family is. I'm not.
And then you eat until you are silly and sick.
Afterward, you give your significant other a big-ol' happy 40th birthday smooch:
And say thank you for all the adventures before, and all the adventures to come.