Last month, Cookbook Club did not cook from a book. Instead, we piled into Grace Chin's cozy yurt to learn how to make Chinese potstickers the authentic way, wrappers and all.
Grace showed us how easy it is to make wrappers from scratch--all you need is a little help from some friends.
Grace laughs when she muses about what her friends back in Boston must think of her living in a 320 square foot yurt in Jackson Hole--with her boyfriend, 11 year old son, and 13 year daughter. "They must think I am suffering out here, totally off the grid", she says, as she shows our Cookbook Club how to make potstickers the way her grandmother showed her mother.
A neighbor's dog greeted me like he owned the place; Grace's yurt sports a mud room and an outdoor garden waiting for the snow to melt.
Grace's yurt--tucked in a quiet neighborhood between Wilson and Jackson, Wyoming--was the perfect setting for our cooking class. And no, we were not suffering at all in Grace's yurt, an oasis of efficiency and warmth. The main living area measures just 17 feet in diameter, but there was ample room for everyone to work as the skylight overhead showered us with moonlight. In fact, by the end of the night, we were all ready and willing to downsize and move in.
There's a master bedroom, a mud room, and a roomy kitchen and living area open to the center. Pillows strewn everywhere invite you to sit down and relax. There's even a garden of seedlings in the back room, getting ready for spring.
Grace's children each have their own room, where they climb to their lofted beds under the yurt's skylight. From their treehouse-like perches they can spy the owls flying above, peak at each other sleeping, and watch as their mom cooks for them downstairs. Grace bakes her own bread, cooks all their meals from scratch, and on special days, there are homemade potstickers.
Our first batch of dumplings didn't look as perfect as Grace's, but we quickly improved by the second batch.
I've made potstickers lots of times--my kids love to help forming the little dumplings, then eating them hot from the pan--but I have always used pre-made wrappers purchased at the grocery store. Why hadn't I ever made my own dough, a process not unlike making pasta? I needed to have someone like Grace show me how it's done.
Jessica and Grace knead the dough for a few minutes, then leave it to rest in a covered bowl.
The mystery of making dumpling wrappers was revealed as Grace made a simple dough of flour and hot water, kneaded it until it was soft, and left it to rest in a covered bowl. As the gluten in the dough softened and relaxed, we mixed the pork and cabbage filling.
Grace is just as picky about her pork as I am. We only buy it freshly ground from one of our local butchers at Jackson Whole Grocer or Aspens Market.
The Napa cabbage is blanched in boiling water, and then the vitamin-rich water is used to make the dough. This is one household where water does not get used frivolously--her kids fill 40 gallon jugs from a neighbor's well, then haul it to the yurt on their sleds.
Grace keeps the dough covered and warm while she works the dough. The yurt's walls are decorated with kid art.
With the pork and cabbage filling mixed and at the ready, it was time to check the dough--it should gently bounce back when indented with a finger--and make the wrappers. Grace cut the dough into three portions, and poked a hole in the center of one, forming a doughnut.
The doughnut is gently stretched to a 1-inch diameter, then pinched off into 1-inch blobs of dough.
Using a floured board, each round of dough is rolled out with a small dowel. Grace taught us one of the secrets for making perfect potstickers: Roll out the edges thinner than the interior. This makes the dumpling easier to seal, yet strong enough to hold ample filling.
Grace's small wooden dowels are perfect for rolling out the dough, but a larger rolling pin will work too.
We were getting good at rolling out the dough; it was time to learn how to fold a potsticker. A few teaspoons of filling is placed in the center, then the round of dough is folded in half and sealed at the center.
Annie P. wasted no time putting on her apron and getting to work.
With the center sealed, the rest of the dumpling is pleated closed, then Grace squares off the ends so that the potsticker will stand up straight in the pan.
Grace shows us the proper way to stuff a potsticker.
After filling the dumpling, Grace squares off the edges so that it will stand up straighten the pan.
Grace likes cooking postickers in her cast iron frying pan. I usually use a wok, but I loved how the cast iron made the dumpling bottoms extra crispy. Any oil with a high smoke point works well--grapeseed and peanut oils especially--but canola oil is fine. When the oil is shimmering, the potstickers are crowded cozily into the pan.
Potstickers can be frozen at this point; place on wax or parchment paper and place cookie sheet in the freezer, then transfer to airtight baggies when frozen solid.
When the bottoms are a crispy golden brown, the pan is filled with 1/3 cup of water, covered, and the dumplings are steamed for about 10 minutes.
I love how the cast iron pan gets the dumpling bottoms crisp!
We settled into a potsticker assembly line: Some rolling out the dough and stuffing the dumplings, others hovering over the frying pan, punctuated by breaks at the table dunking hot potstickers into Grace's dipping sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil. Until all the potstickers were gone.
Sarah perfects the technique of rolling out the wrappers.
Which reminds me of another potsticker making secret: Don't make potstickers alone. Like gnocchi and tamales, potsticker making is best shared amongst friends and family who love tinkering together in the kitchen. Luckily, my Cookbook Club is full of such folks.
What else was on the menu for Cookbook Club that night? Just wine, potstickers and wine. With no other foods to distract us, we were pleasantly surprised at how many of the addictively crispy dumplings we could put away at one sitting.
Hanging out in Grace's yurt reminds me of the words of TreeHugger.com founder Graham Hill, who's recent New York Times
essay--"Living with Less. A Lot Less."--
talks about going from a life that is unnecessarily complicated by too many things, to living in a small space:
"My space is small. My life is big."
- 1½ lbs. ground pork
- ½ of medium head of napa cabbage
- 3 T. finely chopped green onions
- 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 3 T. soy sauce
- 3 T. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- Optional: 5 Chinese shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook cabbage for approximately 5 minutes until slightly translucent. Remove cabbage and run under cold water until cool enough to touch. Chop very fine (or use food processor).
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Dough
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cups boiling water
- 2/3 cup cold water
- Add the boiling water to the flour and mix well with a fork until all flour is moistened. Add the cold water and mix well. Knead with your hands until the dough is soft and smooth (approx. 3 min). It should not be sticky so add flour as necessary. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean dry towel and let rest for 15-20 min.
- Knead the dough again until smooth. Break off about a third of the dough. Shape into a ball, then flatten slightly into a circle and poke hole in the middle with your fingers and shape into a doughnut. Squeeze dough until you have a very large doughnut of about 1 inch thickness. Cut into approximately 1” pieces.
- Take each piece and stand it on end so that one cut side is face down on the board and the other face up. Press down to flatten slightly. Then take a rolling pin and roll each piece until it is about 2 – 3 inches in diameter. Put some pork filling in center. Fold circle in half and pinch-pleat the edges together to form dumpling shape. Repeat until all dough is used up.
- These can be frozen by placing them on wax paper covered cookie sheets and freeze solid for 1 hour before emptying into Ziploc bags.
- Heat about 4 T. vegetable oil in a 12-inch frying pan on medium heat until shimmering. Add the dumplings. They should sizzle slightly when placed in the pan. Fry for about 3 minutes until bottoms begin to brown. Then pour in 1/3 c. water and cover immediately. Steam/fry for 10-12 min. until water has evaporated. Serve with dipping sauce.
Here's my recipe for Dipping Sauce: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 Tablespoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon chili paste (such as sambal oelek