It’s hard to believe that it just over a week ago that I came back from Australia obsessed with figuring out how to replicate a particular style of pot stickers that I enjoyed at Hutong dumpling restaurant in Melbourne. As I noted, Hutong’s pot stickers were united on their plate by what could only be described as a crisp skirt. I asked for help to answer this question -- How to produce that little skirt at home? A number of people came to my immediate rescue.
Chef Yagi was born in China where his parents ran a restaurant. He stayed in China after the war but returned to Japan in 1979. To learn Japanese he invited friends over and made gyoza for them the way he'd had them in China. He went to cooking school and worked in a number of Chinese restaurants to learn the trade. This led to him starting a small restaurant and gradually expanded his business. It suggests that he came up with the idea of the skirt as a way differentiating his gyoza. So no way of telling whether this was an idea he adapted from China or from Japan.
Singapore-based Asian food expert Christopher Tan dug into his archives and emailed a couple photos of skirted pot stickers for my analysis. Then he and Chinese cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop who was visiting Singapore after being at the Sydney International Food Festival, went to a bookstore and stumbled upon a new Taiwanese cookbook that had a recipe for the pot stickers in question. Fuchsia translated the instructions from Mandarin and Chris emailed that to me too.
Yael Coty, a former Saveur Test Kitchen intern who just happened to be visiting Santa Cruz where I live, volunteered to come over and help me figure the skirt thing out. Of Iraqi-Jewish descent, Yael was familiar with Jewish and Middle Eastern dumplings, but she hadn’t tackled Asian dumplings before. Last week, she mastered rolling out the dough and forming the pleated crescent shape, much to both of our delight.The dumpling stars and gods all lined up because between all of these people, we figured it out! Yael is photographed above holding the results of our afternoon of collaboration. Here she is below holding a beautiful tray of uncooked dumplings.
Trial, Error and Eating
Yael and I went about five (5) rounds with cooking the pot stickers before we arrived at what we deemed was the tastiest, most delicate skirt. All that’s required is that instead of pouring water into the pan to steam the dumplings after they’ve fried, you pour in a slurry of flour and water. The water boils off and the starches cook into a crisp crust to connect all the dumplings.
The first question was what kind of flour to use. Both Robyn and Chris pointed to using moderate-gluten all-purpose wheat flour (the same kind that is used for the pot sticker wrappers). Yael and I tried that and the Gold Medal flour that we employed yielded a very hard crust that oddly robbed the dumplings of moisture. I also had to use a little more oil than usual to get the skirt out of the nonstick skillet so the result was on the greasy side.
The second question was about the water temperature. Chris and Fuchsia’s translation suggested that just tap water be whisked into the flour. Robyn’s approach employed a combination of tap and just-boiled (very hot) water. We tried both techniques and the combination of water temperatures developed the starches well in the batter so that it was more viscous than using tap or cold water alone for the batter.
Pot Stickers with a Crisp Skirt
We made our wrappers from scratch, just like the Hutong dumplings and all the gyoza/pot sticker recipes and photos that I received. Fresh wrappers that you prepare yourself yield phenomenal and more authentic dumplings, so I encourage you to go that route. I didn’t test the skirt on store-bought gyoza (try frozen ones from Trader Joe’s or an Asian market) or dumplings made with store-bought wrappers. My guess is that this technique would work. If you try it out, do share the results with us all! After the dumplings are shaped, whip up the slurry, which takes just moments. Pot stickers are typically served crisp bottoms up but with the skirt, the bottoms stay crisp for a long time, even if you serve them bottoms down on the plate.
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a snack
3 tablespoon regular rice flour, any Thai brand, such as Erawan (3-Headed Elephant)
1/4 cup tap water
1 2/3 cups just-boiled water (bring to a boil, pull off the heat and allow the bubbling action to rest)
32 uncooked pot stickers (see recipes in Asian Dumplings, Chapter 1 “Filled Pastas”)
Dipping sauce of choice (soy sauce, Chinkiang or unseasoned rice vinegar, chile oil or a combo)
1. Put the rice flour in a bowl and whisk in the tap water to make a smooth batter. Then whisk in the just-boiled water to yield a milky, opaque slurry. Set aside.
2. To panfry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet; if both sizes are handy, cook two batches at the same time. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Add the dumplings one at a time, placing them, sealed edges up, in several straight rows. The dumplings may touch. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes, until they’re golden or light brown at the bottom.
3. Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen the dramatic effect of water hitting hot oil, ladle in enough of the slurry to a depth of about 1/4 inch; expect to use about 1/3 cup of the slurry. Things will immediately sputter and boil vigorously like a pot of rice.
4. When the bubbling noise turns into gentle frying (a sign that most of the water is gone), remove the lid. Allow the dumplings to fry for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until all starch has crisp up and there’s some browning in the resulting skirt. Try picking one up and the skirt should lift off the pan. Turn off the heat, wait for the cooking action to cease, and then give the skillet a gentle jerky to ensure that the skirt releases. Slide the dumplings and skirt to a serving plate. Or, cover the pan with a plate and carefully (but quickly) invert the pot stickers and their skirt onto the plate. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce of choice.
Note: This skirt can be used for other panfried dumplings. One of the chefs at San Francisco’s Shanghai Dumpling King (the source for amazing Chinese sugar puffs, an SF cult favorite) made a skirted pan of Shanghai panfried pork and scallion mini buns (sheng jian baozi, see recipe on page 105 in Asian Dumplings) for me after I described them to him in my smidgen of Mandarin. He said that it’s just not for regular pot stickers.
Does anyone know the Chinese name for this type of pot sticker? Chris says "snow flake pot stickers" and the Shanghai Dumpling King chef told me it was bo li guo tie (cut glass pot stickers). Thanks for all your contributions!