Sunday, October 31, 2004

A Pile of Potstickers

Every so often, it becomes necessary to restock the freezer. I like to keep a supply of tomato sauce, vegetable and chicken stock, homemade bread, and other essentials on hand to make dinner preparation that much easier. I also have to keep a supply of potstickers available, as these are a staple in John's diet.

It may seem odd that a man raised on beef stew could eat so many Chinese dumplings and never tire of them, but I take it as a complement. Apparently, John never enjoyed potstickers--mostly of the restaurant variety--until he tried mine. One evening last winter, when our courtship was still new, he arrived at my door close to 10:00, tired from a long day at work and from the drive to my flat. I offered him a dinner of potstickers, fried rice with barbequed pork from my favorite market, chicken stir fry, and spicy green beans. He ate heartily and devoured the potstickers. From that moment on, I was responsible for keeping some in the freezer.

This Sunday afternoon was perfect for spending some quiet time in the kitchen before passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. I pulled out several pounds of ground pork and mixed it with chopped garlic chives and diced napa cabbage. I seasoned the meat with a mixture of minced garlic and ginger, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and shaoshing, a robust rice wine.

Most of the work is in preparing the filling. Assembling the dumplings is almost a meditative act. I lay out a potsticker wrapper in my hand, place a spoonful of pork filling in the middle, brush water along the edge, then fold and crimp the dough to make a curved dumpling. When I have filled a tray with potstickers, I place it in the freezer while I make another tray. Freezing them individually prevents them from sticking to each other when I stack them in a plastic container.

I am lost in the rhythm of folding and crimping when John walks into the kitchen. The mere sight of a tray of uncooked potstickers makes him hungry, so I place half a dozen into a saute pan with canola oil and water. When they start to sizzle, I place a lid on them and they steam-fry. Within five minutes, I can smell the potstickers--they're ready.

The top of the potstickers glisten with steam and the bottom are brown and crunchy. I lay them out with a selection of dipping sauces: soy sauce with slivers of ginger, a spicy chili-garlic sauce, and hoisin, a spicy-sweet soy bean paste. John bites into a potsticker while it's still too hot to enjoy, but he keeps eating. Is there any greater complement a cook can receive?

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