Things I learned while making potstickers for the first time:
- Homemade potstickers are totally worth it–if you’re patient.
- If the ground pork at the supermarket looks questionable, ground turkey makes a fine dumpling substitute.
- Supermarket round dumpling wrappers are convenient, but finicky as hell. They will tear at the least provocation. Be gentle, or go to an Asian grocery store for honest-to-goodness potsticker wrappers.
- Don’t do this on a weeknight. Make a stir-fry or something instead. Otherwise you will be lonely, exhausted, and cornstarch-covered at 11 PM.
- Don’t do this alone. Enlist your friends. Have a potsticker-pleating party. Save the wine for afterward.
- Speaking of pleats: they don’t have to be flawless. The goal is to seal the filling in and create a flat bottom for the pan, not to replicate the greasy perfection of your favorite Chinese restaurant. If you can pleat the perfect crescent dumpling, you are more impressive than I.
- Overstuffing is death. Think torn wrappers, gummy fingers, and raw meat everywhere. Don’t be like me–measure your filling.
- You can freeze the dumplings before cooking, using the old baking sheet-to-zip-top bag trick. If you’re cooking the potstickers straight from the freezer, be warned: they will spit and spatter something fierce. Act accordingly.
- The secret to great homemade potstickers? A nonstick pan. Who’da thunk.
- As with so many things in life, these are best fresh from the pan. Soft on top, juicy in the middle, crusty and dark on the bottom. I believe the verdict from my dinner guests was “addictive.”
- My friends will eat as many potstickers as I can put in front of them. There is no limit. See point 10.
Well. Seems like everything else this year, Christmas snuck up on me from behind, tapped me on the shoulder, and darted away. I was busy eating egg rolls. I hope that’s a good enough excuse.
To be honest, I needed these egg rolls. The past few days have been exhilarating, and overwhelming, and about three different kinds of emotional. Two of my dearest friends from college got married–to each other, no less–and so I spent the weekend in Virginia with our closest cadre of friends, drinking too much and staying up too late and feeling deeply, radiantly happy every time I looked into their faces. We’re all scattered across the country now, and when we all saw each other it was as if no time had passed. And yet. There are weddings now, and graduate degrees, and careers forming, and the slow realization that we’re settling into places and identities without each other. This process of cutting a path through the thicket of adulthood, knowing that I’m doing it so far away from many of the people I love, is starting to become very real.
So I came home and made egg rolls for Christmas. The recipe is an odd one, out of a stained and dog-eared old cookbook on my parents’ kitchen shelf, written by an American woman intent on introducing Chinese Buddhist vegetarian cooking to the masses. The filling is a cornstarch-thickened melange of carrot and celery and baked tofu, chunky and chewy and rather unlike any other egg roll I’ve ever had. My family has made these egg rolls, in one form or another, since I was a preteen, and so they taste familiar to me, and soothing, and comfortable. Now, on my own, I’ve adjusted the flavors in marginal ways, changing an ingredient or two to suit my tastes and compensating for errors in the original directions. But I haven’t strayed too far. In at least one aspect, I keep coming back to where I’ve been.
Belated Merry Christmas, everyone.
In honor of Christmas, here’s a cheesy joke:
A Jewish guy and a Chinese guy sit next to each other at (where else?) a bar. After a couple of drinks, they begin arguing over whose civilization is the greater and more venerable. The Chinese guy says, “My people have been around for four thousand years!” The Jewish guy retorts, “Oh, yeah? Well, my people have been around for five thousand years!”
“Really?” says the Chinese guy. “What did they eat for the first thousand years?”
For folks like me, eating Chinese food on Christmas is a storied tradition, as American as apple pie and just about as beloved. It’s simple, really: Chinese restaurants are usually the only ones open on Christmas–both Eve and Day–and so that’s where all the hungry Jews ended up.
So, as this toddling food blog celebrates its first holiday season, I’m instituting that tradition here. Chinese food for Christmas. It shall be so.
All right. Now that that’s out of my system, let’s talk about Chinese food.
I’m a born-and-bred American Jew. Chinese takeout is woven into our cultural identity just as much as latkes, candles, guilt and the uncanny ability to sniff out other Jews at fifty paces. But I’m not entirely in lockstep with my people on this one. I’m picky about my Chinese food.
It’s either gotta be dirt-cheap from a buffet line–cloyingly sweet, glistening with oil and heavily impregnated with MSG–or expensive, meticulously authentic and preferably homemade. The middle-of-the-road Amurrican Chinese menu, the kind you find at ninety percent of sit-down Chinese places, just doesn’t do it for me. With one exception.
I’m a damn fool for scallion pancakes.