We’ve been on a bit of a Sichuan kick here in our little home. The Author, in his incessant quest for information of all kinds, stumbled upon Fuchsia Dunlop and her amazing recipes from the Sichuan region of south-west China. He has since purchased two of her books, and both of us have been steadily cooking from them to much acclaim from ourselves, but more importantly, from our three critics.
Not all of the recipes are spicy, which surprised me. And many are quite vibrant, a quality which I hadn’t previously associated with Chinese food. (I suppose I could chalk that up to living in some very remote and un-diverse areas…)
Another thing that surprised me is the way the Sichuan peppercorns crack in the mouth, then the heat tingles and bites and dissipates rapidly. This fact has not been lost on our eldest, who has taken to removing all the peppers she can find, placing them on the side of her plate, and then in quick succession popping them all into her mouth like candy; I think she finds the sensation a bit like rogue pop rocks.
This recipe for dumplings, or potstickers, is from Sichuan Cookery. They are surprisingly easy to make, they don’t require lots of hard-to-find ingredients, and they are so delicious and more-ish that I had to double the recipe, and still the five of us are counting them out and fighting over the last one in the dish.
Make 50 dumplings
Adapted from Sichuan Cookery by Felicity Dunlop
I made a version of these before I found Dunlop’s book. I had a hard time finding the wrappers: the exotic food market is quite narrow here in the South Hams, but after a bit of searching, I found wonton wrappers in the freezer at the magnificent Ashburton Deli. Dunlop gives instructions on how to make your own, but that takes this recipe from quick and easy to a Sunday afternoon affair. I vote for quick and easy.
The first time I made them, I was pretty impressed with myself at putting them together, so I called the kids in to see. I thought they might even want to have a go. Silly me. They had a look, then one of them said, “Are those edible?” Moral of the story: don’t worry about getting them perfect. As long as the dumplings stick together, they will be great, and you won’t have one little bit left over, unless you hide some.
If you want some tips on the way to make picture perfect dumplings, there are myriad sites on the internet. I took comfort from the fact that each type of dumpling in Dunlop’s book had a different shape, depending on where it is from or what it is filled with. I like to think of my dumplings as “Devon Potstickers”.
- 40g (about 2 inches) ginger
- 2 spring onions (scallions)
- 100ml water
- 300g minced pork
- 120 ml cold chicken stock (I had turkey stock and it was great)
- 1 TB shaoxing wine (if you can’t find this, sherry is a good substitute)
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1 TB sesame oil
- 1 pack wonton wrappers
- peanut or sunflower oil
- dipping sauce (see below)
Smash the ginger and spring onions with the side of a cleaver. (If you don’t have a cleaver, just use a mortar and pestle or a heavy pot.) Soak in the water for 10 minutes, then remove the ginger and onion and put the water in with the pork. (This was totally anathema to me, and I was tempted to chop up the ginger and the spring onion and add them to the pork as well. Don’t. You will be well rewarded by following the recipe.) Mix well.
Add the stock, shaoxing, salt, sugar, pepper and sesame oil and mix thoroughly; it works best to use your hands for this. This whole mixture will be quite loose and, well, gloopy.
To make the potstickers, place a wonton wrapper on the counter and put a teaspoon of the pork filling in the centre. Wet the edges of the wrapper with a tiny bit of water, then pull two opposite corners together and pinch till they stick. Then bring the other two corners to the centre and pinch till they stick. Place your bundle on a floured tray or baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the wrappers – you should have just enough pork filling for 50 wrappers. This part of the preparation is a little time consuming , but if you have a tiny helper, like I did, who will use her delicate little fingers to wet the edges of the wrappers as you go along, it all comes together very quickly.
Once everything is wrapped, you’re ready to cook. Heat a large skillet (I used two at once) and then add a generous coating of peanut oil. When the oil is shimmering, put the dumplings in the pan(s) without crowding too much. Drizzle over 2 TB of water for every 5 dumplings, then put the lid on and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Take the lid off (careful for escaping steam!) and drizzle over 1/2 TB peanut oil for every 5 dumplings. Put the lid back on and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Dunlop says to move the pan around to ensure that all the potstickers are getting browned on the bottom, and I found this bit of advice very useful.
The potstickers are done when you can easily release them from the pan with a spatula. (They practically pop off, and if they don’t, let them cook a little more.) Dunlop says to serve then with the browned side up, which works well in our family, because some of us like the extra crispy bits better than others, and this way we can see what we’re getting! A little bit of soy on the side is nice, or you can make one or both of the dipping sauces below. And be prepared to fight over the last one.
Spicy Dipping Sauce
- 1/2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar)
- 1 TB dark soy sauce
- 1 TB light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp chili oil
- pinch sugar
Ginger & Garlic Dipping Sauce
- 2 TB Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar)
- 2 TB dark soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil