We don’t wait for lunar new year to make dumplings around here – they’re one of W’s favourite foods, and long ago we started filling and pinching them together. It’s not as difficult as it looks, a great way to spend 20 minutes catching up with someone you love, and little fingers are particularly adept at manipulating the soft dough. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you seal them – fold them in half like a peroghy, twist it into a little topknot, pull up the corners and make a tent, add a couple pleats or don’t. As long as they’re sealed, they’ll cook up just fine and taste wonderful. (Kids will come up with tiny packages you’d never have thought of.)
There are, of course, millions of ways to fill a dumpling – essentially you start with ground meat (pork is very common, but some are made with beef, chicken, turkey, shrimp or veggies) and season it with soy sauce, finely chopped green onion, perhaps some chopped cilantro (if you like it – I use the stems), sesame oil, ginger and garlic, perhaps a splash of rice wine or vinegar, and often a pinch of sugar. Chopped, sautéed mushrooms or bok choy are a delicious addition. You don’t have to worry about the ratio, or the mixture binding together like you might with a meatball – the dumpling wrapper it’s bundled up in will take care of that.
The wrappers are available at most grocery stores, but you’ll find a better, cheaper selection – and fresh ones – at Asian markets. They may be labeled wonton wrappers or gyoza wrappers, or simply dumpling wrappers – round or square is fine. The sealing part should not intimidate you – these wrappers are easy to work with and don’t dry out in minutes, like other thin pastry things tend to do. Spoon on some filling, run a finger dipped in water around the edge, and seal however it suits you – simply folded over, like a peroghy, or pleated slightly on one side to make it curve a little, giving it some stability. We made a batch of regular pork potstickers and a batch of beef dumplings that we boiled instead of frying and served with peanut sauce, which became a thing in Montréal sometime around the 80s or 90s. I put the recipes together because essentially they’re the same thing – one made with beef, the other pork, one boiled and the other fried.
The beef ones were made with square dumpling wrappers, sealed by bringing the four corners up to the middle and pressing to close the seams, making an X on the top of each. This is easy and satisfying to do, especially on days when you are in need of a little meditative distraction (so- most days). And it’s a fun thing to make with friends, if you want to spend some time with them but are tired of just meeting for coffee – meet at the kitchen table instead, with coffee (or wine) and you’d be amazed at how many dumplings you can assemble to fill your freezer.
The Montréal-style peanut butter dumplings are simply boiled for 3-4 minutes, then served with peanut sauce. The potstickers are a little more involved, but once you get the hang of it they’re no trouble at all – and a big batch will cook in under 10 minutes. As they cook you can pour some soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of chili flakes into a jar, shake it up and use it as dipping sauce.
Potstickers don’t actually stick to your pot, but they develop a nice deep golden bottom crust as they cook. I like using cast iron, which holds and conducts heat well – you sit them seam-side up in the hot skillet, in a skiff of whatever oil you like to cook with, and let them sit until they start to turn golden on their bottoms. Pour in a bit of stock or water (carefully – it will splatter – but you can use your lid as a shield), cover and cook for about 5 minutes – the intense steam will cook them through quickly. Remove the lid (or foil, if you’re using a wide pan that doesn’t come with one) and let the excess moisture cook off. That’s it. I could make potstickers every day for dinner and the boys would be thrilled.