I decided to start with a basic, classic dumpling. In the library, I had found Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads, which is full of great information on all kinds of Chinese dough-stuffs.
Florence, or Flo-Lin, as I shall now call her, is big on homemade wrappers, and as this was my first attempt I wanted to do it right. "Although the wrappers can be bought," Flo-Lin nudges, "a true northerner wouldn't consider that option." To clarify, she's referring to the fact that this form of dumpling, guo tie, is a Beijing-area specialty. My source in the Beijing area confirms that these wheat dough wrapped dumplings are sold by street vendors all over the city.
The dough recipe is as simple as it gets: two parts flour to one part boiling water. Mix it up by hand or food processor (I chose the latter), knead it until smooth, and then roll it out into a snake about a foot long. Cut the snake into 15 pieces.
I love these little tabs of dough...but if I did it again I would make sure the snake were perfectly round, as the next step is to smash each tab with the heel of your palm and the roll it into a perfect circle, three inches in diameter. Rolling the dough was not so hard, but I did struggle to maintain a circle shape, and the dough seemed a little too thick at the three inch size. Most of my wrappers were a little bigger and a little thinner, and some had to be trimmed to be anything resembling a circle.
The filling was standard pork with scallions, parboiled cabbage, and seasonings. I failed to realize the recipe called for chinese mushrooms and sherry, but I think these are less than necessary. No cornstarch, which surprised me, but it stuck together nicely. One of the main tenents of dumpling making, I have learned, is that the filling must always be stirred in one direction only. Apparently this keeps things light and fluffy.
Filling the dumplings and folding them was a bit of an adventure, as I wasn't really sure what to do. My finished products ranged from neat half-moons to strangely pleated masses, and I realized that my slap-dash, impetuous cooking techniques may well turn out to be my Achilles heel of dumpling making. I must force myself to focus, and, most importantly, to start caring about PERFECTION.
Once I had used up all my filling, I fried half the batch in the skillet.
I love frying dumplings; you start out with a lightly oiled pan, brown the bottoms, throw in a bit of water and cover to steam them for a few minutes, and then uncover for the last minute or so to make sure the bottom is browned and the top is a little puffy. This creates the crunchy/soft consistency that marks a truly great snack.
The other half I steamed in Jon's bamboo steamer, on a bed of cabbage. Either I let them steam a little too long, or the dough was too thick, or both, because this batch was slightly gummy, though still quite edible.
Making potsticker wrappers is very possible, particularly because these are rather thick-skinned as far as dumplings go. Next time, I might try rolling the dough out in sheets and cutting the circles with a cookie-cutter. It seems like this would make it easier to get the dough thin and the shapes regular. For folding, I will refer to other instruction manuals, and strive for perfection. I probably would not make this recipe again for steamed dumplings, or if I did, I would make sure the wrappers were thin and that I timed the steaming carefully.