My Citizens, in a little bit more than 2 weeks, the Chinese New Year of the Earth Pig will be upon us!
In celebration of this mightiest of holidays, allow me – the always festive and thrice-blessed TFD! – to teach you a classic, must-have dish to help you ring in the New Year with proper good fortune! I speak of nothing less than pan-fried dumplings – also referred to as “pot stickers”!
As noted on vietworldkitchen.com:
Have you ever wondered how pot stickers got their name? Most of us know them as a dumpling that’s panfried in a skillet, not a pot. For years I thought about why the heck the dumplings are called pot stickers.
My Chinese language is passable in a charming pinch but doesn’t come to me in a flash. It took me a while before I realized that the dumpling’s Chinese name, guotie literally means “wok stick.”
It totally jives with the dumpling’s legend, which dates pot stickers back to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1280 A.D.). They were initially regular boiled dumplings cooked in a wok (guo) – the go-to Chinese cooking pot. A chef who was boiling dumplings forgot about them and after the water had boiled away, the dumplings stuck (tie). Not knowing what to do, he pried the dumplings from the wok and served them.
His guests loved the contrasts between rich filling, tender skin, and crusty bottom. Thus the pot sticker was born. Over the years, the Mandarin name for pot sticker, guotie, stuck and was translated into English as pot sticker since woks are the basic pot in a Chinese kitchen.
Pot stickers are of course simply a pan-fried and partially-steamed version of the classic Jiaozi steamed dumplings, whose recipe I posted this time last year.
To recap from that recipe: Jiaozi are a kind of Chinese dumpling, commonly eaten in China and other parts of East Asia. They are one of the major foods eaten during the Chinese New Year and year-round in the northern provinces.
Jiaozi typically consist of a ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together. Finished jiaozi can be boiled (shuǐ jiǎo), steamed (zhēng jiǎo) or pan-fried (jiān jiǎo).
In China, there are several different folk stories explaining the origin of jiaozi and its name.
Traditionally, jiaozi were thought to be invented during the era of the Eastern Han (AD 25 – 220) by Zhang Zhongjing, who was a great practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine.
Jiaozi were originally referred to as “tender ears” (Chinese: 嬌耳; pinyin: jiao’er) because they were used to treat frostbitten ears. Zhang Zhongjing was on his way home during wintertime, when he found many common people had frostbitten ears, because they did not have warm clothes and sufficient food.
He treated these poor people by stewing lamb, black pepper, and some warming medicines in a pot, chopped them, and used them to fill small dough wrappers. He boiled these dumplings and gave them with the broth to his patients, until the coming of the Chinese New Year.
In order to celebrate the New Year as well as recovering from frostbitten ears, people imitated Zhang’s recipe to make Jiao’er. Other theories suggest that jiaozi may have derived from dumplings in Western Asia.
Jiaozi may also be named because they are horn-shaped. The Chinese word for “horn” is jiao (Chinese: 角; pinyin: jiǎo), and jiaozi was originally written with the Chinese character for “horn”, but later it was replaced by the specific character 餃, which has the food radical on the left and the phonetic component jiāo (交) on the right.
At the same time, jiaozi look like yuan bao silver or gold ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty, and as the name sounds like the word for the earliest paper money, serving them is believed to bring prosperity. Many families eat these at midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Some cooks will even hide a clean coin inside a jiaozi for the lucky to find.
Citizens, my recipe for pot stickers are more complexly flavored than most and incorporates several different ingredients from across China, but they are not difficult to make.
I wish you all a happy and prosperous Year of the Pig, my Citizens! I have gratefully cribbed the best cooking instructions I know for pot stickers from my mentor in Chinese cuisine, the inestimable Barbara Tropp – may she rest in peace. Please note that you will need 1 or 2 large cast iron frying pans to make these – don’t bother with the recipe if you don’t have them.
Battle on – The Generalissimo