Lately, I've been lying awake at night dreaming of Chinese pot stickers. I once tasted the paragon of pot stickers at a Portland cooking class, where two Taiwanese sisters made their favorite family recipe: soft flour envelopes filled with tender ground pork studded with garlic, green onion and a whisper of nutty sesame oil. Quickly boiled and then seared in a hot puddle of peanut oil, the dumplings were silky soft and crisp and chewy, the interior full of greasy juice and a rich meaty filling. I've been on a mission to find their equal at a local restaurant ever since.
When some people get a craving, they have to keep on taste-testing restaurants until they savor the perfect specimen. I admit I'm one of those people, a true food geek.
So I embarked on a quest for the quintessential pork pot sticker in Portland, and this is what I found:
Sungari Pearl (1105 NW Lovejoy St., (971) 222-7327): Classic Chinese food in a fancypants atmosphere. Four pot stickers ($4.95) were artfully plated with tricky-looking vegetable garnishes. The filling was flavorful, but the dough was thick and not quite cooked all the way through, tasting like wallpaper paste in my mouth.
Wong's King (8733 SE Division St., 788-8883): This Southeast Portland dim sum outpost has all the local foodies abuzz. On my visit, Wong's clean, bright dining room was a cacophony of Cantonese voices. My pot stickers ($6 for six) were crisped in oil so deep, they were nearly entirely deep-fried. What's worse, the dumpling's innards held a suspicious pink shredded substance that didn't make me yearn for seconds. Foiled again.
Fong Chong (301 NW 4th Ave., 228-6868): Portland guidebooks swear by this zero-ambience dim sum palace. But all I got here were six pallid dumplings ($5). A very thin, mangled dough, with very little crisping on the bottom, clung loosely to a bland, grayish pork filling.
House of Louie (331 NW Davis St., 228-9898): Perhaps it's stereotype-driven paranoia, but when there are no Chinese folks dining in a Chinese restaurant, I tend to avoid it. Six bucks lands me six huge dumplings fashioned out of a tough, forkproof dough. Inside lurked a firm pink mass with the aroma of Mighty Dog chow.
Golden Horse (238 NW 4th Ave., 228-1688): At this no-frills Chinatown dining room, I spied Asian families grazing off lazy Susans laden with savory plates like salted fish and eggplant hot pot. My toasty-smelling half-dozen pot stickers were tightly packed with tender pork flecked with crunchy cabbage ($4.95). The thin, chewy wrapper boasted a crispy bottom, with a hint of smoky, well-seasoned wok flavor.
Here it was, the supreme dumpling: chewy, then crisp, then juicy, then meaty, then smoky. Golden Horse's chefs get it. The pot sticker is Chinese soul food, tediously made by hand, with attention to detail and pride of ingredients.
Mission accomplished: I had found my perfect pot sticker. Although lately I've been tossing and turning at night, thinking about really thin-crust pizza.
Melanie & Evelyn Bian's Chinese Dumplings/Pot Stickers
2 cups Napa cabbage, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger, chopped
1 cup green onion, chopped
1 lb ground pork
1/4 tsp white pepper powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup sesame oil
1 tsp white wine
(optional) 1 Tbs dried shrimp, soaked in water and chopped
4 cup flour
1-2/3 cup water, lukewarm
(If making potstickers, use half hot water, half lukewarm water)
Mix water into flour gradually until the flour looks stringy, just enough until there is no flour residue.
Knead for 5 minutes
Wrap in plastic and set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature
Combine Napa cabbage, ginger and green onion into a mixing bowl.
In separate mixing bowl combine the pork, white pepper powder, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, wine (and shrimp, optional).
Combine both mixtures together.
Cut the ball of dough into four sections.
Dust a cutting board with flour and roll each section into a 3/4" diameter log.
Cut 3/4" pieces down the length of the dough log, rotating the log 90 degrees after every cut.
Lightly sprinkle flour on each piece.
Roll each piece into a flat circle, 3"-4" in diameter.
Place a dollop of the pork mixture in the middle of the flat piece of dough.
Fold one side of the flat piece of dough over to the other side (similar to folding tortellini).
Press the sides together along the semi-circle length of the potsticker, making gathers along the entire edge.
Chinese dumplings are boiled, potstickers are pan-fried. Boil a pot of water, filled halfway with water.
Add dumplings to the water level. Use spoon to lift the dumplings off the bottom of the pot to avoid sticking.
Cover and wait to boil. Then stir, boil for another 2 minutes, then add 1-2 cups cold water to the pot, or enough to stop the boiling.
Once the water boils again, add another 1-2 cups of cold water to the pot.
Once the water boils again, the dumplings are ready and can be taken out of the water.
Special Dipping Sauce
1 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs green onion, chopped
Combine all ingredients.