Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ivy's Pan Fried Pork and Shrimp Potstickers

The recipe that almost killed A Peek into the Pantry...

Finally, the long awaited Ivy post is here! I'm sorry it ended up taking so long. There were a couple bumps in the road on the way to getting this on the table, which didn't end once I actually had all the ingredients on hand!

By now, you're probably wondering what on Earth I mean by this recipe almost killing the blog, and I promise, it's safe and I want to keep doing it. This cooking adventure just kind of developed into one of those "a million other things are bothering me, but this one trivial thing is what's going to push me over the edge" incidents, and it wasn't exactly pretty. I actually waited a while to do this post - the potstickers were actually an accompaniment to dinner last night, but I was so frustrated by the end of the experience that I thought it might be for the best to sit on it for a while and cool off before jumping into a post that was all about how awful I felt while making these.

 For the record, most of my complaints are directed at myself, and the recipe was sort of just the unfortunate target of my frustration. Now that some time's gone by and I've cooled off a bit, I can say that while very labor intensive, these were actually super tasty and I wish I'd made more of them. Fortunately, we saved the filling we didn't end up using, so I might make a couple more for dinner tonight, too!

As I mentioned in my first post with Ivy and Julie, I don't have any experience cooking Chinese food, but considering I've tackled a lot of other things people said I was crazy to try, I figured I could make whatever I wanted to try work. I'm not sure what really lead me to this recipe in particular, but I've always enjoyed dumplings, and stumbled across a tasty sounding recipe for pan fried pork and shrimp potstickers. Everything looked simple enough, except this recipe called for premade dumpling skins because they're easier to work with and less labor intensive than making skins by hand. "That should be easy enough to find," I foolishly thought, and added it to the list of ingredients to purchase.

Turns out, it wasn't easy at all, and I'm still not sure anywhere local carries them. Most of the major grocery stores in my area seem to have suddenly gutted their Asian sections, which baffles me a bit, especially considering having premade skins would definitely save you a lot of time and they can be adapted to literally hundreds of different recipes.

So maybe I was a little frustrated about how this was going to work out before I even got into the kitchen.

After a lot of wandering around local grocery stores and back and forth emails about where on Earth to find pre-made dumpling skins, I finally admitted defeat, mostly because I discovered that making the skins yourself apparently isn't too difficult to do. I found a recipe for basic dumpling dough that includes instructions for food processors and by hand, and decided I might as well give it a shot.

I made mine by hand - I don't trust our food processor, and you'll see why later in this post - and was pleased to discover that this was pretty simple to do even when you have relatively limited experience making anything close to dumpling or pasta dough. This recipe only requires just boiled water and flour, plus a little elbow grease, and is simple enough to be adapted to pretty much whatever recipe you want to apply it to.

Once you've got your dough ball, you're instructed to set it aside in a Ziploc plastic bag with all the extra air pushed out of it so that it can steam for a bit longer. It's ready to be worked with in about fifteen minutes and can be left out for about two hours before it should be refrigerated. This turned out to be a blessing because...

The next step was cleaning the raw shrimp. I've mentioned before that handling raw meat grosses me out, and it still does, especially with the added bonus of needing to make sure these suckers were clean and deveined so that no one was getting some unwanted bonuses in their potstickers.

I'm sure everyone knows this already thanks to Food Network and that one episode of The Office, but yep: that line down the back of the shrimp? Is shrimp poo, and it's kind of disgusting to clean out. This was the first time I've ever had to do it, and not only is it really time consuming, but it's pretty gross and has given me a whole new level of respect for people on Chopped who are able to clean raw shrimp in under thirty minutes, because I'm pretty sure this took me about half an hour on its own to do.

Fortunately, I'm going to spare you all the pictures of this process because my hands were covered in shrimp juice and my mom was on the phone for the majority of these preparations, so there are less pictures documenting this post in general which was another source of stress during the cooking process.

But here are the shrimp.

The shrimp goes into a food processor with green onions and bamboo shoots, and you're supposed to pulse it until the shrimp pieces are about 1/4 of an inch long.

And this is why I can't stand our food processor.

It allegedly can hold about four cups of whatever you're trying to process, but because it's so small and the blades are kind of crummily designed, you'd honestly be better off processing each ingredient individually because what ended up happening was the shrimp were completely pulverized into a fine goo, some of the onions were sort of chopped, and the bamboo shoots weren't really touched at all. I tried to move things around a little, but it kind of just made the situation worse, and eventually I got frustrated and just dumped everything out onto a cutting board and gave it as best a rough chop as I could.

Which again, I didn't get a picture of, but here's everything in the bowl:

So that's the filling all set. The final source of frustration specific to the recipe was trying to flatten out the dough enough to get a good width for the dumpling skin, plus trying to find the right object to cut a good sized circle out of the dough. This is probably where having store bought wrappers would have come in handy because they're a consistent size and width, and might have held up to my manhandling a little better than the homemade ones did.

This was also the point where I finally just broke down in frustrated tears a bit, and I'm pretty sure I know why it happened. I do really enjoy doing this blog, and I like learning about the history and culture behind the dishes I'm making while talking about one of my favorite toys and book series from childhood, but I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to really excel while doing this and provide the best content possible, and I felt like I was totally falling short with this one. I've gotten nervous about sharing my frustrations and mistakes with my readers because I don't want to be seen as some kind of incompetent loon in the kitchen who has no idea what I'm doing, and also feel some amount of pressure to create really interesting tasty things to eat because so much of the feedback I've been getting is so positive.

Moving forward, I think I've just got to try to let it go. At the end of the day, this blog is supposed to be me documenting my progress in the kitchen, and if people want to make comments about how I must have ruined something that came out well and I enjoyed eating, that's their business. Haters to the left, etc.

Anyway, the dough was a little difficult to work with. It was very elastic-y, and it took a lot of elbow grease to get it flat enough to be a good dumpling skin. I used a beer glass to get a decent sized circle of dough, but could only fit a little less than a teaspoon of filling into each skin.

I brushed the entire interior of my skin with the cornstarch slurry, and then tried to pleat them in a way that wasn't totally hideous.

Notice I say "try". The recipe gives very explicit instructions on how to do this well, but some of the dumplings came out looking better than others.

But I guess they could have looked a lot worse!

Once you're at this point, everything goes pretty quickly. The author of the original recipe actually said that she and her friends would get together to make a ton of these at once, cook some immediately, and freeze the rest to enjoy later. This makes a lot of sense to me because man, making the filling took forever.

The cooking process was a little difficult to photograph, but was pretty easy to do. They fry in oil, flat side down, and after the bottoms are golden brown, you pour in some water and cover the pan with a lid for about three minutes to let them steam. Once that's done, you take the lid off and let them cook a while longer, and then they're ready to serve!

Unfortunately by this point, I was so tired of cooking and taking pictures that I kind of forgot to take a picture of the bottom of the potstickers, but they were really nice and crunchy and - fortunately - didn't burn!

The recipe also included a recipe for a dipping sauce that wasn't really interesting enough to document the making of, but it was tasty and complimented the potstickers well.

Even though my bad mood sort of ended up spoiling the initial cooking process for me, these were really tasty! The filling had great ginger-y flavor, the skins were nice and chewy and the bottoms were delicious and crunchy. I'm frustrated at myself for not being more mellow while I was actually making them, because honestly, I feel like this post would have had a much different flavor to it if I had been in a better mood. While time consuming, these were surprisingly easy to make and were totally worth the effort, and I wish I'd been able to enjoy making them more than I did.

This was sort of a wake up call that I need to stress out less and remind myself that this blog is supposed to be something for me to enjoy, and if other people do, that's great, but if they don't, that's okay too. My pictures might not be the best, and I might make mistakes sometimes, but it's not worth beating myself up over it when I should be enjoying eating all this tasty food and sharing it and my love of history with you guys!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you don't mind my moment of emotional weakness. I've really been having fun doing this, and I hope to keep doing it for a long time after this.

At least we've still got some filling left over to make more, and hopefully this time, it'll go better.


  1. We all have our emotional weaknesses, or feel like our blogging isn't perfect. (Here I am at the end of January still doing holiday wear posts =O). At the end of the day, blogs need to be a source of contentment for those of us who do em.

    Ugh, that sucks that you couldn't find skins! I'm lucky, I guess, in that Seattle has a high East Asian population, so we're able to find many things. And boo on that food processor being inaccurate. The food does look delicious, though. I may pick up pot stickers at the store today.

    1. Man, considering how many outfits you've got, I can't blame you at all! I'm definitely going to try to take it easier moving forward.

      I was really surprised I couldn't honestly, considering we've got a decent East Asian population and a bunch of hipsters who love "exotic" foods, so it seems like a perfect combination. Oh well. I definitely recommend store bought ones, these are a pain in the neck even if they are tasty!

  2. I'm sorry you were stressed out doing this but you have to remember that this isn't your job and your emotional health comes first. :) I think we all get burnt out at some point, and I currently have a post started that I'm finishing at a snail's pace and some photos of the PC cookbooks from around Christmas time sitting on my desktop waiting to be touched that I meant to be done with almost a month ago.

    Your pot stickers look delicious though and I give you props for being able to devein those shrimp, I can't even smell raw meat without gagging! I may not comment on every post of yours, but I do read them all and enjoy learning the history behind the dishes. If you ever need to take a break, I don't think anyone would be upset with you. :)

    1. Thank you, I'm really glad you guys are all enjoying my crazy efforts. It's nice to know people who aren't my parents are reading and enjoying it, and you're totally right, chilling out and enjoying it is the best way to proceed.

      I hate handling raw meat, it's one of my least favorite parts of cooking and I don't see that changing for a while, so I totally can't blame you at all. I wish these were less of a hassle to make because they were super tasty, but I'm not sure I ever want to do it again. B(

      Which cookbooks do you have? I've been meaning to pick up copies Sam's, Addy's and Josefina's, but I keep not... actually getting around to it, ahaha.

    2. I've have all of them now after Christmas, most of them are pretty used but that doesn't really matter to me. I'd scan them for you but I don't have a scanner. I want to do a review of them but have been super lazy lately but hopefully soon.

    3. Well I look forward to seeing whatever comes from it! :D

  3. Hey, you did an awesome job on these potstickers and they look delicious! I love the idea of your blog and Ivy looks like she really enjoyed them too :)

    1. Thank you! I've really been enjoying your blog too! It's nice to know there's someone else out there who likes dolls and action figures. c:

  4. I love your blog! I know I sometimes put too much pressure on myself, so I understand the frustration. I just keep reminding myself that my blog is for fun and for me. I think you're doing an excellent job for what it's worth!

    1. Thank you so much! You guys are really great and I appreciate the support. c: It's also kind of nice to know I'm not alone in being a little overwhelmed sometimes considering I felt a little silly for getting so worked up about all this.