Sunday, December 13, 2009

Communist Dinner

The scenario: ward dinner. Your assignment is to use your house's Sunday dinner budget to create a potluck item that will regale and satisfy members of the entire ward while still transmitting a little local ethnic charm. Not too much ethnic charm, mind you, because even though these are all ostensibly cosmopolitan language students, they still complain under their breath about the mugi cha the Japanese house made us drink last month. (I went to the mattresses for you, though, mugi cha. I'm your sole defender!)

The plot twist: Right as you get home from grocery shopping, having purchased the retailer's entire supply of ground pork for a massive project of epic Chinese proportions, the powers that be inform you that ward dinner has been canceled and you should just feed your own house. Your poor little vegetarian stomach with its lack of bromelain starts to weep as it eyes the ten pounds of styrofoam-packaged pork you just stuck in the fridge.

To the rescue: the Russian house, your communist allies. When the Capitalist Pigs cancel ward dinner, we come together! "We will eat your Chinese delicacies!" your Marxist pals vow, and in return they pledge a salad, some frozen lasagne, and a defunct space program. Together! To progress!

(The party makes me say things like this...)

So we will forge ahead, and with our brothers and comrades we will make 餃子. Jiao zi. Gyoza. Potstickers. Chinese dumplings. The one food that everyone who ever eats them is guaranteed to love. Even poor little vegetarians who can't digest pork anymore. They love them too, but it's a painful love that follows them around for 48 hours. This was enough potstickers for 20 people, turns out, but my usual quantity-buying was thrown off and I had far more filling than skins. I could have remedied this by making my own skins out of flour and water, but that would have required far more physical labor than my minions were ready to give by the time we were done. So we ended up stir-frying the leftover filling with day-old rice for instant delicious fried rice. (Fried rice will always save the day)

The hardest part about Chinese food again is the chopping. It's even harder when you live in communal housing with inadequate knives. But these are the People's knives and we are hardy laborers for the Common Good and we will make do. We will also go borrow some more knives and cutting boards from the German house.

Hui Lian and Charlie chop green onions for the Common Good.

Here is the finished amount of green onions and green beans (about equal amounts of both; and your vegetables combined should be a greater volume than your meat. Sounds crazy, I know, but it's true! Remember also that vegetables shrink when they cook.) Other vegetables you can use include 白菜 (baicai, Napa Cabbage), 清耕菜 (chingensai, Baby Bok Choy) or 韭菜 (jiucai, aka Garlic Chives, Chinese Chives, Nira), with the latter being the most delicious thing in the world.

Meat. Meaty meat meat. We're about to season it with soy sauce and sesame oil. I used dark mushroom soy sauce, which is way blacker than soy sauce tends to be. It's like the tar baby of soy sauce. You have to use a lot, though, and you have to season by sight because you can't so much season it by taste. I probably used a cup and a half of it on this huge amount of meat, and maybe a quarter cup of sesame oil. Are you ready for the least appetizing picture you'll ever see in my blog? Here you go!

Mmmm. And now we mix it all together. Tommy voluntarily mixed it with his hands, which I wouldn't have done but which turns out to be surprisingly effective. Let's all pause a moment to try to imagine the sensory experience that would be mixing ground pork meat covered in sauce and oil with your bare hands, squeezing it through your fingers.

And now we bao the jiaozi. Bao, bao, bao, with some of us having better bao des than others. First, you trace the edges of the round skin with water and then you put just about two tablespoons of filling in the middle - not too much, not too little. The main trick is to make it a beautiful half moon with gathered folds on one side but not the other.

And then when they're beautiful we stick them in the pot. We pot-stick the potstickers. You could boil them if you wanted to, but the People tend to be a lot less likely to revolt in the countryside when you cook them in oil.

This is an electric wok that I love as if it were my own offspring, but you can also use a frying pan. Strangely enough, non-stick pans tend to produce the best potstickers. First, heat up a shallow bit of oil. Lay your little guys in there all close and huggy, and cook them until the bottom starts to brown. This would be a nice way just too cook things if we were looking for pretty, but we're also looking for thoroughly cooked pork products, so after they start to brown, pour in about a half cup of water or so and stick a lid on the pan. The steam then cooks them thoroughly. When the skins are transparent and clinging to their little brown cargoes, they're done. Usually about 10 minutes total per pan. Then you should be able to slide the whole little huggy group off onto a plate without too much pot stickage.

At this point someone steals your camera and starts taking snapshots around the room.

....and pestering you while you cook. "What?!" *click*

Slimy little communist glories

and, all's well that ends well with a happy populace.


  1. Do you have any left? I LOVE your potstickers!!

  2. Eyes tearing up....from laughter, not black market mustard gas. Ah, you communist wussies. I bet they weren't even East German knives. Capitalism saves the day again!