Authentic potstickers are one of the most delightful parts of any Chinese meal and are easy to make from scratch at home, even without a background in Chinese cooking. They’re also a mainstay of Chinese takeout orders, and you’ll find a potsticker — or a variation of them — on the menus of most Asian restaurants, including those serving Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese food.
So, what is a potsticker made of, and how did this delicacy come to be? Here’s the potsticker origin story that you might not know, plus a look at different types of potstickers and the ingredients that are commonly used to make them.
What Are Potstickers?
Potstickers, or jiaozi, are crescent-shaped Chinese dumplings that are first pan-fried and then steamed, which results in a dumpling that is crispy on one side and soft and chewy on the other. Fillings vary but are usually a combination of minced meat and/or vegetables, plus aromatics for enhanced flavor.
Like most foods that have been around for centuries, we’re not exactly 100% certain how potstickers came to be. So while we do know that the actual potsticker origin can be traced back all the way to the Chinese Song dynasty (960 to 1280 A.D.), who invented them and why remains a mystery for the ages. There are some theories, though.
Probably the most widely known story for how potstickers came about was that a chef in China’s Imperial Court left a batch of dumplings on the stove for too long, leaving one side burnt. Instead of throwing them out, he served them as is—and they were a hit. After that, chefs started to make their dumplings that way intentionally, and it’s a technique that has persisted in China and everywhere that potstickers continue to be eaten today.
Potstickers vs. Gyoza
If you’re having trouble differentiating between potstickers vs. gyoza, you’re not the only one. Like egg rolls and spring rolls, these two popular Asian dishes are similar in a lot of ways, and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are some unique differences worth knowing about.
For starters, potstickers are Chinese while gyoza are Japanese. And beyond that distinction, gyoza tend to be smaller than potstickers, with thinner and slightly more delicate wrappers. They also may be fully steamed, boiled, or fried, rather than cooked using a combination of pan-frying and steaming.
That being said, potstickers and gyoza are similar enough that if you like one, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like the other, and either is a must if you’re eating at an Asian restaurant or ordering Asian takeout.
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Common Potsticker Ingredients
There are quite a few types of potstickers, but authentic potstickers are usually made with a limited range of staple ingredients. These include:
- Minced meat (pork, chicken, or shrimp)
- Water chestnuts
Fillings are cooked and mixed with a flavorful combination of sesame oil, sugar, and soy sauce, then usually spend several hours chilling. Later, the filling will be spooned into potsticker wrappers, which are made from wheat flour and water and are thinner than your standard wonton wrappers.
The great thing about making potsticker recipes at home is that you have limitless options for what you can fill them with. Of course, you can always keep it traditional, but you can also get creative with what you have on hand. Vegan and vegetarian potstickers are just as delicious as potstickers that are filled with meat, and you can play around with your flavors depending on if you want your potstickers sweet, savory, spicy, or herbaceous.
Are Potstickers Unhealthy?
Not inherently. It’s true that potstickers are pan-fried on one side in oil, but other than that, they’re a well-balanced mixture of carbs, protein, and fat. If you’re trying to eat healthier, stick to vegetarian or vegan potstickers, or go with minced shrimp or chicken instead of pork. You can also leave the sugar out of the filling and opt for low-sodium soy sauce in lieu of regular.
How to Serve Potstickers
In China, you’ll find potstickers sold by street vendors all over the major cities, as well as served as an appetizer, snack, or side in homes and restaurants. You can do the same, enjoying potstickers alongside other favored Chinese small bites like spring rolls, steamed buns, shrimp rolls, and scallion pancakes. You could also use potstickers as part of an entree by making them the primary protein in a soup, stir fry, or noodle dish.
If you’re serving potstickers on their own, then you definitely don’t want to forget the dipping sauce. Make a simple potsticker sauce by whisking together ½ cup of soy sauce with ¼ cup of rice vinegar, a tablespoon each of sesame oil, sugar, and chili paste, and two cloves of minced garlic. Stir in a sliced scallion and a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and you’ll be ready to eat!
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