The secret to tender, crispy pot stickers is as straightforward as three words: fry, steam, fry.
Credit: Scott Rounds

When I noticed my assistant adding pot stickers to a skillet half-filled with smoking oil, I realized I had a problem. A cooking school student, he assured me he knew how to pan-fry Asian dumplings, so I let him do it while I taught the class. That was my mistake, because shallow-frying isn’t how pot stickers are cooked. The little morsels were getting overly browned, too.

I rushed over, and, turning a near disaster into a teaching moment, I told the story of how pot stickers supposedly came about: A Chinese chef forgot about a batch of boiling dumplings, and by the time he remembered, the water had evaporated and the dumplings were stuck to the pan. He pried them off and served them anyway. Guests adored the wonderment of contrasts—succulent filling, tender-chewy skins, and crispy bottoms.

You’ll love these little bowls of sauce for dunking pot stickers. Try this simple dipping sauce:

Over time, the dumpling mistake became known as pot stickers, and a refined cooking technique emerged. Brown the bottoms in oil, then add water, and cover the skillet to cook things through. After the water disappears, refry the bottoms. In a dramatic summary, I blurted out, “ Fry, steam, fry!” People got it. Those words are now my pot sticker mantra. I’ve prepared and eaten many pot stickers over the years. Making them well requires practice, but if you keep certain things in mind, you’ll master them faster. For juicy pot stickers, make a moist filling; ground chicken thigh is naturally high in moisture (ask your butcher to grind chicken thighs). For ground pork or beef, add a touch of water or broth. Vegetable fillings are often precooked with a little sauce bound by cornstarch.

Credit: Photo: Scott Rounds

You don’t need pretty pot stickers for them to be tasty. Just get the darn things closed! When folding, the thumbs and index fingers do most of the work. Hold the wrapper in your hand to manipulate the wrapper and tell it who’s boss. Press out air bubbles, and firmly pinch to seal the rim, or there may be leaks during cooking. You can choose from three basic shapes. Half-Moons (above, top) are great for boiling, but they won’t sit up in a skillet. Pea Pod One (above, center) starts from a Half-Moon then makes three or four pleats at the top to help the dumpling sit upright. Lastly, there’s Pea Pod Two (above, bottom)—again, start from a Half-moon, but then make two tiny center pleats. Set the dumpling down and press to make sure it sits well. Put shaped dumplings on a floured, parchment paper-lined baking sheet to prevent sticky bottoms; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a dish towel to avoid dried-out tops.

Try our Gingery Chicken Pot Stickers. Get the recipe here.

Ensure your ta-da moment by pan-frying in a nonstick or well-seasoned carbon steel or cast-iron skillet. When eyeballing the water addition, hedge by adding less; you can always add more. If the dumpling stick at the end, drizzle water into the problems pots, cooking on medium heat to loosen (shake the pan or use a turner), then let them refry. Eat pot stickers as finger food, or do it elegantly with spoon and chopsticks. The spoon catches any hot juices that can go back into the dumpling. Usher in the Year of the Dog with pot stickers, a harbinger of wealth according to the Chinese. Heck, make them anytime. Just remember: fry, steam, fry!