Food is about so much more than nutrition—it’s one of the most personal expressions of our cultures, values, and traditions. Our series, Behind the Recipe, profiles a different healthy cook every month to explore the personal, untold stories of their favorite dishes. This month, celebrity chef and cookbook author Katie Chin—whose newest cookbook, Katie Chin’s Global Family Cookbook ($25) comes out June 22, and is available for pre-order now—shares the potstickers recipe passed down to her from her late mother. As Chin shares, potstickers are a form of dim sum, which translates to “touch of the heart.” This story behind the recipe is sure to touch yours.
When my mom first immigrated from China to the U.S. in 1956, she worked as a seamstress for 50 cents an hour. She did what she had to do to survive, but being a seamstress was not her calling. That was to cook, something she’s always been amazing at doing. When she was a little girl growing up in China, she would follow around the family chef. And when she was 17, she was matched up with my father to be married. Then she really had to learn how to cook. And, of course, she did.
My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the ’50s, moving to Minnesota. My mom couldn’t find any of the ingredients she was used to cooking with—the supermarket was a completely foreign land. She improvised by growing her own vegetables. In the early ’70s, my mom decided to throw a luncheon for her sewing clients, and they were blown away because they’d never had authentic Chinese food before. They encouraged her to start teaching cooking classes and catering, so she did. One day, a socialite tried my mom’s food, and told her: “We should open a restaurant together!” Considering this wealthy woman was friends with the owner of the Minnesota Twins and Sean Connery, it amazingly wasn’t such a wild idea. So they did, and Connery became an investor in my mother’s first restaurant.
By this time, it was the ’80s, and my mom really made a name for herself. Her first Chinese restaurant was beautiful and elegant. This was the type of mom I grew up with: determined, gritty, and magic in the kitchen. Her restaurant empire grew into a fast-casual concept bearing her name, Leeann Chin, with over 50 locations. It still exists today in Minneapolis.
When I was an adult, I got a job as a marketing executive in Los Angeles. One day, I decided to throw a dinner party. This was a horrible idea because, without my mom by my side, I had no idea what to make, and I had completely forgotten how to cook. I don’t know what I was thinking!
As the day of the dinner approached, I called my mom daily with questions. Should I make chicken? How do you cook it? Okay, what else should I make? Eventually, she got so frustrated that she got on a plane and came to my apartment. She opened my fridge, peeked inside, and all she found in there was champagne and yogurt. After that, she was determined to teach me how to cook again.
My mom would fly to LA every few weeks, and we’d have little cooking parties with me and my friends. They were like, “You guys make Chinese cooking look so easy!” We’d make potstickers together, and I’d tell her what was going on in my life. My mom was a very patient teacher, but she was also a complete tiger mom, i.e. highly critical, but always out of love. I remember her patiently telling me to mix the green onions and white wine together. Or how to make the dough completely from scratch.
That time was really meaningful to me. In fact, it reignited my love for cooking and inspired me to completely change my life. I quit my job and left my husband all in the same month. (I don’t necessarily recommend doing those two things simultaneously!) Then, I started cooking with my mom more. We wrote a cookbook together, co-hosted the PBS series Double Happiness, and did segments for the Food Network. We even made potstickers together on the Today Show for Mother’s Day. That’s another special memory I have with my mother.
Sadly, my mother died 12 years ago—my latest cookbook, Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cooking: 101 Delicious Recipes From My Mother’s Kitchen ($20), honors her memory and is filled with family anecdotes. And every time I make potstickers I think of her. I’m good at making them now, but I’ll never make them as well as she did.
Now, I have twins, a daughter and a son, who are 12, and when they were four years old, I started making potstickers with them. My daughter likes cooking with me more than my son. During the pandemic, she and I started doing a cooking show together, “Cooped Up Cooking with Katie & Becca,” live-streaming over Facebook and Instagram. We’ve done over 100 episodes now!
The potstickers recipe I’m sharing here is the exact one I made with my mom, and the exact one I make with my kids. A few tips: Don’t overstuff your dumplings because it will be hard for you to seal them if there’s too much inside. Also, if you’re using store-bought wrappers, cover them with a slightly damp dishcloth or paper towel so they don’t get dried out.
Potstickers are a form of dim sum and dim sum literally translates to “touch of the heart.” This recipe is so special to me, and my hope is it leads to some special memories in your own life. From my heart to yours.
Katie Chin’s Potstickers Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
For the potstickers:
4 oz. napa cabbage, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 tsp salt, divided
8 oz ground pork or chicken
2 Tbsp finely chopped green onion (scallion), white and green parts
2 tsp dry white wine
1/2 tsp cornstarch
Dash of white pepper
20–30 store-bought potsticker wrappers
2 to 4 Tbsp oil, divided
1. Toss the cabbage with one teaspoon of the salt and set aside for five minutes. Roll the cabbage up in a clean dry dish towel. Twist the dish towel to squeeze out the excess moisture.
2. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage, pork or chicken, green onion, wine, cornstarch, the remaining half teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper.
3. Place one tablespoon of the meat mixture in the center of the wrapper. Moisten the top edge of the wrapper with a bit of water. Lift up the edges of the circle and pinch several pleats to create a pouch to encase the mixture. Pinch the top together. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
4. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Place 12 dumplings in a single layer in the wok or skillet and fry them for two minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Add a half cup of water and cover and cook for six to seven minutes or until the water is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.
5. Make the dipping sauce: Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Serve with dumplings.
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