Seattle Classic Cookbook

Throughout this project of mine, Brady has cheerfully eaten at least a few bites of everything I’ve put before him.  Every once in awhile, say with aspic or cold avocado soup or raw ahi tuna, I can tell he’s putting on a brave face.  But then, every so often, I can tell that he’s really excited about what’s on the menu.  This week, I went two for two on that front, first with the pot stickers, and then with this homemade variation on a Chinese takeout classic.

Sweet and Sour Snapper

Sweet and Sour Snapper

1 pound red snapper, boned and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 t. salt
1 T. dry sherry
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 cups oil for deep-frying

Sweet and Sour Sauce

2 T. cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in heavy syrup (drain off and reserve syrup)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 T. soy sauce
2 ounces Chinese pickles (optional – available in Asian food shops)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1 large tomato, cut into wedges

Dry snapper with paper towel. Mix together egg, salt, and sherry. Dip fish in egg mixture, then roll in mixture of flour and cornstarch. Deep-fry fish in a wok over high heat. Drain on paper towels, transfer to serving dish, and keep warm in a 250-degree oven.

To prepare sauce: Mix together cornstarch and water, then combine with reserved pineapple syrup, vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Add pineapple chunks, pickles, and green pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add tomato wedges, and pour around fish just before serving.

Serves 4

There were many reasons I enjoyed this dish.  It only took about 45 minutes to make, the fish was surprisingly light and fresh for something deep-fried, the peppers had that  just barely cooked crispness that is secretly my favorite part of a takeout carton of sweet and sour pork or chicken, and best of all, the sauce was not neon red.  I omitted the Chinese pickles because I could not find them, and the tomatoes because their inclusion in the recipe horrified me, but otherwise, I did just what the ladies of the Junior League of Seattle said to.

The three sauces from this week’s cooking, the sweet and sour sauce, the gyoza sauce, and the sweet and sour plum sauce were a high point, and worth making on their own even if you don’t necessarily have the time to make pot stickers from scratch, or don’t feel like negotiating 6 cups of spitting hot oil.  We used the leftover sauces on some pot stickers and chicken from the freezer section at the grocery store, and were pleased with the results.

It was a fun week of cooking, and I got to make a few recipes that were outside my cooking comfort zone, but surprisingly doable.  Next week, I’ll be cooking a meal from the Junior League of Abilene, Texas’s racily name Best Little Cookbook in Texas, which was a gift from my friend, Alex.  What a Junior League cookbook from Abilene, Texas was doing in a Madison, Wisconsin thrift store, I’ll never know, but I’m glad it found a loving home.

One of my co-workers went to culinary school before moving into library work, so we often chat about various things that we’re cooking.  The other day, he tells me, he decided to make croissants from scratch, something he hadn’t done since back in the days when he was doing so for a grade.

“I spent 8 hours on the them, and they didn’t even turn out,” he said, wearily.  “They were so ugly.”

There are certain foodstuffs that most people are simply not going to make at home, not when you can easily purchase them at a reasonable price, and not when your own efforts are bound to be bitter disappointments by comparison.

Which is not to say it’s wasted effort, far from it.

You see, I made pot stickers this week, the first of two recipes I’m cooking from the Junior League of Seattle’s The Seattle Classic Cookbook (1983).  I meant to cook both recipes on the same day, but as things turned out, we just wound up eating an entire meal’s worth of potstickers.

It wasn’t pretty, but as it turns out, it was just the thing.

Pot Stickers: Chinese Fried and Steamed Dumplings with Gyoza and Sweet and Sour Plum Sauces

Pot stickers with sweet and sour plum sauce (and awesome chopsticks made from recycled bats donated by Japanese baseball teams)

4 leaves Nappa cabbage, or 1/4 small cabbage
1 t. salt
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
2 green onions, chopped fine
1 t. grated fresh ginger
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sake or cooking sherry
1/4 cup chopped chives (optional)
1/2 pound ground pork
1 package Oriental dumpling skins or won ton skins
2 T. vegetable oil
1/2 cup water

Mince cabbage and add salt. Rub vigorously in hands to squeeze out moisture. Place in bowl and add onions, ginger, soy sauce, sake, chives and pork and mix well.

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the pork mixture in center of each dumpling skin and fold in half, shaping so that top is rounded and bottom is flat. Wet edges with water and seal. Heat oil in frying pan or electric skillet set at 350 degrees. Boil water. Place pot stickers in frying pan so that they are in rows, side by side and touching. Fry until golden brown, and pour in the water. Immediately place lid on pan and steam until water is gone.

Gyoza Sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 t dry mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce

Combine vinegar, hot mustard, and soy sauce until blended.

Sweet and Sour Plum Sauce

2 T. cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. sherry
1 T. Oriental plum sauce

Combine cornstarch and sugar. Add vinegar, water, soy sauce and sherry. Heat in heavy pan, stirring until thickened. Stir in the plum sauce.

Brady and I are lucky to have a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood that is, as one of our friends described it, “much, much better than it has to be.”  It is scrumptious, and the only other Chinese restaurant within delivery distance has a sign written in an unfortunate script that makes the name of the place appear to be “Human Taste.”

At least once a month, we place an order to Chyn King, usually for sauteed string beans and sweet and sour pork, and always for fried and steamed pot stickers.  While their pot stickers are beauty queens compared to my gnarly little dumpling trolls, I was inordinately, giddily pleased when I realized that when I’d finished making these, our apartment smelled exactly like it does immediately after the pot stickers from Chyn King arrive.*

There were a few difficulties along the way.  The grocery store was out of gyoza dumpling wrappers, so I had to improvise with won ton wrappers – I used a 3 1/4″ cookie cutter to trim the wrappers into rounds.  As far as tips for sealing the pot stickers, I don’t really have any, other than maybe use less than a “heaping tablespoon” of filling for each one.  It’s hard, and I was bad at it.

But you know what I am good at?  Making sweet and sour plum sauce.

While the Gyoza Sauce recipe is perfectly good, all we wanted was the plum sauce.  It’s sublime.  As we were eating, Brady said, “What else could we make this week and put this sauce on it?

So, another recipe later this week.  The pot stickers had me both tuckered out and full up, so no room for Sweet and Sour Snapper.   In the meantime, what’s a “more trouble than it’s worth” recipe you’ve made, and did you find the experience in some way edifying?

Off the top of my head, I’d list cinnamon rolls, King Cake, and mole sauce – yet, all were, in some way, well worth the trouble.


* And, as it turns out, we are not the only ones convinced of Chyn King’s greatness.  If you don’t believe us, pop over to their Yelp page where even Felicia “Dr. Horrible/Dollhouse/The Guild” Day has chimed in on the awesomeness of Chyn King.  Oh, L.A.