One of my dream countries to visit is Japan. I’ve been to quite a few Asian countries but have never really visited Japan because it’s too expensive, as they say. However I am familiar with Japanese cuisine, it being one of my all-time favourites. I can also speak quite a few Japanese sentences given that I grew up watching tons and tons of Japanese anime shows. It might be funny but it’s true!
The Japanese inspired a lot of things in my life, I think. They inspired me to develop my imagination and my talent in drawing (anime!). They inspired me to value tradition with how much love they have for theirs. Theirs is definitely one of the most fascinating I have encountered, and I adore their elaborate festivals where everyone is all dressed up in colourful kimonos, walking along rows of sakura trees and towards the shrines to pray and to wish.
I am also constantly in awe of their meticulousness. I’ve been to Fukuoka before as a side trip for about half a day, and we went to the market that had stalls upon stalls selling mochis and other Japanese cakes and delicacies. One of the things I ended up doing in every store was walking through the aisles, just looking at each and every trinket, odd thing, and especially the food items there. They are packaged in these neat and amazingly designed boxes, with each brand having its own unique style. I wanted to buy all of them and keep the boxes. That’s kind of crazy right? There were also those amazing bento boxes filled with food in the shape of famous Japanese characters.
I pretty much love a lot of things about Japan. It’s probably why I have such a connection with gyoza, and why I decided to make it my first selection off the stunning and mouth-watering Asian Dumplings cookbook. Plus, gyoza seemed simple enough, with ingredients that were easy to find and easy to whip up. The fact that I don’t have one of those bamboo steamers (yet!) gave me a push towards this particular recipe. And even though my non-stick pan broke, I made it work with my wok.
Maybe I got this attitude from the Japanese too, but I have an obsession with doing things right, especially when it comes to cookery. I mean everybody steams their dumplings in bamboo steamers, right? Why shouldn’t I? But you know what really drew me to this particular one? I was excited to pan-fry!
When you cook gyoza, you start with slightly frying the dumplings until they are lightly browned underneath, and then you pour in some water and let everything just sizzle. Cover everything up and then let the dumplings steam directly half-submerged in the water. The water will seep into the dumplings, making the wrapper supple and soft; the filling moist and flavourful. And then once all the water is gone, you let the dumplings just sit there for a minute or two longer until the bellies of the dumplings turn brown, crispy, and absolutely gorgeous.
The Japanese usually serve gyoza lying down on their side so that their crunchy, brown bellies are exposed to the world. It’s one of the main identifiers of gyoza, and really one of the best things about eating them! The wrapper steams into the perfect texture, the filling is perfectly seasoned and tastes absolutely delicious, and you dip the whole thing in a little bit of chili-soy sauce. That’s a little piece of Japan being enjoyed right there. Truthfully though, this is one of the best gyoza I have ever eaten.
Oh and did I mention pleating dumplings is super fun?!
Gyoza (Japanese Pork & Shrimp Pot Stickers)
For the filling
- 2 cups lightly packed, finely chopped napa cabbage, cut from whole leaves (about 7 ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 Tablespoons chopped Chinese chives or scallions, white and green parts
- 170 grams 6 ounces ground pork, fattier kind preferred, coarsely chopped to loosen
- 150 grams 4 1/2 ounces medium shrimp, shelled, deveined and chopped
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- Generous 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Japanese soy sauce or light soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon sake*
- 1 teaspoons sesame oil
For assembly and cooking
- 1 pound Basic Dumpling Dough
- Canola oil or sesame oil, or a combination of both, for pan-frying
- Water, for steaming
For the dipping sauce
- 5 Tablespoons Japanese soy sauce or light soy sauce
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile oil, adjust to taste, or omit
- Japanese hot mustard, if desired
To make the filling
- 1. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out the excess moisture from the cabbage. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse with water, draining again after. To remove more moist, squeeze the cabbage in your hands over the sink. You should be left with about 1/2 cup firmly packed cabbage.
- 2. Transfer the cabbage to a bowl and add the garlic, ginger, chives, pork, and shrimp. Stir and lightly mash the ingredients until they come together.
- 3. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the sugar, pepper, soy sauce, sake (if using), and sesame oil. Pour the seasonings over the meat and cabbage mixture, then stir and fold the ingredients together. Once the large chunks of pork have been broken, briskly stir to blend the ingredients into a cohesive, thick mixture.
- 4. To develop the flavours, cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for about 30 minutes. You should end up with about 2 cups of filling.**
To assemble the dumplings
- 6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If planning to refrigerate or to freeze the dumplings, lightly dust the paper with flour to avoid sticking.)
- 7. Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling, positioning it slightly off-centre toward the upper half of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper until the bottom meets the top half and press the wrapper's edges together, shaping it into a flat mound. There should be about 1/2 to 3/4-inch of wrapper clear on all sides.
- 8. Start pleating at the centre, making your way to the end of the dumpling. Then go back to the centre and pleat down the other end. Don't be afraid to stretch the dough a little as you pleat. The folds should not be too small to be able to seal the filling in.
- 9. Place the finished dumpling on the baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the wrappers. Space each dumpling about 1/2-inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel as you make wrappers with the remaining dough and fill with the remaining filling.
- 10. Once all the dumplings have been assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours for later cooking. They may be cooked right from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze the dumplings on their tray for about 1 hour or until hard, then transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag, seal well, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month. Partially thaw before cooking.
To pan-fry the dumplings
- 11. Heat a medium or large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 Tablespoons of oil for a medium skillet, and 2 Tablespoons for a large one. (Use 2 parts Canola and 1 part sesame, if combining oils.)
- 12. Add the dumplings to the pan one at a time, placing them sealed edges up in the winding circle pattern or in several straight arrows. It is okay for the dumplings to touch at this point. A medium skillet may fit 12 to 14 dumplings, while a large skillet may fit 16 to 18. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden or light brown at the bottom.
- 13. Holding the lid close to the skillet, add water into the pan to a depth of about 1/4 inch, or about 1/3 cup water. The water will immediately sputter and coil vigorously. Cover the skillet with the lid, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away until it is mostly gone, 8 to 10 minutes.
- 14. After 6 to 8 minutes, move the lid or foil so that it is slightly ajar, to allow steam to shoot out from underneath. This lessens the condensation that forms on the lid and drips into the dumplings and oil.
- 15. Once the bubbling noise in the skillet turns to a gently frying sound, remove the lid. Most of the water would have been gone. Allow the dumplings to fry another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp.
- 16. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before carefully transferring the dumplings to a serving plate. Set them with their bottoms up so that they remain crisp. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.***
Once all the dumplings have been cooked, make the dipping sauce
- 17. Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar and chile in a small bowl. Taste and make flavour adjustments.
- 18. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
** The filling can be made up 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before assembling.
*** I normally pan-fry half a batch (16 dumplings) and put the other half in the freezer to cook on a later date. Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen