February 27th, 2008
Like religion, sweet or savory dumplings can be found in almost every part of the world and they go by many names. In the Latin world, they are known as empanadas; ravioli to the Italians; pirozhki to the Russians; pierogi to the Polish; taquitos to the Mexicans; mandu to the Koreans; wontons or jiaozi to the Chinese, the list goes on and on. A dumpling is nothing more than a small parcel of food encased in dough, pastry, batter, leaves or paper. After being carefully wrapped the packages are then cooked using dry heat, steam, boiling water or oil.
It may come to a surprise, but your average Japanese citizen eats more gyoza than sushi. For me, one of the first and the last thing that I do when I travel to the other side of the Pacific is to order a bowl of ramen, a sizzling plate of gyoza and an ice cold Japanese beer to wash it all down.
However, my fascination for this Japanese staple began when I was a child. My family would gather once a month on a Saturday afternoon and make about a hundred of them. What always started out as a fun project would inevitably take a turn for the worse as my A.D.D kicked in. It is not, by any means, a difficult process but it is time consuming (especially when you are making a hundred at a time).
For all the time we put in to make them, we would devour them in about a quarter of the time. We would eat a good portion of them immediately and the leftovers where sent to the freezer, uncooked for later use. We always made extras, since they freeze well and do not need to be thawed before cooking. This made for an extremely easy weekday dinner for mom, sometimes even finding its way into our
It was after I moved away from home and in the more recent years that I started to seek my own culinary adventures. I started by stocking up on frozen potstickers from the Japanese specialty store in Central San Diego. I would usually pick up a couple of bags, the first one rarely surviving the first 24 hours. The second one, however, would sit deep in the freezer for another day, usually sometime later that week. They were not as good as the homemade ones I made with my family, but they more than did the job. After moving to North San Diego this task of finding frozen potstickers became much more difficult. I recall one night where I went as far as going to 5 different local grocery stores before finding a place that carried them. I made a commitment to myself that night to start making my own.
No Hard Fillings
Ok, now that I've gotten myself all excited (good thing I had my fix earlier tonight), let me share with you my family's homemade gyoza recipe. First off, the filling has to be light, not dense - think good Italian meatballs. The garlic chives and the napa cabbage are there to help add variety of texture while also providing moisture. Adding minced shitake to gyoza filling is also common in many recipes, as it provides a meaty texture without making the dumplings dense. Let’s not forget the depth of flavor that they bring to the party as well. Since my little sister did not (and to this day does not) like mushrooms, what you see below is the pork gyoza recipe that my family prepared growing up, minus the egg whites. This is a trick borrowed from the Western world; the idea that egg whites puff up as they cook, making for a light and tender filling. However, if you don’t do pork (for whatever reason), you can always substitute chicken, turkey, or even shrimp! And if you don’t do meat, you can make a vegetarian version by increasing the cabbage and adding sautéed mushrooms or even tofu.
This recipe will make just over 50 gyoza, adjust as necessary. As I mentioned above, I would recommend freezing a batch to enjoy at a later date.
6 cups minced napa cabbage leaves, shredded
1 1/2 teaspoon table salt (no kosher as it is too coarse)
1 1/2 lbs ground pork
3/4 cup of garlic chives, minced. If not accessible, white and green parts of scallions can be used for substitute.
1/4 teaspoons white pepper
2 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (No substitution with the dried stuff, please!)
3 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 package of gyoza wrapping skins
vegetable oil and water for cooking
Gyoza Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
chili oil to taste (sesame oil and hot sauce can be used as substitute)
Dash of white pepper
Minced scallions - green parts only
Combine all ingredients in bowl, sauce can be refrigerated overnight.
- Toss cabbage and salt in colander and place inside a medium bowl - the salt will help to draw out the extra moisture in the cabbage. After about 20 minutes the cabbage will begin to wilt, at which time you will want remove the excess water. You can use a rubber spatula and press the cabbage along the sides of the bowl, however, I find squeezing the cabbage in my hands with a towel is much more effective. If you used your hands be sure to toss cabbage to separate and fluff the combine with other filling ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold (minimum of 30 minutes, no more than 24 hours).
- Now for the fun part...Wrapping Things Up! When working with the wrappers you want to be sure to keep them from drying out, the best way to do this is to keep them covered with a damp cloth until they are ready for use. Remove one wrapper from under the cloth and begin...
- Place the gyoza wrapper in your palm and place a small spoonful of filling in the center. Use enough of the mixture to fill out the wrapper completely without overstuffing it. Be sure to keep the edges clean giving you room to enclose the filling with the wrapper. It may take a couple to get it just right; just remember practice makes perfect.
- Place your index finger of your opposite hand into the water and use it to wet the edges of the gyoza skin (no need to wet the edges all the way around, just the top half). If you have any filling that is approaching the edges at this point, you have too much filling. Remove the excess and reposition the remaining filling in the center of the wrapper with your fingers.
- Fold the bottom half of the wrapper to meet the top half that you moistened in the previous step. I work from one edge of the skin to the other, making pleats by crimping the bottom half of the wrapper to meet the top half. I follow each pleat with my index finger to keep the sides from sticking before I am ready to bring them together. I also use that same finger to keep the filling from escaping. Continue making pleats until the filling is completely encased, you should have about 5-6 pleats total. The gyoza should naturally curve as you're working.
- Place the wrapper gyoza on a baking sheet to flatten the bottom of the dumpling. At this point you can also press down on the pleats to ensure a tight seal while eliminating any air bubbles.
- If you are not eating right away, freeze gyoza in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once fully frozen, place into freezer bags.
If you are like me and cannot resist, move on to the cooking phase...
- Grease bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet with vegetable oil using a paper towel to spread to all edges of the pan. Add gyoza to the skillet, laying them flat and being sure not to crowd. Place skillet over medium-high heat and cook for 4-5 minutes WITHOUT moving. You want the bottoms to become golden brown. At this point add a couple of shots of water (just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet) and cover with a tight fitting lid. The intention is to steam the dumplings - you do NOT need a lot of water. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. You will undoubtedly have to cook and eat in batches. Serve with Scallion Dipping Sauce and eat while hot!