There’s a special place in my heart for dumplings. Whether they’re fried, boiled or steamed, there’s a marvelous synergy that happens when you take a savory filling and stuff it into what is essentially an oversized noodle. In Japan, nothing typifies dumplings more than Gyōza (餃子). Whether you’re walking down a restaurant lined alley, or through an upscale grocery store, in Japan, you’re never far away from the hunger-inducing smell of these pork and garlic chive dumplings.
Originating in China where they’re known as Jiaozi (饺子), gyoza along with other imports such as Ràmen, Karé Ràisu, and Hambaagu have found their way into the ecclectic pantheon of Japanese cuisine and there are thousands of restaurants that specialize in these delectable dumplings.
With so many gyoza shops, most places try to diversify their menu by adding different fillings from scallops and shrimp to cheese and corn. While I’m generally a fan of the classic, with pork, cabbage and garlic chives, there is one exception. When I was visiting Japan a number of years ago, I happened upon a gyoza stall in a Ginza department store that was selling gyoza filled with kurobuta (berkshire pork) and aōjiso (green shiso). This wasn’t some novelty flavor cooked up to sell more dumplings, it was genuinely good!
Shiso is a subspecies of Perilla and joins Basil as a member of the mint family. You may be used to seeing the large saw-toothed leaf garnishing a platter of sushi, but it’s a fantastic herb that has a unique green flavor and a subtle menthol bite. This makes it the perfect accent for the rich porky filling and provides a visually pleasing glow through the semi-translucent wrapper.
Unike most dumplings, gyoza are both steamed and fried. This gives them a Jekyl and Hyde texture that captures the best of both worlds. The sublime combination of a crispy bottom with a tender noodle-like wrapper is achieved by frying, steaming, and then frying gyoza again. It might sound complicated, but there are no kitchen acrobatics required here. Just start the pot stickers off on a hot pan with a little oil, hit it with some water and steam, then, as the water burns off, the bottom fries up golden brown and crisp.
Speaking of “pot sticking”, there’s a good reason why gyoza are known as potstickers in English. If you don’t use a non-stick pan (or a well seasoned cat iron pan), you’re practically guaranteed to have the best part of the wrappers permanently bonded to your pan. So for the sake of your dumplings (and your pan), please be sure to use a non-stick pan.
If you’re vegetarian, or just don’t eat pork, you can also add shiso when making my vegan gyoza. If you can’t find shiso in your area, or want to roll old skool, these dumplings are pretty darned delicious without it.
- Put the cabbage in a pot and add enough water to cover it. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Boil the cabbage until it is starting to wilt (about 2-3 minutes). Drain the cabbage in a colander while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a bowl, add the ground pork, scallions, garlic chives, ginger, potato starch, sesame oil, soy sauce, sake, salt and white pepper.
- When the cabbage has cooled enough to handle, shake off any excess water that has collected between the leaves, but do not squeeze the leaves (the water content of the cabbage is the secret to juicy gyoza!). Remove the core and discard. Chop the cabbage into 1/4-inch pieces and add it in with the pork.
- Put some gloves on and knead the pork and cabbage together until it forms a relatively uniform paste. Gyoza makers in Japan say that gathering up the meat and throwing it back into the bowl makes the filling more tender, but I haven't seen any evidence to support this claim.
- Prepare a bowl of water to wet your fingers with as well as a tray lined with parchment paper to hold your wrapped gyoza.
- To fold the gyoza, put a wrapper in the palm of your left hand (assuming you're right handed).
- Place a shiso leaf in the middle of the wrapper. If your leaves are too large, you may need to trim them down so so they fit in the center of your wrapper without going all the way to the edges.
- Wet the fingers of your right hand and moisten the entire rim of the wrapper like you would an envelope. You need to get enough water onto the rim to make the wrapper stick, but not so much that you make it mushy.
- Fold the wrapper over and then use your thumb and forefinger to pleat the edge from the left to the right.
- As you pleat, use your left thumb to press the completed pleats down to seal the dumpling.
- When you're done, put the dumpling in the palm of your hand and make sure it stands up with the pleats facing up. If it's not stable, tweak the shape a little so that it's able to stand with the pleats facing up.
- Place the dumpling on the prepared tray and repeat until you are out of filling.
- To fry the dumplings, prepare a small bowl with 3 tablespoons of water. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed 10 to 12 inch non-stick pan over medium high heat until hot. Line up the dumplings in rows and let them fry until the bottoms take on just a hint of color. The pan should fit 10-12 dumplings at a time.
- Hold a lid with the side closest to you touching the pan like an open clam shell (the opening should be facing away from you). Reach around and quickly pour in the 3 tablespoons of water and shut the lid as fast as possible. As you might imagine pouring water on to hot oil will result in a lot of spattering. Be careful and quick to avoid making a mess.
- Let the dumplings steam until there is no water left in the pan (this should take about 2 minutes). Because of variations in pots and their lids it's possible you might run out of water more quickly. If this happens, add a bit more water and continue steaming.
- When the water is gone, remove the lid and fry the gyoza until they are golden brown on the bottom.
- Serve the gyoza browned side up so they don't get soggy. For the dipping sauce, just mix equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar and add some chili oil to taste.
- These gyoza can be frozen on the parchment lined trays. Once they're frozen you can put them in a tupperware or freezer bag. When you cook them, the process is the same, but you will need to use more water and let them steam longer (about 5-6 minutes) to make sure they're cooked through.