When you move to France, gyozas aren’t the first foods which come to mind. I should be writing a diary about all the baguettes and eclairs I eat, not Japanese finger foods. For those who are interested, I eat a lot of baguettes, but we had one with lunch today and it was a BIG disappointment – overbaked, rock hard, with a bitter burnt taste cooked into the crumb. Evidently, French bakeries have bad days too. So, instead of mourning, or even using that baguette as a hammer as it could easily knock in a nail, I turned my attention to another food I love – gyozas.
What is a gyoza?
Gaylord and I share a fondness for these pert Japanese dumplings. I really don’t believe it’s just me who thinks there is something deeply intriguing about a miniscule parcel concealing a mystery of delicious fillings. In fact, I know it’s not just me because dumplings are an international phenomenon – there are varieties of empanada from Latin America, perogies in Poland, and little wontons in China to just nudge that tip of the iceberg. All the stuffing is relatively similar, usually a mixture of meat and vegetables, but each country puts their own unique stamp on their nations’ dumplings with a bit of spice and seasoning, and stylish folding.
I’ve been meaning to challenge myself for the longest time, dear reader. While I am proud of the recipes I create here on Nigella, there is a cuisine in which I am fumbling around with the lights off and everything I make is kind of a continental amalgamation. That cuisine is all forms of Asian cookery. My goal is to find a good Japanese cookbook as a guide – because, after all, gyozas – and from there, dip my toe into the sea of different dishes and cultures across Asia. (she says acutely aware of how enormous Asia is.)
But while I hungrily search the internet for appropriate cookbooks and finding myself lost down an Amazon rabbit hole, I want to eat gyozas. So, I caved and bought the wrappers at a local Asian supermarket, and made some to help my cookbook hunt. One day I will persevere with my self-afflicted challenge and make those wrappers myself. Just not today.
Maybe because I’d been fantasising about homemade gyozas for so long and dragging my heels, I had anticipated it to be a struggle. Turns out, homemade gyozas are a doddle.
If I made my own wrappers though, that would be a different story. They need to be almost as wafer-thin as filo pastry, and my homemade pasta was definitely on the thicker side; think of a penny or cent, maybe even a £1 in places, and then realise that’s the strength of my arm muscles.
Anyway, dough-tangent aside, what I did actually make were the fillings. And yes, of course it’s plural because I made two!
Last week, Gaylord and I stood companionably at the kitchen counter scooping a soft mixture of minced pork, fresh ginger, soy and rice wine vinegar into gyoza wrappers, and then made more with prawns and finely sliced spring onions.
When you make your gyoza filling, you need it to be like a thick meaty puree so it is easy to scoop and mould inside the wrappers. Minced pork easily comes together with a brisk beating of a wooden spoon. Crumbly fillings with excess liquid are a little more tricky to handle, as we discovered with our prawns. Ideally, use a food processor to mash all your ingredients together, binding the prawn meat, cornflour and soy sauce to form a salty, umami pulp ready to scoop out and taste, but ugh, raw prawns always ruins the fun.
If you don’t have a food processor, like we don’t, then it’s all down to your knife skills. If you can create a beautiful puree with just a knife then congratulations! Unfortunately, I could not, so our prawn mixture was delicate and resulted in my French boyfriend being all French and impatient.
Of course, when it came to eating the gyozas, the fiddly fillings didn’t matter because they were utterly delicious. Inspired by I Am A Food Blog’s recipe, we mixed pork mince with ginger, garlic, chives, rice wine vinegar, soy, sesame oil and cornflour, doubling the ginger to give the steamed dumplings a punch of freshness. We ate them hot straight out of the pan, breathing steam like dragons. The pork was salty yet light with fragrant ginger, and the vinegar added a depth of sweetness which wonderfully balanced the rich flavour. We ate at least 15 pork gyozas each that night.
Meanwhile, the prawn dumpling-filling had thickened thanks to the cornflour and each bite was juicy, with a slight crunch from the spring onions. This is a recipe I still want to perfect, maybe add some lemongrass à la Nigel Slater, so today I will leave you with the pork recipe, and update the prawns for the future.
This part was daunting. You hold a circular wrapper in your hand and you wonder if it will end up looking like a ravioli by the end. Gaylord’s did, I won’t deny it.
However, I checked I Am A Food blog’s instructions, which, while aren’t detailed at least have helpful pictures, and took a stab. And, I must say, for a first attempt, I was chuffed! (although, typically the one I took pictures of looks terrible.)
The technique is to wet the circumference of the wrapper, then dollop a spoonful of filling in the centre.
Fold the whole thing in half, and just before the edges meet, using your two thumbs, guide the edge closest to you into pleats. I am right handed, so my pleats went to the left.
When you reach the end, press the edges together so they are sealed tightly. Ta-dah!
Again, another stage which automatically made me nervous, but I then simply followed the instructions and all of a sudden had perfectly cooked, perky little parcels, practically begging me to eat them.
All you need to do is:
Splash a little oil in a non-stick pan, let it get hot and add your gyoza. Fry them gently for 3-5 minutes, until the bottoms are brown.
Now, you add about four tablespoons of water to the pan. It will immediately steam and froth fiercely, so quickly cover the pan with a lid (another thing we don’t have, so I used a baking tray and it still worked).
Let the gyozas steam merrily for a few minutes, then check on them. The wrappers should have become translucent, soft and moist, and the filling should feel heavy. Let the water evaporate and they’re all done!
Now you have a gyoza feast to devour! And, for us at least, until we find better baguettes, gyozas will always be on the menu.
P.S Any recommendations for a beginner’s Japanese cookbook would be greatly appreciated!
Pork and ginger gyoza filling
- 350 g minced pork
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 cm fresh peeled ginger
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped chives
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp salt
- Gyoza wrappers
- Tip the minced pork into a large bowl. In a separate small bowl mix together the cornflour and water to create a smooth liquid. Pour it over the pork.
- Finely chop the ginger, garlic and chives. Add them, along with the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and salt to the pork.
- Using a wooden spoon, thoroughly mix the pork and seasonings until everything is fully combined and the mixture is smooth like a thick puree. It's perfectly fine if you do away with the wooden spoon and use your hands though, it'll probably just slow you down.
- Set up everything you will need: a small bowl of water, your pork mixture with a tablespoon, a pile of gyoza wrappers, and a spare plate.
- Lay a gyoza wrapper in your hand. Wet the circumference of the paper with a finger. Spoon a blob of meat into the centre and flatten it into a rough circle. Fold the wrapper in half so the edges are touching, but before they do, use your thumbs to fold pleats. Seal the edges tightly, then place the gyoza on the spare plate.
- Repeat with more wrappers until you finish the pork.
- Place a non-stick frying pan on medium-low heat, and add a drop of flavourless oil. Once hot, add as many gyozas as you want/can fit. Let them cook gently for up to 5 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown.
- With your pan lid ready, pour in 4 tbsp of water. It will immediately steam so quickly put the lid on. Leave them to cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the lid and the gyozas should have shrunken and the meat filling should be firm and heavy.
- Let the water evaporate and gyozas steam dry for another minute or so. Remove from the pan and cook your remaining dumplings. Serve with soy sauce if you wish.