Gyoza Dumplings Recipe and Revelations

by convivialist

Every cuisine owns its own rudimentary version of the “dumpling”. Italy has its filled ravioli. Poland has given the world the gift of pierogi. China offers endless types of steamed or fried wontons and dumplings. The list goes on. Even Germany, with its Knödel, is not put to shame in this department that calls for a carbohydrate in dough form, surrounded by some kind of meat or vegetable, and, of course heat. It all sounds too simple when you break it down.

This was until I had the good fortune of being invited to a home-cooked Japanese dinner by my friend Satoshi Nakamura. It was only then when I realized that, no, not all “dumplings”, even those precisely following my above-stated formula, are created equal. Let me tell you about Gyoza, which are actually the same as Chinese dumplings, just, in this case, adapted more to Japanese tatste. In principle, it is still very simple: a carbohydrate (round of wheat dough) is wrapped around a mixture of meat (pork/beef/shrimp) and/or vegetables (kimchee) and added to heat (fried, then steamed). But the result was wholly unworldly.

filling dumplings

filled dumplings

Perhaps the pleasure was due to the unmistakable freshness of transporting the literally steaming hot dumplings straight from the pan to the table and pulling them apart from their clumped mass with a group of close friends – ok, fine, wrestling them away from a group of close, albeit ravenous friends (and believe me, those Japanese are far more nimble than us Westerners with chopsticks, so I considered myself as the underdog in this scramble). Or maybe what made the dish so delicious was the skill of Satoshi himself, who is not only a wonderful home chef but also boasts past experience as a short-order cook in a high-volume Ramen restaurant chain near the Yokohama train station, called Ippudo. There is even a branch in Manhattan, if that’s easier for you to get to than Japan.

I suppose I will never exactly know the secret of WHY this batch of Gyoza was one of the more outstanding examples of the dumpling I have experienced. I can only try to repeat it. Again and again and again.

This is a great dish to make in a group. It can easily be scaled up depending on how many are around the table and is a fun way to get everyone involved in preparation without the disaster that can result from over-eager dinner party guests. Are you an OCD host who wants to try loosening up after that last dinner party’s foray into molecular gastronomy? Try inviting over some friends to make Gyoza. You can prepare (read: control) all the fillings in advance and then the group is left with only the enjoyable, even meditative task of filling, folding and crimping the dumplings. Those little rounds of wheat dough can really be filled with anything you fancy so all the vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers in the group will be equally pleased. We made some with a beef/pork mixture and kimchee, some with shrimp and kimchee and others with tofu and kimchee.

dumplings steaming

finished gyoza

Gyoza – Japanese Dumplings Recipe

-Ground beef and pork mixed with Chinese cabbage (or bok choy), chives, ginger and a sprinkling of soy sauce and sesame seed oil
-Boiled shrimp
-Kimchee, either homemade or store-bought
-Rounds of wheat dough (about 2.5 in or 6 cm)
-Crumbled tofu
-Water to stick the dough rounds together
-Sesame seed oil for frying
-Soy sauce with few drops of chili sesame seed oil for dipping

Prepare all fillings for Gyoza and set on the table in separate bowls.
Take a round of rice dough and fill with ingredients of choice, being careful not to add to much or the dumpling will not close properly
Moisten the edges of the rice round and gently fold in half, making a half-circle shape. Crimp together the edges so that they will not leak out the filling while cooking. (This will take some practice!)
Repeat with as many dumplings as you would like.
Once you have enough raw dumplings prepared, heat a heavy frying pan to high and add a splash of sesame seed oil. Place the dumplings in the pan, trying to give them a “foot” surface so that they will stand upright. Fill the entire pan in this manner. Fry for a few minutes uncovered, so that the bottoms of the Gyoza become slightly browned (see video).
Add very hot water to the pan so that they Gyoza are about one-third drowned. Cover so that they can steam. Check on them after a few minutes (when the water is all absorbed) and test to be sure they have cooked all the way through.
The Gyoza will have fused together during the cooking. You can flip them upside down onto a large plate and then pull apart to eat. They will almost resemble a well-browned pancake when flipped on their undersides.
Serve with a dipping sauce of soy sauce with a few drops of chili sesame seed oil.