ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Classic Pork Gyoza,” and “Homemade Rayu,” from Japanese Soul Cooking, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat*
TIMING: a good hour
DIFFICULTY: I wouldn’t really say it’s hard, but I also would hesitate to call it easy
TOOLS: A cast iron skillet with a tight-fitting lid, a super-thin spatula (like for fish), and a pair of heat-proof tongs
COOK TYPE: Stove top. Pan-frying and steaming
HEALTH: Eat too many of these (and you will), and you’ll feel it in your gut. They’re not really horrible, but they are heavy. Served with some sort of crunchy raw veggie, they would round out a bit more, but the Japanese version is to eat it with ramen and beer or, for a snack, with pickles and beer. Besides the pre-made wrappers, though, the filling is basically pork and cabbage with some healthful aromatics, so we’re not going to kill anyone with them. Unless they bust a gut. These are that good. They are gut-bustable. So I suggest you limit your serving platter to so many per eater, and freeze the rest for later.
EXPERIENCE: On the Japanese cooking kick, thanks to my new cookbook, and these looked both fabulous and fabulously difficult. So, even though I had the ingredients, I kept sorta putting them off. When a fairly open evening presented itself, I girded up my loins (what a funny expression) and got to work.
It turns out, this recipe is not as difficult as it seems it would be. You just create a dipping sauce, moosh together the fillling, heat a pan, and then assemble the dumplings. After that, you just babysit a few batches of gyoza as they cook, but it moves quickly. People will come running, either from the smell or because you have set off the fire alarm.
NOTES: You definitely need some special ingredients, which if you can’t find at your local Asian grocer (or even your regular grocer), you’re going to need to buy online. Here is what you are looking for:
- Toasted Sesame Oil can be found in most grocery stores. While sesame oil is typically so pale it’s clear, toasted sesame oil should be a nice, nutty brown.
- Ichimi Togarashi is a ground red pepper. Its counterpart, schichimi togarashi includes sansho, sesame seeds, and a few other ingredients. I could not find these anywhere, but I had a bottle of something that was basically Japanese ground red pepper with sesame seeds, so I used that and it worked perfectly. Maybe it was the right thing after all, but it had no Latin characters on the whole bottle, except the brand, S&B.
- Rice Vinegar is commonly found in the ethnic aisle at any old grocery store. It’s just a clear vinegar found in a plastic or glass bottle. You could also use cider vinegar, in a pinch.
- Japanese Garlic Chives or Nira. I am not at all sure that I bought the right thing, but it worked well. What I found was a giant cluster of long, slender, flat, green chives at the Asian grocer. I tried to smell for garlic, but I wasn’t getting any. At any rate, the cookbook says it looks like long grass.
- Potato Starch is something you may find at a regular grocery store, or not. At a traditional grocer, it will be in a box in the baking aisle, by the corn starch. In an Asain grocer, you will probably find in bagged. It looks and feels like corn starch.
- Gyoza Skins. I found several options in the refridgerated section at my Asian market. You want thin and about 3-4 inches in diameter. You also want about 50 for this recipe.
- Combine 3 cups fine-chopped green (or white) cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt in a fine-mesh sieve and place over an empty sink. Leave it there.
- In a small sauce pan, combine 1 tablespoon fine chopped ginger, 1 tablespoon pressed garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped scallion whites, and 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil. Bring to a boil over low-medium heat. Simmer over low for 3 minutes, swirling the pot occasionally.
- Remove from heat and let come to room temperature. Meanwhile, in a small container with a lid, combine 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil with 1 tablespoon ichimi togarashi and an optional 1 tablespoon Chinese red pepper flake.
- When cool, pour the first oil through a strainer into the second oil, close, and shake. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of the rayu: the oil you just prepared. If you need more dipping sauce, you can double or triple this. Set aside.
- Now rinse the cabbage, still in the sieve, and press with paper towels or clean towels until as dry as you can possibly get it.
- In a medium mixing bowl, put the cabbage, 1 1/2 cups Japanese green garlic chive, 1 tablespoon pressed garlic, 1 tablespoon fine-chopped ginger, 2/3 pound ground pork, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons potato starch. Combine by mooshing with your fingers until everything is very homogeneous.
- In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon potato starch with 2 tablespoons water. Dust more potato starch onto a large plate.
- Preheat your cast iron skillet over high-medium-high heat.
- Open a package of 50 gyoza skins and place 1 skin, flour-side down, in your left palm. Dip your right index finger into the starch-water mixture and paint around the edge of the skin, all the way around. Don’t skimp. Scoop a scant tablespoon of pork mixture into the center of the skin and bring the edges of the skin together, sealing the edges to make a half-moon. (There are fancy ways to fold it, but this works and is the easiest.) Set your gyoza on the plate and continue until all skins are used.
- Add 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil to your hot pan and make sure the bottom is evenly coated. Working quickly, place gyoza into the pan in a neat pattern, barely overlapping them. Stop when the pan is full. Count to 10, then pour 3/4 cup water over top and quickly cover. (If your lid leaks at all, you may need to increase to 1 cup.) Wait 4 minutes. Uncover and wait until almost all the water is evaporated. Drizzle the gyoza with 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil and immediately start working with a very thin spatula to remove the gyoza from the pan.
- Continue in batches until done, and serve hot with the dipping sauce.
Serve with pickles and beer or ramen and beer. Or, less traditionally, with a crisp, raw veggie salad with ginger carrot dressing and hot tea.
*Recipe changed from the original.