Gyoza: Japanese pan-fried dumplings

Gyoza

I’m a huge fan of dumplings. From Korean mandoo to Shanghai-style xiao long bao, I like ‘em all. But one of my favorite by far are Japanese gyoza. Usually served as a side dish in ramen-ya or izakaya, these bite-sized, pan-fried dumplings are eternally popular in Japan, although outside Japan they’ve been overshadowed by the sushi and ramen craze that seems to have swept the planet. That’s too bad. Gyoza deserve far more attention than they’ve received. And so to cast a spotlight on them here’s a recipe adapted from one my friend Yukiko Minemura shared with me. Serve the gyoza with a glass or two of ice cold Yebisu beer (Sapporo will also do in a cinch) and you’ll be transported to an izakaya in the alleyways of Shinjuku!

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Gyoza: Japanese pan-fried dumplings

Yield: Makes about 30 dumplings

Prep Time: 10 minutes (plus 1 hour for marinating)

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour for marinating)

Ingredients:

  • 2" piece ginger, minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 200 g (~3/4 cup) ground pork
  • 1 cup packed cabbage (regular green, napa (白菜) or a mixture)
  • ½ cup Chinese chives (にら), diced
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 30 gyoza wrappers
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • soy sauce and Japanese red chile oil (ra-yu or ラーユ) to serve

Directions:

  1. Mix the first 6 ingredients (ginger through ground pepper) in a small bowl and pour over the pork. Mix well, using your hands to massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for about 1 minute until softened. Drain and refresh under cold water. Squeeze to remove as much water as you can. Then chop well and squeeze dry again.
  3. Add cabbage, chives and oyster sauce to the marinated pork. Mix well.
  4. Fill a small bowl with water and set aside.
  5. To assemble the dumplings, place a wrapper in the palm of one hand and place about 2 tsp of the stuffing just off center. Try not to overfill. Dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. Fold and pinch shut. If you want to be fancier, feel free to make a pleat. Place on a large plate and cover with a towel. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers, making sure the assembled dumplings don't touch each other.
  6. To cook, heat 1-1½ Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Once the oil is hot, place half the gyoza, one at a time, in the skillet, pleated side facing up. It is traditional to place the gyoza in rows in a sort of chevron pattern. Fry for 2-3 minutes until the bottoms are nicely browned. Then, add enough water to the pan to just cover the bottom of the dumplings and cover with a lid. Cook until almost all the water has been absorbed or evaporated, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the lid and fry another minute or so.
  7. When done, drizzle a bit of sesame oil and a few drops of hot chile oil on top. Then with a large spatula lift the gyoza out of the pan and flip over onto a plate.
  8. Serve hot with soy sauce for dipping.

Adapted from a recipe by Yukiko Minemuera.

Pintxos Morunos: Spanish cumin and pimenton-spiced pork shoulder skewers

Pintxos Morunos

From Greek soulvaki to Malaysian satay, and Peruvian anticuchos to Japanese yakitori, there is hardly a country or cuisine that doesn’t have its favorite version of grilled meat on a stick. While this method of cooking was no doubt reinvented in different parts of the world, the oldest references to it are found in the Middle East and Mediterranean, hence the near universal use of the word “kebab“–derived from the Persian word “kabap” meaning “fry”–to describe this type of food. (Apparently, Medieval Persian soldiers used to grill meat speared on their swords over open fire.) No surprise then that Spain has its own version known as Pintxos Morunos, a reference to the Moors who colonized the Iberian Peninsula starting in the 700s. (Pintxo or pincho is the Spanish for spine.)

Soy sauce bottle

Soy sauce bottle

If ever there was a universally-recognizable symbol of Japanese cuisine it is surely these cute soy sauce bottles found in sushi restaurants throughout the world. (And for that matter any restaurant serving East Asian food.) But I’d never really thought about them until I read this article in the New York Times on the recent death of Kenji Ekuan, an industrial designer who won the contract from Kikkoman for creating them in the 1950s. The bottles are famous not only for their graceful shape but also the clever dripless spout. Mr. Ekuan went on to design many other things, including some models of the sleek Shinkansen trains. But it is for the soy sauce bottles that he will always be remembered.

Okara meatballs in Japanese curry sauce

Okara meatballs with Japanese curry sauce

It is a bit of a running joke in culinary circles that the Japanese can take any foreign food and change it beyond all recognition. Sometimes the results can be rather disconcerting, as happened to me at a restaurant in Tokyo claiming to specialize in Basque cuisine. The “arroz con setas” (rice with mushroom) was made with Japanese short grain rice and kinoko mushrooms and, for all I know, flavored with dashi! Ingenious, but a million miles from San Sebastian. More often though the results are both clever and extremely tasty, as with mentaiko pasta (明太子パスタ; spicy cod roe pasta) that famous fusion of Japanese and Italian. Similarly, Japanese “curry”–pronounced kare (カレー)–stands as one of the great culinary inventions of that country, on par in my opinion with instant ramen.

A couple of links for lovers of kimchi, beer and other fermented foods

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