I first encountered steamed dumplings during a backpacking trip to China. My Mandarin wasn't what it should be, so I did what you’d expect from every linguistically challenged Brit - I pointed at a few things on the menu and hoped for the best. As you can imagine, I was very pleased with myself when I saw a pile of delicately presented food parcels delivered on a bamboo serving platter…until I found out that they were filled with "twice fried goose gizzards"...
Since that initial foray I have become very fond of oriental snacks, particularly Japanese Yaki Gyoza. Adapted from the dumplings found during WWII forays into China, they are one of the simplest dishes imaginable – just seasoned pork and vegetables in a dumpling wrapper, fried on one side and then steamed. Of course, whilst they may be simple when made by a skilled gyoza chef there are a few things to look out for if you decide to make your own:
- The filling
Traditional Yaki Gyoza contain minced pork, cabbage, chinese chives*, garlic and ginger seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Sometimes they also contain “shrimp” to lighten the texture and finely grated carrot for sweetness. The key is not to overfill your dumplings, raw pork isn't appetising and over-steamed dumplings are like the preverbial wet paper bag, so a teaspoon of filling is plenty.
If you have time, it's worth squeezing any vegetables to reduce the water content which can make the gyoza dough sticky, but one technique I would definitely recommend is throwing your meat hard into a bowl 10 - 12 times during the mixing. This really helps to tenderise the pork, and removes any residual anger you may be harbouring. Very therapeutic.
- The wrapper
Unless you’re a dedicated gyoza aficionado don’t make your own, just buy a packet of 50 from your local Asian supermarket. This makes the whole process much quicker and much less messy. Try to find genuine gyoza wrappers though as they tend to be thinner than the Chinese equivalents and have a beautiful melt in the mouth translucent finish when steamed.
To shape your gyoza, just run a dampened finger around the edge of the circular wrapper to make it "gummy". Add your filling and fold over so that you have what looks like a mini Cornish pasty. Then just work your way around the edge folding small pleats as you go.
Yaki Gyoza have silky soft steamed dumpling on one side and a crispy pan fried finish on the other. The traditional method of making them involves frying first, then adding water to the same pan and covering so that they steam. This is great in theory, but they were given their alternative name "pot stickers" for a reason. I would recommend separating the processes by pan frying in a little sesame oil until you have a crunchy golden base and then transferring to a piece of non-stick baking parchment in a steamer until completely cooked. This way you will get perfect dumplings every time with no sticking guaranteed.
- Dipping sauce
The traditional dipping sauce, a mixture of Japanese soy, rice wine vinegar and chilli oil, is hard to beat but try adding a little sugar, grated ginger and garlic to really add some zing.
It is said that “Peking Ravioli” as they were named by a Chinese restaurant trying to increase sales to their Italian customers, were originally invented when a chef accidentally left some steamed dumplings in a pan over a hot flame. He had no time to make a second batch and served them to his customers explaining that these double textured morsels were his latest invention. The diners loved them and they have been served crispy side up ever since.
Do yourself a favour and get down to your local Asian supermarket to pick up some wrappers, then try my Yaki Gyoza recipe.
*a garlicky variant of normal chives