One of my all-time favourite categories of food is dumplings. Especially pork dumplings. I like them fried, steamed, boiled… you name it, I’ll eat it. My two favourites are gyoza and xiao long bao. Neither S nor I have made the (from what I gather) rather monumental effort of trying to master the latter, but fortunately, a number of years ago, a Japanese friend taught us how to make amazing gyoza.
Our friend, Kumi, like many Japanese ladies, has impeccable taste and is also rather obsessively meticulous. Which means she’s always fabulously turned out and can knock out a fantastically complex multi-course menu while insisting the whole time, “oh, this? It’s nothing special. Just simple home food.” My very first taste of mentaiko pasta and nikujaga (whose name she helped me remember by telling me, “think of Mick Jagger”) were at dinners that she and her husband hosted. Her husband, I might add, mixes some pretty mean drinks and is one of only two people that has had the honor of getting S drunk in the past decade–something even I haven’t been able to do.
After tasting Kumi’s gyoza at her home several years ago, S begged her to spend an afternoon with her, giving her a one-on-one gyoza making session. Preparing the pork mixture, it turns out, is pretty easy. The hard part was mastering the assembly. As you might imagine, Kumi’s gyoza look perfect, each one with an almost equal number of pleats and all exactly the same size. Ours, however, started off a little Frankensteinish by comparison. Over the years, though, S (I will admit that I am not the person you want folding these little suckers together) has mastered the art of gyoza making and churns out gorgeous, and of course delicious, little babies every time.
We’ve also tweaked Kumi’s already brilliant recipe a tad. While she used normal minced pork and now adds lean chicken meat (she lives a much healthier lifestyle than we do), we’ve gone in an opposite direction. For our dumplings, we use a mixture of Berkshire/Kurobuta pork shoulder and belly, which we mince ourselves using our KitchenAid mixer with a meat grinder attachment. (Local readers can get their Berkshire/Kurobuta pork at Huber’s Butchery and also at Meidi-ya supermarket.)
This coming Chinese New Year, my parents have invited some of their non-Singaporean friends to have dinner at our place. We’re preparing a 6 course meal that references some traditional Lunar New Year classics while at the same time deviating quite a bit. We’re serving these Berkshire pork gyozas for the first course. We find them the perfect way to kick off a festive meal. Happy Year of the Ox!
P.S. While we try not to do too many self-promotional posts, I wanted to post this link which refers to a project our company put together for a government institution. Late last year, we were commissioned to conceive of and produce a Singaporean food-themed, 18 month diary/daily planner. We organized it so that every double-page spread showed a full week; in between each month we featured one well-known local foodie plus one dish that reminded him or her of “home”. All the recipes and foodie profiles have been put online by our client. You can find them here. Take a look. There are some awesome recipes from some amazing foodies, including KF Seetoh, Chef Yong Bing Ngen, and Chef Sam Leong.
Makes 96 gyoza
300g round cabbage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
500g minced pork
50g Chinese chives, finely chopped
50g spring onions/scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced young ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon cooking sake
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon chilli bean paste (dou ban jiang)
96 gyoza wrappers
Julienned young ginger
Light soy sauce
Chilli bean paste (optional)
The flavour of these dumplings highly depends upon the provenance of your ingredients. The cabbage we use is circular, but flat rather than dome-shaped. Whenever possible, we try to use Japanese cabbage as it tends to be sweeter. Alternatively, we tell the green grocer at our local wet market that we want the sweetest cabbage he can find—specifically the sort you would serve raw with certain Thai dishes. While you can use any sort of minced pork (or mix it with chicken if you like), we prefer a combination of pork shoulder and pork belly for flavour. Opt for whatever you prefer. If you can’t get Chinese chives, just substitute with more spring onions. Again, we try to use Japanese negi. We also prefer Japanese made soy sauce (shoyu) for this dish as it isn’t as straightforwardly salty. But it doesn’t make sense to buy a whole bottle of it just for this recipe. Use what you have handy. The flavour and quality of store-bought dou ban jiang varies. Pick one that appeals to you. One day soon, we hope to find the time to make wrappers from scratch. For the moment, we opt to purchase wrappers made in Japan as they seem to be a little more pliable than the ones made elsewhere.
Toss the chopped cabbage in a bowl with the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes then squeeze the cabbage to extract water. Discard the water.
Combine the cabbage, minced pork, chives (if using), spring onions, ginger, garlic, light soy sauce, sake, sesame oil and chilli bean paste in a large bowl. Mix well and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To wrap the gyoza, have a small bowl of water handy. The frozen wrappers should be defrosted in the fridge and kept under a damp towel as you work. Place approximately 1 tablespoon of filling onto a gyoza wrapper (a No.100 ice cream scoop is useful for this). Place it slightly off-centre. Dip a clean finger into the bowl of water and use it to moisten the rim of the wrapper (see photograph). Fold it over so that you end up with a semicircle, crimping only the layer facing you as you press it down to seal. Six pleats are usually just about right. Place the completed dumplings on a tray dusted with flour. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers.
At this point, the gyoza can be dusted with more flour and frozen. We don’t know how long they can be safely stored this way. We usually get though ours in a fortnight or so.
To cook the gyoza, preheat a shallow pan filled with just enough oil to thinly coat its base. Use a pan that has a lid. A non-stick surface also makes the whole process much easier. Place the gyoza in the pan (frozen ones go in frozen). Be careful not to overcrowd the pan or they will stick together. Fry them until they develop a crisp, golden brown base. Drizzle some water into the pan and cover it immediately. (Add just enough water to cover the base of the pan, and be sure to drizzle some onto the gyoza themselves so that the crimped edges don’t get crispy.) Let the dumplings steam until their skins become somewhat translucent. Uncover the pan and continue to cook until the water has evaporated.
Serve immediately with julienned ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce and chilli bean paste (if using) combined to taste.