Thank goodness for gyoza. It sustained us for a couple evenings during that first week in Japan when we were still jet-lagged, everything felt so foreign, and we hadn’t yet learned how to navigate our supermarket across the street. When we got up the courage to walk in, we were bombarded with bright florescent lights, foreign sounds, and (hallelujah) the prepared foods section, where we were immediately drawn to something familiar – plastic packages containing 6 perfectly browned gyoza, with a packet of dipping sauce on the side. We threw several packages into our basket, fumbled our way through the check-out line, and made it home. We heated them up in a pan (the one pan that was in our furnished apartment), poured the prepared dipping sauce packet into a small bowl, and made our first batch of rice in our rice cooker. It was one of our first dinners in our little Japanese apartment, and to this day we still talk about how delicious and comforting that supermarket’s gyoza was. It was also a good opportunity to practice our chopstick skills before going out in public :).
Toward the end of our two and a half years in Japan (and after buying countless packages of that prepared gyoza), we finally learned how to make it from one of our dear friends and colleagues, a woman named Chihiro. We sat around a table one spring afternoon, spooning a ground pork and cabbage mixture into gyoza wrappers and pinching the ends together. Even though we didn’t have much proficiency in each other’s languages, we still managed to share plenty of stories and laughs. It’s amazing how food crosses language and cultural barriers and brings people together. We hope that you’ll try this recipe and enjoy assembling the gyoza with the people you care about as well.
Sadly, in the move from Japan back to California, the recipe that Chihiro shared with us got lost in the shuffle. To make this gyoza, I looked at several recipes to try to find something similar. We ended up using Morimoto’s recipe, but added several things to the filling, including minced garlic, fresh ginger, a splash of soy sauce and sake, and sesame oil.
(Adapted from Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking)
For the Gyoza:
3 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
2 green onions, chopped
1 TBS. coarse salt
1 lb. ground pork, preferably something on the fatty side like shoulder
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1 TBS. soy sauce
1 TBS. sake
1 TBS. sesame oil
1 package gyoza wrappers (10-12 oz.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
For the Dipping Sauce:
seasoned rice vinegar (if unseasoned, add salt & sugar to taste)
Japanese chili pepper blend (Nanami Togarashi)
water to dilute
- Toss the cabbage with the chopped green onions and the salt in a medium bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes or until cabbage is very wilted. Rinse and drain in a colander. Squeeze the cabbage and green onions, a handful at a time, to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Place the cabbage and green onions in a mixing bowl. Add the ground pork, pepper, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sake, and sesame oil. Add a tiny pinch of salt, but not too much because the cabbage has already been salted. Mix everything together gently, but thoroughly.
- Fill a small bowl with water. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with cornstarch. Place 1-2 teaspoons of the pork and cabbage filling into the center of a gyoza wrapper. Dip your finger into the water and moisten the edges of the wrapper. Bring one edge of the wrapper up over the filling to meet the other edge. Press the edges together firmly. Place the gyoza on the parchment pepper, plumping the bottom of the gyoza so that it stands with the pinched-together part facing up. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook (can be made up to 4 hours ahead).
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Heat 2 TBS. of the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot but not sizzling. Place half the gyoza in the skillet, pinched part up, letting the gyoza touch each other (traditionally, they are served attached to each other, but it’s fine if they don’t!) Let cook for several minutes. Add 2/3 cup of water to the skillet and cover tightly. Cook for 5 minutes, adding more water if it evaporates before the 5 minutes is up. Cook until water is evaporated and the gyoza are nicely browned on the bottoms, about 7 minutes total. Invert the gyoza onto a platter and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining 2 TBS. of oil and gyoza. Depending on the size of your skillet, you might need to do a third batch, adding a little extra oil.
- To make the dipping sauce, combine equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Add a little splash of sesame oil, a sprinkle of Japanese chili pepper blend, and a little agave nectar for sweetness. Stir together. Add water to dilute the sauce slightly. Taste and adjust amount of water or ingredients until it tastes right to you. It should be a nice balance of salty, sweet, and sour, with a little spice.
- Serve the gyoza with a bowl of steamed rice and the dipping sauce on the side. Add a salad with sesame dressing and you have a comforting Japanese dinner!