Soon after my mother married my father, she asked her three sisters-in-law for some basic cooking lessons. She was already a good cook, but a good German cook. What she wanted to learn was how to prepare simple Japanese dishes for her Japanese husband. That's when she was taught how to make gyoza, a dish that ultimately became a favorite in our family and one that I learned to make from her.
After passing this recipe across cultures and generations, it may have changed slightly over time, but since childhood, I've pretty much stuck to what my mom made: pork, ginger, garlic, chives or scallions, Napa cabbage, carrots and celery wrapped up, pan-fried, and then steamed. I always enjoy preparing gyoza, particularly the folding up of the wrappers which always makes me a bit nostalgic.
But it occurred to me that I didn't need to be sentimental with the fillings. While my mom stuffed them with carrots and celery, I was ready to experiment on my own.
The central thing to making gyoza is the cooking method, which involves a combination of browning and steaming. First you briefly fry one side of the filled dumplings in a very hot pan. (If the pan is hot enough, these "potstickers" will never really stick to the pan.) Then you add a small amount of water, quickly cover the pan and allow the steam to complete the cooking process.
Then there's the fancy crimped seal that's characteristic of gyoza and potentially a little intimidating if you're not an origami fan. Don't sweat it—the crimping is not mandatory. You could also make a simple flat seal (maybe using a little egg wash to really glue it shut) and the result will be just as delicious.
The slideshow will show you the basic gyoza-making process and proportions. To see what I've been stuffing in my gyoza (and in my face) read on below. And then let us know what's in your gyoza!
Family Classic: ground pork or turkey, ginger, garlic, scallions, Napa cabbage, carrots and celery
The combination I grew up with is a pound of ground pork, about 3/4 cup shredded Napa (or Chinese) cabbage leaves, 1 grated carrot, 1 minced stalk of celery, a couple of minced scallions, 2 teaspoons finely grated ginger, and 2 cloves of pressed or grated garlic. I now often use ground turkey instead. Maybe it defeats the purpose of choosing a leaner meat, but a few times when I've had some rendered duck fat handy, I've mixed a tablespoon or so of it into the turkey to make it extra moist. I season the mixture with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and mirin and bind it all with an egg.
The dipping sauce: soy sauce, rice vinegar, hot chili oil, toasted sesame oil
Frou-frou but Fabulous
Frou-frou But Fabulous: duck confit, caramelized onions, fresh figs, and chives
This requires some advance work caramelizing the onions but otherwise this little number is simple (that is, if you buy the duck leg already confit'd). Make a little assembly line and build a small mound on your wrapper: shredded duck confit, a small piece of fresh fig, a few strands of caramelized onion, and a sprinkling of chives.
The dipping sauce: balsamic vinegar and honey.
Vegan/Vegetarian: shiitake mushrooms, leeks, garlic, cilantro (and eggs)
You can skip the meat and concentrate the umami flavor by sautéing vegetables such as mushrooms, leeks, and garlic and seasoning them well with soy sauce and sesame oil before filling the gyoza. Adding an egg will bind the mixture and contribute flavor, but it's not essential. A little kick of hot chili or pickled ginger in the filling or as a condiment also keeps things interesting.
The dipping sauce: same as the Family Classic, plus a little pickled ginger on the side.
Work in Progress
Work in Progress: mozzarella and bay scallops
Maybe since this one wasn't a homerun, I shouldn't be sharing it, but I like to think that something can be learned from the effort.
Inspired by Harumi Kurihara's deep-fried scallops and mozzarella (in Everyday Harumi), I filled the dumplings with bay scallops nestled in fresh mozzarella. It was actually pretty good but here's the tricky part: those scallops cook so fast, it's hard to not overcook them. Using a high heat and a very short cooking time helps. Since there is a lot of moisture in the mozzarella and scallops, it's also good to use less water than usual to steam them. I wonder if these might just be best deep-fried instead...
The dipping sauce: basil pesto and white wine vinegar
About the author: Kumiko writes the blog Recipe Interrupted. She believes that having a few cooking techniques under your belt can help make home cooking creative and easy, and is excited to share these basics here on her regular column Technique of the Week. A graduate of Brown University, the Institute of Culinary Education, and a mother of two hungry girls, Kumiko is always trying to keep her Brooklyn kitchen smelling of something good.