One thing that surprised me most upon moving to Düsseldorf was there being no less than six supermarkets in a walkable radius from my doorstep. (So, this is high-density city living!) And this is Germany. I gawked uncomfortably at their shelves lined with jars of tall sausages, floating palely in Wurstwasser. The humans here eat must eat so much jarred Wurst, I thought with trepidation. One day, a man ahead of me in the queue, purchasing only a tube of mayonnaise and two jars of Wiener Würstchen, seemed to confirm my suspicion.
Subsequently, I was stunned into silence at a garden barbecue hosted by Tim, who I had only met the day before, when he presented us not with an array of sausage, but with a silver platter of gorgeous handmade Gyoza.
Exotic dumplings in front of my eyes and nose, at a barbecue, in Germany! So, who the heck is this enthusiastic Bavarian person and could he become my new culinary companion? I wanted to know. Lacking vocabulary, I expressed none of these thoughts and sought to smile as much as possible. Dumplings! The loveliest things! Life full of them! I was happy in the hope that my time in Germany need NOT involve a single jarred sausage ever.
As it turns out, landing in Düsseldorf, of all the cities in Germany (if not all of continental Europe) actually offers the best probability of being served Japanese dumplings at a garden barbecue. Düsseldorf has one of the highest concentrations of Japanese residents outside of Japan, for which its citizens reap delicious benefits. The supermarkets and ramen shops of the Japanese quarter have made significant contributions to our quality of life in this city – they feed us beautifully, and equip us with both the ingredients and enthusiasm for recreating dishes at home.
In our own kitchen, so very far from Tokyo’s alleyways, our personal pinnacle of gyoza perfection after much trial and error has come with the discovery and purchase of this excellent book dedicated to Japanese street food. We share this recipe, because it is the best we know (better than those served in the garden some time ago) along with our notes. The photographs are a patchwork from many attempts, in the dark cave that is our kitchen.
Pork Gyoza: Master Recipe
from Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat
3 cups finely chopped green cabbage (about 230g) – we use napa/chinese cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (150g) nira (Japanese green garlic chives), hard stem removed, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (about 2-4 cloves)
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely chopped
300g ground pork
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons katakuriko (potato starch) plus more for dusting
50 round gyoza skins, 8-10cm diameter
1 tablespoon katakuriko dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water as gyoza “glue”
2/3 cup water, with 1 heaped teaspoon of katakuriko swirled in
Salt the cabbage in a large bowl, mix thoroughly and leave to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to draw out the moisture. When ready, use a tea towel to wring out as much liquid from the cabbage as possible. This is important, so do it in batches if necessary. Chop finely and return cabbage to the bowl.
Now add nira, garlic, ginger, pork, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil (we are usually 1-2 tablespoons more generous with this amount, initially by delicious accident – it works) black pepper, salt, sugar and katakuriko. Use your hands to mix and mush for a couple of minutes, until the mixture is sticky and holds well together.
Prepare a tray (or piece of baking paper) by dusting lightly with potato starch. Working with one gyoza at a time, use a finger to wet the entire inner edge of the skin with the “glue” and add a tablespoon of filling to the centre. Fold the gyoza like a pro, or similar. You may quickly discover that it is important not to overfill your dumplings! A fact I tend to forget periodically. It’s a part of the process.
Have another [drink of choice], you’re almost there, you are exuding Zen.
Heat a nonstick pan (for which you definitely have a lid) over high heat for five minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to coat the entire surface, and lay gyoza into the pan neatly until there is no more room. Fry for 10 seconds while you locate that 2/3 cup of starchy water then quickly pour this over the pan (WHOOZH!) and cover tightly. Steam for 4 minutes, then remove the lid to allow the remaining water to evaporate. Drizzle over the last tablespoon of sesame oil and fry for a further minute. Total cooking time, about six minutes.
The underside should be beautifully crisp by now, so we want to present them bottoms up. You have two choices: either carefully lift the gyoza from the pan with a thin spatula, or cover the dumplings with a plate, protect yourself with a tea towel, and quickly flip the pan over so as not to disturb the Hane (that crispy layer at the bottom) – Hooray! Golden gyoza pancake! Chopsticks at the ready!
Serve the dumplings at once, dipping in the sauce described below and feel blissfully happy about these gorgeous pockets of something whole. Scuttle back to the stove to line up the rest of the gyoza for the next round until there are no more. For the love of dumplings!
A classic ratio for Gyoza dipping sauce
4 parts soy sauce
2 parts rice Japanese rice vinegar
1 part rayu (chilli oil) adjusting to taste