Cost: about £1 for a batch that serves 2 as a main dish or up to 6 as a side dish
These little pockets of juicy savouriness have become one of my favourite things to make at home, and by making the filling in advance and freezing it in 400g batches, it can be a weeknight treat as well as a weekend project. This is perfect low-ceilinged kitchen fare – at a restaurant these little beauties will run at about £4 for an order of 6, but at home a batch of about 24 only costs around £1 and nobody judges you for ordering 4 portions. They might seem like a restaurant food but really, they are so easy to make at home – no precision in cooking is required, and even imperfectly wrapped and inexactly seasoned dumplings will be delicious – comfort food for two (or one!) and always a hit with guests.
When the Husband spent a year in Japan, he arrived without a word of Japanese and having only ever eaten fish coated in breadcrumbs – but by the time he left he could order sashimi in confident Japanese. When we started dating a few years later, I wanted to hear all about his time teaching Japanese in the heart of ramen country and his backpacking trip – particularly the food. He mentioned that his favourite thing to order had been gyoza, a strip of six little meat dumplings that sounded just like the guotie my mother used to make for us as a treat at home.
As far as I can tell (after extensive sampling in both Japanese and Chinese restaurants!) they are identically the same, and gyoza might just be the Japanese pronunciation. The concept is as follows – a silky membrane folded to create a 3-D crescent shape that encases a juicy pork filling, steamed on the top but fried in a tiny bit of oil to give a gloriously crisp and burnished lacy-edged base. At restaurants, I’ve been unlucky a few times with greasy specimens, chewy thick skins encasing a rubbery puck of over-salted meat. At home, there is no risk of this happening…and we don’t stick to decorous portions of six, but make a whole mandala of dumplings that make a very satisfying meal for two. They work especially well as a party food though, wrapped in advance and steam-fried in batches when people arrive…or even by enlisting guests to fill and wrap dumplings assembly-line style.
It’s possible to make the wrappers at home – just a stiff dough of plain flour and water with a pinch of salt. After the dough has rested in the fridge, walnut-sized pieces are rolled into spheres and then rolled out flat with a rolling pin or pasta maker. But I don’t really think homemade adds much benefit here, and since the wrappers can be bought frozen from most Asian shops and are cheap and convenient (I buy Imperial Dragon brand) it’s one of those where it’s much, much easier to buy and the end result isn’t really any different. Wrappers are defrosted at room temperature and the open packet can be refrozen in an airtight sandwich bag.
In fact, it’s possible to buy these dumplings ready made and frozen, which I find is a really useful meal to have in the freezer since they can be cooked from frozen in about half an hour. I do think it’s better value to make your own filling though, and that it is worth it to be comfortable with exactly what you are eating – for better or worse, there are probably quite a lot of meat products that work well in dumplings that I perhaps wouldn’t want to eat any other way…!
The fillings are also very adaptable – my basic recipe below is for pork and leek, but we’ve made them in quite a few different ways including:
- Replacing half the pork with raw, roughly chopped shelled prawns for an extra-delicious treat, but this does take it out of the budget category
- Halal version with minced halal chicken thighs instead of the pork and leaving out the rice wine
- Lower-fat version with minced turkey – unlike using lean pork, these dumplings stay juicy
- Vegan version with firm silken tofu instead of pork and a bit of extra cornflour. This is a bit trickier as the filling doesn’t cohere very well, but a vegetarian filling can be bound together with an egg
Recipe: Pork and Leek Guotie/Gyoza
Makes one saucepan-full, about 24 dumplings. Serves 2 as a main course.
I recommend making a big batch of filling using about 4x the ingredients listed here, and freezing the leftovers in about 300-400g batches (depending on what you have left).
2 small leeks or one leek and one onion, cleaned and trimmed
1 carrot, peeled
Handful (about 6) button mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled with a teaspooon
Large bunch chives or garlic chives (about a quarter of a packet from Asian shops)
[Other additions that work well include 2-3 defrosted balls of frozen chopped spinach, finely chopped coriander leaves, very finely shredded lettuce or Chinese cabbage, defrosted frozen peas]
250g minced pork belly/shoulder (ask your butcher) Minced pork from the supermarket tends to be too lean, leading to less-juicy dumplings, but they are still okay
Soy sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing rice wine (or cooking sherry), rice vinegar (or any vinegar except balsamic), sugar and pepper to season
1 Tbsp cornflour
Dumpling wrappers (about 1/3 of a packet), defrosted
1. Finely shred the leeks (bisect across the middle of the leaves to make it easiest to clean by faning out the leaves under running water and then slice into 2mm half-moons) and cook in a large pan over a medium heat with a little oil
2. Whizz the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor to chop finely (2mm pieces), add to the leeks and stir to fry gently
3. Next, mince the carrot and mushrooms (and peas, coriander etc. if using) in the food processor and add to the pan
4. When the leeks and onions are soft and translucent (do not let them brown!) remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool
5. Add the pork to the cooled vegetables, breaking it up with a spoon. Season with about 2 Tbsp soy sauce and rice wine and 1Tbsp of sesame oil, vinegar and sugar and combine evenly. Grind the pepper over the filling and add 1Tbsp of cornflour and combine. The filling should cohere without being too sticky – add more of the liquids or cornflour to adjust.
6. When you are ready to wrap the dumplings, prepare a large frying pan (or saucepan) with a lid by drizzling cooking oil over the base, enough to very lightly coat. Set up your workstation for a simple mise-en-place – with the following all in easy reach: filling (with a dessert spoon), a small bowl of warm water, and the pan you will cook them in. If there is a group of you, it can be useful to centre the process around a lightly floured chopping board to leave the filled dumpling skins for other people to pick up and fold.
7. Hold a dumpling wrapper in the palm of your left hand, dip your right forefinger into the warm water and run it around the edges of the wrapper (like licking an envelope!) Fill the wrapper with about half a dessert spoon of filling, in an oval shape. If making them assembly-line style, hand them over at this point for folding.
8. Fold the dumpling to make a crescent-shaped pocket with a flat base as in the diagram shown. If the dumpling filling is lying along the centre of the wrapper (9 o’clock to 3 o’clock) make two small pleats outwards that meet at 12 o’clock, and then fold 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock and seal by pressing the edges firmly together.
9. Put a small amount of water on to boil as you arrange the dumplings like the spokes of a wheel (all facing the same direction) in the pan. I normally use the first one to spread the oil thinly across the whole base. When the pan is full, pour the boiling water straight from the kettle over the dumplings (from as low a height as possible) to a depth of about 1cm. Put the lid over the pan and steam/fry over a medium high heat until the skins are cooked through (they will turn slightly translucent rather than being matte) and the bases are burnished to a rich brown.
10. Loosen in the pan and carefully invert over a plate. Serve – optionally with a dipping sauce made of Chinese vinegar (or malt vinegar) with extra soy sauce, chilli oil and/or grated fresh ginger.