There are lots of reasons that people cook. Apparently you have to make a trifle for Home Economics GCSE. Pasta and pesto is for quick suppers. Lamb is for Sunday lunch. Simnel cakes get made at Easter. And I make gries schmarn when I’m ill. Marmalade on toast is for when you can’t be bothered. Omelettes are when there aren’t enough ingredients, and stir fries are for leftovers. Fruit salads are for detoxing and flapjacks are for indulging.
What’s funny is that for all the squillions of reasons that people cook, one reason that’s rarely cited is just the pure act of being sociable. In so many counteies, the very preparation of food is just as important as the actual eating. In Morocco, women still gather to make couscous, in Italy villages still gather to press olives. Preparing for Indian weddings involve whole communities, and round the world family gatherings are dictated by the harvests, when everyone turns up and chips in to help.
In England though, there’s a secretiveness about food preparation. Perhaps we’ve all watched too much Come Dine With Me, where you’re marked down if you’re away from the table too long. Dinner parties need to be magiced out of a hat, and families turn up to eat when the food is on the table.
And it’s sad, because there’s something so enjoyable about talking and cooking. Its like the conversations you had in art lessons at school – when you’re part painting and part philosophising (or gossiping) – the brain is perfectly split, and neither activity is compromised.
So when my friend Rose came round for supper, we decided to make gyoza dumplings (or potsticker dumplings). They’re fiddley and they’re time consuming. But they’re quite enjoyable to make – and delicious to eat. And it’s far more constructive drinking gin and gossiping and making dumplings than it is drinking gin and gossiping and sitting on the sofa.
This isn’t a recipe I’d recommend that you throw together for a quick mid-week supper. But if you fancy indulging in a bit of cooking time, and making something a bit special, then this is a great recipe. And it really does taste of as much love as goes into making it.
Potsticker dumplings, makes about 15
125ml boiling water
140g plain flour
100g minced pork
1 teaspoon Lee Kum Kee chilli bean sauce
30g wilted spinach
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 spring onions, finely chopped
4 chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy
Pour the boiling water into a measuring jug. Put it on the scales. Tare, and then measure in the flour. Mix with a chopstick. Then get your hands involved-squish it into a ball, and knead for five minutes, or so, until it’s smooth.
Mix together the minced pork, bean sauce, wilted spinach, garlic, mushrooms, spring onions, sesame oil and dark soy.
Then roll the pastry into one long sausage. Cut it into 15-20 pieces, or however gyoza dumplings you intend to make.
One by one, take a piece of pastry, and roll it into a thin circle. Almost thin-enough so you can see through it….but thick enough so it’s still easy to handle, and it won’t split as soon as you put the filling inside it. Take a circle pastry cutter/ravioli cutter (or, in may case, a rosti ring, about 4cm across), and use it to cut a circle in the pastry.
Arrange a teaspoonful of the mixture on half of the pastry circle….
And then fold the other side over, scrimping together the edges with your fingers to make a kind of mini-Cornish pasty shape.
Repeat until either all the pastry or all the filling is used up. Or, if you’ve judged it perfectly, until both are used up simultaneously.
Heat a thin layer of groundnut oil or vegetable oil in a frying pan, and fry one side of the gyoza dumplings. This shouldn’t take too long, because the pastry is so thin – just imagine, it wouldn’t take any time at all to brown the outside of a piece of fresh ravioli….
Once both sides of the gyoza dumplings are golden and crispy, pour about 1.5cm depth of boiling water into the frying pan. Beware, when the water hits the oil, it will spit like hell. But what you’re doing is stopping the pastry outside from frying on an intense heat, and turning the cooking more into a measured steam which will reach the porky inside of the dumpling, and give the pastry more of a steamy chewiness.
After anywhere between 4-6 minutes, the water will be on its way to all evaporating off. Take an experimental dumpling, and check that the pork mince is cooked all the way through to the centre. Once you’re happy, transfer the dumplings onto a plate or platter, and serve with a dipping pot of light soy.