For me, spring only truly starts when the first foods of the season are ready to harvest or forage, and one of the plants that I most eagerly look out for each year is wild garlic or ramsons. Ten minutes walk from our house is a small brook, its banks lined with a stretch of woodland that provides a welcome glimpse of nature among the noise and rush of the city. Within the dappled light of these woods lies a patch of ramson plants, carpeting the edges of pathways and giving off their distinctive pungent aroma whenever they’re lightly brushed by a passing bird or walker. The leaves of this shamefully overlooked and short-lived plant provide a powerful garlic hit along with a spring onion-like flavour that makes it perfect for mixing into dipping sauces and dumpling fillings, and if you’re lucky enough to find some plants with open flowers they offer up an edible garnish of such intense flavour you won’t believe it came from such a delicate looking thing.
Seasonality and the use of local produce are two of the main cornerstones of Japanese cuisine so these wild ramsons are the perfect ingredient to use in the kaiseki style dish of suimono or clear soup. A delicate, lightly seasoned broth that allows you to focus on the flavours of the individual elements that it contains, in this case a pile of carefully crimped duck and wild garlic gyoza and a scattering of flowers and leaves from both the foraged ramsons and some young chives.
- 500g duck mince (a 1.25 – 1.5kg duck should provide around the right amount of meat if you’re going to make your own)
- 450g Chinese cabbage
- 75g wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground sanshō
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 5 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 pack gyoza skins (there’s normally around 50 skins to a pack)
- Start by finely mincing the Chinese cabbage, then place in a large bowl and sprinkle two teaspoons of the salt over. Make sure the cabbage is well coated with salt, then set aside for fifteen minutes- the salt will draw excess water from the vegetable, preventing the gyoza filling from becoming too soggy.
- Add the minced duck to the bowl of a stand mixer with beater attachment, and add the chopped garlic, grated ginger, sesame oil and the wild garlic leaves, then sprinkle in the ground white pepper, sanshō, sugar, and remaining three teaspoons of salt. Put the salted cabbage in a clean cloth or tea towel, then squeeze hard over the sink to get rid of all the water from it and add it to the minced meat. Set the mixer to beat the seasoned duck for around three to four minutes, or until the flavouring ingredients are well incorporated and the meat has started to become sticky and malleable. You can also do this part by hand if you prefer- just add the aromatic herbs and seasonings to the duck mince in a large bowl and knead by hand until the meat and vegetables have become a soft ‘dough’.
- Next, set up your kitchen counter for production-line gyoza filling. You’ll need a small bowl of water to seal the edges of the dumplings, a cloth or hand towel to wipe your fingers on, clingfilm to cover the opened pack of wrappers to stop them drying out too much, and a lined baking sheet to lay your finished gyoza on.
- To fill your gyoza, lay a wrapper on the palm of your hand, then take a teaspoonful of the filling and place it in the centre of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the bowl of water and wet the edge of one half of the gyoza skin, then fold this dampened side of the wrapper over the filling to the dry half. Pleat the moistened edge of the wrapper only, pressing it firmly to the dry half and pinching to seal. Put the dumpling down on your work surface to flatten the bottom, then form it into a crescent shape- the pleating of the wrapper causes it to curve naturally, but it’s good to give the gyoza a little shaping after you’ve sealed them, to make sure they’re attractive and look appetizing. Place the dumpling on a baking sheet and cover with cling film to stop the skin drying out and cracking, then repeat the filling process until all of your wrappers are used up.
- This recipe makes far too many gyoza to use in one go, but the finished gyoza freeze very well and cook from frozen, meaning you can make a full batch in advance and use them as you need. Place the gyoza on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper- making sure they aren’t touching anywhere- then freeze for an hour uncovered. You can now remove them from the sheet and put in a bag or container in the freezer, where they should store for several months.
- 1 litre water
- 10g dried kombu
- 20g katsuobushi flakes
- 2 tablespoons white soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove any grit, then place it in a saucepan with the litre of water. Bring this slowly to the boil over a medium heat; when the water is boiling, add the katsuobushi flakes and turn off the heat. Allow the ingredients to steep for one minute, then strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth.
- Pour the broth back into a pan, and add the seasoning ingredients. Simmer the dashi gently to dissolve the salt and sugar, then taste and adjust the seasonings if required. Keep warm, without boiling, until it’s time to serve.
- 20 duck gyoza from the above recipe
- 1 quantity of broth from the above recipe
- 1/4 small carrot
- 8 young chive stalks with unopened buds
- 2 heads of fully opened wild garlic flowers
- 8-10 very small wild garlic leaves
- Put a large and a small pan of water on to boil. Next, cut the carrot into thin round slices (you can cut them into decorative shapes if you like), then finely chop the chive stalks, leaving the buds intact. Blanch the carrot in the small pan of boiling water for two minutes, then remove and place in a bowl of cold water to halt the cooking.
- Add the duck gyoza to the large pan of water and poach them for three to four minutes if fresh, or five to six minutes if cooking from frozen. When the dumplings are cooked, the skins should become glossy-looking, and translucent enough to see the filling within. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked gyoza to four serving bowls, then carefully pour the suimono broth over the top until it almost fully covers the dumplings. Add a slice or two of carrot to each bowl, and a sprinkle of chopped chives along with two of the unopened buds. Finally, snip the flowers from the garlic heads; add these and the small wild garlic leaves as a final garnish before serving.
Serves 4 people as an appetiser or as part of a multi-course meal.