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The culinary canon is surprisingly philosophical, none more so than David Zilber and Rene Redzepi’s 2018 “The Noma Guide to Fermentation.” So when an existential crisis or mono no aware (“awareness of things”) pathos strikes, fermentation provides a ray of hope. Or, at least, a temporary distraction.

With fermentation, we can use time to our advantage by isolating the variables we can control to encourage desired outcomes. And while the “Noma Guide” is not a “Julie & Julia” sort of book you will cook cover to cover, everyone can find something within its pages that inspires them to experiment.

My portal was lacto-fermented porcini and the byproduct elixir they leach. This simplest of essences set my mind in motion with mushrooms, here used as both filling and soy surrogate in a gyōza dumpling stuffing. The little smoky char put on the ginger and garlic adds volumes. And the chicken? It’s my nod to hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms, even if I didn’t go full “New Nordic” and forage the maitake myself.

Makes 30

Prep: 1 week + 45 mins.; cook: 15 mins.

  • 240 grams maitake mushrooms
  • 5 grams sea salt
  • 250 grams boneless chicken leg (skin on)
  • 1 green onion, halved
  • 25-gram knob of ginger, unpeeled
  • 50 milliliters mirin (sweet, fermented cooking alcohol)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 25 grams black garlic
  • 30 gyōza skins
  • Vinegar and rāyu chili oil
  • Rice-bran oil
  • 2 teaspoons of potato starch dissolved in 100 milliliters water

1. A week before you make the dumplings, break up the maitake and place them in a clean zip-close bag with the salt, squeeze out all of the air and seal. Use a vacuum sealer if you have one, though it isn’t essential. Leave at room temperature for a week. After a week, open a corner of the bag and squeeze the mushroom juice into a jar. The yield should be 175 milliliters or so.

2. To make the dumplings, preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius. Remove the chicken skin and lay it on a roasting tray. Next to it lay your halved green onion and knob of ginger. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The green onions should begin to blacken, the ginger will be dark brown and the chicken skin should be crisp.

3. Place the ginger and mirin in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Coarsely chop the chicken, then transfer it to the processor and pulse until combined. Finely chop the green onion and mushrooms and mix in a large bowl. Add the ginger-mirin-chicken paste and mix to combine.

4. Wet the edges of a gyōza skin and fill with a heaped teaspoon of mix. Fold and crimp to seal as best you can — nobody’s gyōza are perfect, and we’re flipping them over anyway.

5. Decide how many you wish to fry and freeze the rest flat on a piece of baking paper for an hour before transferring to a freezer-safe container. Blend the black garlic with 100 milliliters of mushroom juice with an immersion blender or food processor. Combine a teaspoon of liquid with equal parts vinegar and rāyu as a dip.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon of rice-bran oil over medium-low in a nonstick pan and arrange the gyōza in a circle around the pan (you may have to fry in batches). Once they’re lightly browned, pour the potato starch water into the pan (use 100 milliliters for batches of 12 to 16 dumplings; if cooking fewer, adjust proportionately). Cover with a lid for three minutes.

7. Remove the lid and fry until all liquid evaporates from the pan. Continue frying until the starch is crisp. Flip the dumplings onto a plate and serve immediately. Any leftover mushroom juice can be used for other dishes in place of soy sauce, or as a finishing sauce for mushroom risotto.

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