My mother may not be the most fantastic cook (shh!) but she has three killer specialties:
1) Winter lamb brisket stew
2) Chinese barbecue pork (Cha-Siu 叉燒)
and the third is her wontons.
While you may have encountered these dumplings in wonton soup, did you know there are several regional variations? The term “wonton” is translated from its Cantonese name (雲吞) that literally means to swallow a cloud. The Cantonese name seems poetic but is actually slang derived from the Mandarin name (餛飩) that sounds similar but is more complex to write.
The Cantonese wonton has a thin yellow wrapper made from duck eggs and flour that envelopes a mixture of shrimp, minced pork and pork fat. The filling is flavoured distinctly with smoky dried fish flake and sometimes dried shiitake mushroom. In Hong Kong, constructing the proper wonton is an art form that involves time- honoured recipes and techniques. A simple, but perfect bowl of wonton noodle soup can attract long lines of eager connoisseurs.
Although my family is from Hong Kong, my mama’s wonton has a Shangahiese influence. Instead of the yellow wrapper, she uses the white, slippery kind that is a touch thicker. The basic filling is a mixture of pork, shrimp, and flowering garlic chives. For textural and flavour interest, she sometimes adds wood-ear fungus (木耳), bamboo shoots, napa cabbage, or bok choi. These dumplings can be served in a light broth or with my fragrant sesame vinegar sauce. Even try deep-frying them if you are adventurous!
I encourage you to create your personal wonton-style. Just follow these tips and you can’t go wrong.
- Purchase two cuts of pork (one leaner, one fattier) and grind them separately. I suggest using pork shoulder and pork belly to achieve a balance of flavour and fat ratio. Use the “pulse” function on the food processor until the pork shoulder reaches a coarse grind. Grind the pork belly separately into almost a paste so the fat can evenly distribute throughout the filling.
- Adding the whole egg and egg white help bind the filling and provides a silkier mouthfeel. The addition of cornstarch keeps the filling extra moist by first holding onto the meat juices and later releasing it within the wrapper during cooking.
- The secret to ensure that the wrapper retains its shape and texture while the dense filling cooks through is by tempering the water three times. The method is called 三沉三浮, which translates to “3 sinks and 3 floats”. The details are provided below.
- Although there are numerous ways to wrap wontons, I prefer my mom’s breezy half-fold method. This way, the wrapper cooks evenly and does not have tough bits where the multiple layers are pinched together.
Mama Fury’s Wontons
2 packages of wonton wrappers. Yields approx 48 wontons.
- Basic Filling
- 1/2 lb coarsly ground pork shoulder
- 1/2 lb finely ground pork belly
- 12 large tiger prawns, shelled, deveined and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 3/4 cup finely chopped flowering garlic chives
- 1/2 cup finely chopped bok choy
- 1 egg
- Pork Seasoning
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 egg white
- 1 tbs minced ginger
- 3 tbs light soy sauce
- 3 tbs corn/ potato starch
- 2 tbs Chinese cooking rice wine
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 cup black Chinese vinegar
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 2 tsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- Chinese chili paste or chili oil to taste
Mix the ground pork together with the seasonings. Allow the mixture to rest in the fridge for 1/2 hour. Mix the remaining filling ingredients in with the pork using chopsticks.
Place 1/2 tbs of filling in the center of the wrapper. Wet the entire edge of the wrapper with water, fold the wrapper in half, then press to seal the edges while squeezing out any trapped air.
“3 sinks and 3 floats” Cooking Method
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. In batches, put the wontons in. Just as they begin to rise but well before they reach the surface of the water, add 1-2 cups of cold water so that they sink again. Repeat the process twice more. After adding cold water for the third time, wait until the wontons float to the surface and immediately remove them from the water.
Divide the sauce among four bowls. Drain the freshly cooked wontons and add them directly to the sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and scallions, serve immediately.
How to Freeze
Uncooked wontons freeze beautifully. Line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap and place the wontons on it in a single layer. Freeze, then transfer them into zip-top bags or sealed containers and freeze for up to three months. They do not need to be defrosted before cooking. Just follow the same cooking directions but they will naturally require a longer cooking time.
Wonton- wrapping party, anyone? Word.