Wanton eating : Something I do rather more than I should.
Eating wan tons: Something I don’t do as often as I should.
Making wan tons: Something I never knew I could do…until discovering how easy it is.
Wan tons can be enjoyed in so many ways. The Cantonese love them in a light soup
My brother loves them deep fried, golden and crispy
While my cousin dreams regularly about her mother’s wan ton skin noodle soup (where wan ton wrappers make a silkier substitute for noodles and are served in a hot pork broth with meatballs and leafy greens).
My personal favourite is the Sichuanese ‘Hong You Chao Shou’ (‘hong you’ meaning chilli oil, and ‘chow shou’ which is another word for wan ton). I ate it in vast quantities in Sichuan, where it’s a quick, everyday staple, sold in small stalls and roadside carts.
Over here, where Chinese fast food while fast, is not very Chinese at all, I’ve had to learn to make them myself. Surprisingly, I found them relatively simple and quick once you get the hang of it. All it takes is three steps and about two hours…ok so you won’t be making them after a hard day at work. But you can make them on Sunday and store them in the fridge for Monday dinner.
The Filling: Minced meat is the base of most fillings to which you can add whatever you like. In a small shop in Shanghai, I once had dumplings filled with a whole duck egg yolk. It was creamy and rich and had an intense flavour. Some of the best recipes I’ve tried can be found on this page which has quite a few different types of fillings. For my Sichuan hong you chao shou, I use the Pork and Chinese cabbage recipe instead of the usual pork and prawn recipe because the prawns are over-shadowed by the peppery sauce, so there’s no point in using them.
Proportion-wise: 500gm of minced meat makes about 80-90 wan tons. I also tried a vegetarian variation by replacing the pork with a mashed firm tofu and spring onions – turned out quite well.
The Folding: There is something therapeutic about twisting the cool, pliant skins between your fingers and it is immensely satisfying to accumulate a pile of plump dumplings ready for the pot. If you didn’t learn how to fold a wanton at your grandmother’s knee (like most of us), here’s something that could help.
The Sauce: Traditional Hong You Chao Shou are served in chilli oil and soy sauce (adding black vinegar is an option). I like to ‘pimp-up’ my version with lots of black vinegar, fresh garlic, chillis, spring onions and cilantro (and nix the chilli oil in favour of a tiny bit of sugar and sesame oil). The general rule of thumb is 3 parts vinegar to one part soy sauce, and one clove of garlic per person, but you can adjust the the ingredients to taste.
Once you’ve assembled everything, blanche the wan tons in a large pot of boiling water. Once they float (3-4 mins), scoop them out with a sieve (or pasta scoop) and add them to individual bowls of sauce. You can dish in a little of the wan ton water as well, to dilute the sauce a little.
One day I decided to switch things up a little and make pan fried dumplings instead. ‘Guo Tie’, ‘Gyoza’ or ‘pot-stickers’ they’re called. Steamed first in a flat, covered pan and then fried so that the bottom of the dumpling is crispy and carmelised while the top stays moist and succulent. It’s a wonderful alternative if you’re looking for something with a bit of crunch.
I used the same filling in a gyoza wrapper (which has a tougher consistency than a wan ton skin) and followed a folding and cooking technique I found on this crazy amazing Japanese food blog.
Because it was a hot summer’s day, I made a refreshing salad of arugula leaves with a dressing of soy, mirin, sesame oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped garlic and chillis. Doubled up as a sauce for the gyoza too.