One of the most satisfying and simple comfort foods in Chinese cuisine is the wonton. A hot bowl of wonton soup is perfect when exhausted or ill. A serving of wontons sauced with a thick, reduced chicken stock is a delicious snack. A portion, tossed in a spicy homemade chilli-oil sauce, can be a fantastically exciting dish to serve friends. And when served with homemade noodles and charsiu (roast pork), they can become part of a bowl full of heaven.
Making wontons at home is something our mothers all did at some point in our childhoods, which also infuses them with that magical quality of nostalgia. For many, slurping down a bowl full of delicious wontons is nothing short of recapturing some of the best parts of their youth.
For the uninitiated, a wonton is a minced pork dumpling. Some scholars say the wonton may be China’s oldest kind of dumpling, having been consumed as early as the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-24AD). It’s amazing that they are still around today and still immensely popular. In Singapore, wontons are most frequently seen as part of a plate of wonton mee. Wontons are boiled quickly and served with blanched green vegetables, long thin egg noodles and thin slices of barbecued pork. This can be served dry — which actually means tossed in a slightly sweet, savory and often spicy sauce — or in soup.
Our favourite wonton recipe comes from Fuschia Dunlop’s fantastically well researched and written Sichuan Cookery (titled Land of Plenty in the USA). What we like so much about the recipe is that Dunlop mixes stock into the filling, which gives it a lovely savoury taste. Ever since discovering this recipe in fact, we’ve been feasting regularly on wontons, as well as serving them to friends. One of the easiest ways to serve them is tossed in a homemade chilli-oil sauce. Just combine some chilli oil with light soy sauce, a little bit of sugar, some stock and a little splash of white vinegar. How much you use of each of these components really comes down to your own tastes. I tend to like my sauce a little sweet while S likes to emphasize the vinegar when she makes it.
Adapted from Fuschia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery
80 wonton wrappers
60g piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
450g minced pork
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
100g cold chicken stock
Crush the ginger with the flat of a wide knife or heavy object and soak for 5 minutes in a 100ml of cold water.
In a mixing bowl, combine the minced pork, egg, wine, ginger-water (discard the ginger pieces), sesame oil, salt and pepper. Mix well, using your hand to stir briskly in one direction. Add the cold stock in several stages while mixing, making sure the liquid is absorbed fully before continuing.
You can stuff the wontons in a variety of ways. The easiest is to lay the wonton skin flat on your hand. Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre, then flip the skin in half diagonally, pressing the two sides together.
Lay the wontons out, separately on a lightly floured tray. You can either cook and eat right away, or when they have dried a little, put them in a bag and freeze them. Cook them in boiling water. When the wontons rise to the surface and the skins are pliable, they are ready to be gobbled.