Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The Miracle Cure: Beijing-Style Wonton Soup
Posted by Neal at Wednesday, January 07, 2009 Labels: comfort food, frozen, pasta burner, soup, wonton
There's nothing worse than a nasty head cold -- your nose gets clogged, your head is foggy, and, worst of all, your throat gets raw, red, and sore. It hurts to swallow, a miserable sentence for any food-lover, and it's hard to get excited about eating anything. The Pasta Burner had the cold before me -- she brought it back from California, along with her sister, who's staying with us for a little while. (We're much happier to have the sister hanging around than the cold.)
Because I'm sick, I've been banned from cooking anything. It's a good policy, for sure, but it leaves this blog quiet, and keeps me away from the kitchen, my favorite room in the house. The Pasta Burner and her sister have been taking good care of me, and they were nice enough to whip up a fantastic recipe for this week's post.
While we joke about the Pasta Burner here, in truth, she's a very good cook, as you'll see. She prefers to cook from previously published recipes, so she chose to adapt a privately-published wonton recipe from Jaden Hair, best known as a columnist for the Tampa Tribune. As a result (and in the spirit of legal clearance) neither the Pasta Burner nor I make any claim as to the ownership or authorship of this recipe. Some elements have been changed, and we've added additional ingredients and suggestions, but we've decided the ingredients used and the cooking process were too close to Ms. Hair's for us to claim originality. Now yes, all pork wonton recipes are pretty close to each other, it's true -- but hey, we don't want to get sued, right?
Okay, enough of this small-print stuff -- let's get to the food!
Oh, by the way, I volunteered to take the pictures and video footage -- at the very least, it kept me near the kitchen.
Beijing-Style Wonton Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Jaden Hair
Makes 50 Wontons (don't worry, they're addictive and freeze well)
1 pound fresh ground pork
5 Scallions, minced + 1 or 2 additional scallions for soup garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch + 1 teaspoon for the wrapper binding
1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons good tamari soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon white sugar
1 package wonton wrappers (about 75-100 wontons per)
Chicken broth (2 cups per bowl served) + Water (1 cup per bowl served)
Various vegetables of your choice
1 egg per bowl served (optional)
Sriracha sauce, various pickles, etc. as condiments to taste
Place your pork in a large bowl. I actually suggested that the Pasta Burner use a larger bowl than she did, but was told that I wasn't cooking, so I didn't get any say. Hmmm.
Chop, then mince your scallions.
Add two teaspoons of cornstarch to the pork, and mix. It's important you do this before the rest of the ingredients.
At this point, add in the minced scallions, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar to the pork.
(Editor's Note: Remember, wonton recipes are pretty much all the same, but, on the other side of the coin, there are a million different variations as well. You could always add in chinese cilantro if you're short on scallions, or sherry in place of some of the rice vinegar. Chili-Garlic sauce, wasabi, grated ginger root -- let your imagination and what's sitting in all those jars in your refrigerator door guide you.)
Combine everything well with a spoon, or with a wire whisk. You want the ingredients well combined, but light and fluffy. The Pasta Burner, hard at work:
At this point, we're ready to stuff the wontons. We like the Twin Marquis brand wrapper(one of the easiest to find) but any commercial wonton wrapper will do. Incidentally, the leftover sheets work as a great substitute for pasta sheets in Lasagna, the same for Ravioli, or even cut into strips for Pad Thai. After all, these squares are, for all intents and purposes, just fresh wheat pasta. Anyway, they're one of those things that we always carry in our fridge, in case you're looking to do the same.
The stuffing and sealing of the wontons is probably the hardest part -- too much meat and they'll burst, too little meat and you'll have a glutinous mess. A little less than a teaspoon of filling per wonton is best. Mix 1/4 of cold water together with the remaining teaspoon of cornstarch. This will be the sealing agent for each package.
Place the meat in the center of the dumpling, moisten the edges with the cornstarch slurry, and close into a triangle.
Then, moisten the two ends of the triangle, bringing them together and holding them for a second, so the wonton stands up on its end. Too complicated? How about some video? While the quality isn't great, I think watching the process is the best way to learn. Observe! (And please, ignore the commentary from the peanut gallery. Your editor knows exactly what he's doing with the video camera. :-P)
The Pasta Burner and her sister diligently repeated this process 49 more times.
This is just one of the several cutting boards they filled up. We found that 5-8 dumplings per person was appropriate, so some of these we placed into the refrigerator temporarily.
The rest were transfered into the freezer. (Editor's Note: Please ignore my terrible ice cream addiction.)
After about two hours, the Pasta Burner and her sister collected the dumplings and bagged them. Woo-hoo! Here's just one of the precious, precious bags. We've got wontons for the next two months.
But how does the dish come to fruition? It can't be Wonton Soup without the soup!
The Pasta Burner recommends combining two parts broth to one part water. Particularly with canned stock, this keeps things from getting too salty. Mix the water and the broth before you start the rest of the recipe -- this will make the rest of the process easier.
There are three stages in the cooking process -- because the wonton skins are thin, and they're stuffed to the gills, you can't boil them for too long. However, that being said, because the pork is raw, you really have to make sure they're well cooked. This cooking process comes straight from Jaden Hair's recipe, and I think it really makes the difference. Here's how you do it.
Pour two thirds of the broth/water mixture into a pot, along with all the dumplings. Heat until just boiling.
Add half of the next third (1/6th of the total). Once again, bring the pot just to a boil.
Add the remaining broth (1/6th of the total), and, one last time, bring to a boil. Allow everything to simmer at a low boil for 1 minute.
You'll want to scoop out the dumplings and place them in the bowls. At this point, you'll want to cook some veggies in the broth. Again, this is one of those things where what's in your fridge, or what looks good at the market should guide you. Baby bok choy, kirby cucumbers, broccolini, seaweed, enoki mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, really, any kind of mushrooms. You get the idea. Cook until veggies are just tender, yet still crisp.
The addition of an "sunshine egg," or soft-poached egg, can be quite delightful. Crack the egg into the simmering soup, with the vegetables and let cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the white of the egg is just set.
For today's batch, we kept it simple. On the side, we served siracha sauce for drizzling, some pickled daikon, and plenty of raw radishes. The final product:
And that's it -- I know that seemed a little complicated, but I assure you it really isn't. People have been making wontons for millennia. Here's the simple version. Put meat and spices/sauces in a bowl. Stir. Stuff into wonton wrappers. Boil. See? Not so intimidating. And believe me, it's worth it. The mild broth, the comforting, savory pork, the crisp, green veggies -- no medicine could have cured me faster.
In fact, I'm already on the mend -- I think that next time, I'll be back at the helm in the kitchen. I've got something simple, essential, and remarkable planned. Something we all eat every day, that we never give a second thought to, and that -- you have my word -- you'll never taste the same way again. It's all in our next post. To send us out, a little music, as always...
Music: The Simpsons -- "Spiderpig"