Seriously Asian: Big Wontons

[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

No, these wontons aren't super-sized. The Chinese make a distinction between "big" wontons, which are made with wrappers filled with meat and vegetables, and "small" wontons, which are filled with only meat and use much thinner wrappers. Caroline's Cook the Book post about Sweet Potato Ravioli using wonton wrappers
reminded me that more needs to be said about the goodness and convenience of the wonton.

Wontons have always struck me as the unappreciated cousin of the dumpling. Since dumplings are broadly defined as any wrapper and filling combination, wontons are technically a type of dumpling rather than its relative. But I often think of the wonton as distinct because it's considerably easier and more forgiving than the Chinese jiaozi or Korean mandu. In this sense, Japanese gyoza, which are usually referred to as dumplings, have much in common with the wonton because both tend to use thin and more pliant skins.

For the home cook, the wonton has two distinct advantages over the thicker flour dumpling. First, while it can be difficult to find a store-bought dumpling skin that has the chewiness and suppleness of the homemade variety, good-quality wonton skins at the store are not much different than what you can make at home. Second, the thinness of the wrapper also makes the cooking process less likely to fail. Judgments about length of cooking time is less crucial for the wonton than the dumpling, since the latter requires that the skin be neither doughy (undercooked) or gluey (overcooked), while wontons will reach a point of doneness and hold that texture for a good thirty seconds, giving the cook much more leeway.

And though not all wonton wrappers include the addition of an egg, having that addition yields more pliant and manageable wrappers. (Think about the parallel to the noodle: Just as making flour-and-water noodles can be trying, flour-and-egg noodles are almost always good.)

Finally, like dumplings, wontons can be enjoyed in a number of ways: boiled, with a dressing of soy sauce, chili oil, and various other condiments; pan-fried or deep-fried and dipped in sauce; or served in soup broth. When I make wontons I use up at least two packs of wrappers and freeze half the batch. Freezing the wontons makes no difference to their taste and texture, and makes for a quick and flavorful meal on a rainy day.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

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Seriously Asian: Big Wontons

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About This Recipe

This recipe appears in: This Week's Tasty 10: The Most Popular Posts from the SE Universe

Ingredients

  • 1 pack wonton wrappers, about 50 wrappers
  • For the filling
  • 1/3 pound of fatty ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 bunch chives, minced, about 2 cups
  • 1/3 pound leafy greens, such as napa, bok choy, or spinach, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/3 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or vermouth
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 egg

Procedures

  1. 1

    Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the mixture around in the bowl and let sit for 1 hour to allow the flavors to sink in and the meat to bind.

  2. 2

    Fill each wonton wrapper with about a 1 teaspoon of the filling. Leftover filling may be frozen and put to use in more wontons, or stir-fried.

  3. 3

    To boil wontons, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the wonton for 3 to 4 minutes, until the skins are just beginning to turn translucent. Serve in soup or with dipping sauce. To pan-fry wontons, boil the wontons for 2 minutes. Bring a heavy skillet to medium heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Pan-fry on one or two sides. Refrain from moving the wontons around in the pan, so as to give the surface of the wontons a chance to brown.

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