Making wontons

I'm sure it needs no introduction but wontons are simply Chinese dumplings, typically filled with some combination of ground meat, shrimp, and vegetables.  The thing that makes wontons special is the very thin wrapper used to form them - once cooked, it's silky soft and being so thin, it allows the filling to take center stage.  For me and many others, dumplings like wontons are pure comfort food, particularly when paired with some hot soup or noodles.  It's no wonder that every culture has its own dumplings in some form.
Wontons, with pork and shrimp filling
I remember making wontons at home once when I was a kid.  I remember that it was a lot of fun but somehow, I also associated it with a lot of work and as a project that I never could quite find the right time to research and do.

So even though I sound like a broken record, I have to say I've wanted to make wontons at home for a long time but didn't until recently, over Christmas vacation.  My little guy loves to eat wontons when we go out and it's on the menu.  That was one motivation behind this project.  And finally, I was inspired to get practical, and get cooking, by The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  It just sounded easy, as many of the recipes in the book are.
And you know something?  I really enjoyed making wontons!  Set yourself up, pull up a seat, and just start filling and sealing.  It's kind of therapeutic and a lot easier than you might think.

Seriously...consider having a little wonton-making party or just set a little time aside one day to make a big batch because right now, I'm discovering that having a bag of homemade, ready-to-go, wontons stashed in the freezer is a wonderful thing in the winter.  You make the wontons, lay them on a baking sheet to freeze, then pop them into a bag and store in the freezer. Then, you can have wontons any time you want and quick - just put a pot of water to boil and the wontons are cooked and ready to eat in less than 10 minutes!
Wontons tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce for lunch
For these wontons, I used traditional pork and shrimp filling.  The richness is balanced by a little fresh ginger, rice vinegar, and chopped scallions.  I added a touch of sesame oil out of habit.  It's practically reflex since my mother taught us early on to add it to our meat marinades.  I think a little sesame oil never hurts an Asian dish!  It adds great aroma as well as flavor.

I got about 50 wontons in this batch (and I wish I had more).  I made them one afternoon and used some to make wonton soup for dinner, ladling some hot, spiced-up chicken broth over it and serving with bok choy.  You could certainly add some noodles and make a more substantial meal.  A few days later, I took some out of the freezer and cooked them for a quick lunch.  I simply cooked them in some boiling water and then stirred the wontons in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce, which gives them a little sweetness.
Wonton soup with bok choy for dinner
Do you like fried wontons?  The kind you dip in that bright sweet and sour sauce?  These are the very same wontons - just fry them instead of boiling!


Making wontons does take a little time but it's not nearly as labor intensive as it might seem.  I learned it's actually a fun (and rewarding) project for a slow afternoon.  Recruit someone to join you and have at it!  And like most Asian cooking, it's all about the mise en place, or setting up and having all your ingredients prepared before you begin.
Start with the filling.  I went with ground pork and shrimp - the classic combination I know my son enjoys.  You could use other kinds of ground meat as well as add mushrooms or shredded greens (or omit the meat for a vegetarian option).  I used fairly lean ground pork.  To make about 50 wontons, buy 1 pound of ground pork and half a pound of shrimp.  Combine the ground pork with the shrimp, finely chopped.  Marinade the protein with a little finely chopped scallions (I used mainly the green part since I was worried my son would be sensitive about it but he really wasn't), grated ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and some salt and white pepper. 

The only other thing you'll need is square wonton wrappers, which you can find clearly labeled in the refrigerated aisle of a Chinese grocery store.  Make sure you get "wonton" wrapper, not dumpling wrappers.  Wonton wrappers are thinner and that thin skin on a wonton is what makes it what it is. You might see a choice of white or yellow wonton wrappers.  I'm used to the yellow and I went with it for my first go but in the future, I think I'll use the white, which, looking at the ingredient list, has a lot less foreign ingredients in it!
Have a bowl of cold water nearby as you begin.  The water is the "glue" that holds the seal together. Have a plate or platter nearby, along with a damp towel or damp paper towel (to cover the filled wontons as you work) so you can set the finished wontons aside as you go.

To make a wonton, drop a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of a wrapper like you see above. Wet all the edges with some water, then fold it into a triangle.  There are a few ways to fold wontons and you could even leave them like this, as a triangle, if you want.
Now here's the best advice I think I can give you: make sure you press out any air bubbles as you seal the wonton.  That is really important and I learned that the hard way when I made chocolate fried wontons once.  I didn't press out the air bubbles so it just ballooned up as I cooked them.  I fried those but you'd have a similar issue here if you don't press out all the air.  As the wontons cook, it will balloon out if there are air pockets.  Not only will that not look pleasant but it will make it hard to tell when/if the wontons are cooked through.  
So do try to press out as much of the air as possible when sealing the wontons.  Pick them up, press as you go, use whatever technique feels right to you.  (My husband, home during Christmas break, was my very helpful and enthusiastic photographer here! : )
To finish forming the wontons in this case, we bring the ends together.  Place a little water on the outer two tips of the triangle and then bring them together, overlapping, and press.  I was nervous that the seals would come apart during cooking but it did not - everything stayed in place and I had nice plump wontons.
As you work, place the wontons on a plate and cover the wontons with a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out.  If you want to freeze any, lay them flat in one layer (not touching each other because you don't want them to stick) on a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment or wax paper.   Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.  Once frozen, pop the wontons in a freezer bag for later use.

Cooking & eating the wontons: There are several ways to enjoy your wontons. 

To simply cook them, bring a big pot of water to boil - enough so there's plenty of room for the wontons to swim in.  They are pretty much done and ready when they float - unless there are air pockets inside them making them float!  To really test their readiness, take one out and cut into it to make sure the filling is cooked.  Avoid over-cooking them, especially if using lean meat.  

(To cook frozen wontons, do not defrost and just drop them into boiling water the same way.  Let them cook for an extra few minutes once the wontons begin to float.  The best thing to do is cut one open to check for doneness.)

To make wonton soup, cook the wontons in water.  Separately, I make the soup using chicken stock, warmed with a couple teaspoons of grated ginger, and a dash of soy sauce.  Add any green vegetables you like to it.  Simply ladle the soup over the cooked wontons and serve.  Add some noodles (which you can cook first in the boiling water used for the wontons) to make wonton noodle soup.

As I mentioned earlier, you could also toss cooked wontons in a mixture of soy sauce, hoisin sauce (sort of like a Chinese barbecue sauce that's somewhat sweet), and sesame oil.  Use a spoonful or two of the liquid it was cooked in to loosen it up and create a bit more moisture.  If you like spice, add some chili oil or Sriracha (in place of or with the hoisin sauce). 

For fried wontons, heat about 3 cups of vegetable oil to 350 degrees and fry a small handful at a time for about 4 minutes until golden brown.  I would recommend only frying wontons fresh, not frozen.  The moisture from frozen wontons could cause a lot of splattering.  If you really want to fry previously frozen wontons, I would imagine you should defrost them completely first in the fridge, but I have not done this so I can't say for certain.  Regardless, do fry with caution!

* Update (August 24, 2014): Here's a recent batch of wontons I fried up!



Recipe:

Pork and Shrimp Wontons
Adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook

- Makes approximately 50 wontons - 

1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons white rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 package wonton wrappers

In a large bowl, combine pork, shrimp, scallions and ginger together.  Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and mix until evenly combined.  The filling should be sticky and slightly moist.

Place a large platter or plate(s) near you, along with a slightly damp (paper) towel to cover the wontons as you make them.  Fill a small bowl with cold water and set nearby.

To make wonton, place one wonton wrapper on a clean surface so that it's in a diamond shape facing you.  Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center.  Moisten all the edges of the wonton wrapper using your moistened fingertip.  Form a triangle by folding the bottom tip to the top tip, pinching out as much air as possible as you seal it.  If you have air pockets in your wontons, it will bubble up as it cooks and make it hard to tell when they are ready.

To finish shaping the wontons, dab water onto both sides of the two corner tips of the triangle and bring them together, one overlapping the other.  Press firmly.  Place the finished wonton onto your platter and cover with a damp towel to prevent drying.  Cover the wonton wrappers lightly with plastic wrap as you work as well, and continue with the remaining wontons. 

Cook wontons or freeze for a later date by laying the uncooked wontons in an even layer (not touching so they don't stick together) on a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.  Once frozen, place into a freezer bag for storage.  Cook frozen wontons without defrosting as indicated below, adding an extra few minute to the cook time.

To cook wontons: Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add wontons and boil for 4-5 minutes.  Wontons are usually cooked through when they float, unless there are air pockets within it.  To check for doneness, cut one open.  (If you like, cook some noodles using the same boiling water to make wonton noodle soup.)

To make wonton soup, I make a broth with chicken stock, 1-2 teaspoons of grated ginger, and a dash of soy sauce and ground white pepper.  You can add mushrooms or greens like boy choy or spinach.  Ladle the soup over the cooked wontons and serve.  Another quick way to serve wontons is to gently toss them in a mixture of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil (essentially all to taste), along with a small splash of the liquid it was cooked in to loosen it up.  If you like things spicy, add chili oil or Sriracha, to taste.






62 comments:

  1. Glad you are wonton crazy right now too! Matthew has become obsessed with wontons and he has been making them from scratch, we had them 3 times this past week.. can't get enough!

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    1. Wow - that sounds totally awesome. I bet he is coming up with some delicious fillings!

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  2. I love wontons and can eat them by the dozen. I am so going to try this out. Loved how clearly you have explained it. Thanks so much.

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    1. Thanks, Asmita - glad if you find it helpful. Hope you make a batch soon.

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  3. Beautiful wonton...I would love to have a bowl of this wonton soup for dinner...so comforting.
    Thanks for the recipe Monica.
    Happy New Year and have a great week ahead :D

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    1. Definitely comfort food and great for these cold nights. Thanks!

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  4. Love wontons and yours look perfect Monica :) The pork and shrimp filling sound delicious and you wrapped these so beautifully! Hehe, I have similar memories of wrapping wontons and spring rolls with my mom and aunts when I was younger too and used to always dread it since I thought it was so time consuming and would much rather be playing lol. I now enjoy this special bonding time with my mom and you definitely have me craving a big bowl of hot wonton soup with some bok choy :) Yum!

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    1. hehe - I'm glad someone can relate! I vaguely remember we (by "we", I mean something else in my family) had to grind the meat or chop it by hand so it was a lot more work...weren't we able to buy ground meat back then?! My memory can be kind of vague so I'm not too sure. : )

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  5. I remember having egg roll parties with my brother and sister-in-law years ago. It was a long time ago and I guess I should do it again one day. Your wontons loos wonderful and delicious. Happy New Year!

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    1. Egg roll-making party sounds so good! Thanks and Happy New Year!

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  6. Your wontons look so perfectly formed! I don't know if I have the patience for that. I've been looking for a Chinese cookbook so I well have to check out The Chinese Takeout Cookbook :)

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    1. You wouldn't think you have the patience but it actually goes pretty quick. My thing is finding the right time to get the groceries and setting it up, etc. I will definitely make this again soon...And yes, I'm really glad I bought that cookbook. If you like Chinese takeout, it's great because you'll see it's easy to make healthier versions at home.

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  7. I remember when I was a kid, my older siblings (in their teens) used to invite friends over and have a dumpling party. It was one of my fondest childhood memories. Sesame oil, in my opinion, is a must in Asian dishes. And I absolutely LOVE the flavor and aroma. When I buy frozen dumplings to cook at home, I always drizzle a bit into my bowl so the cooked dumplings don't stick. :D Thanks for posting this Monica! It's such an inspiration. I should make dumplings at home more often. I love the wontons tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce ---looks mouthwatering! :) Have a fantastic week my friend.

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    1. What a lovely comment, Anne. I loved reading that...and I'm so glad you can relate to my sesame oil obsession. Well, even if not "obsession", it's always been a must-have in my kitchen cabinet. Any meat I'm marinating gets a drizzle. Mom would approve! And I do love that sweet hoisin sauce. I used to get that with flat noodles - the kind for breakfast - and it always made my belly happy. : )

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  8. These turned out SO perfect! I want to have a wonton party now! :)

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    1. Yes - totally! And everyone can take some leftovers home for the freezer. : )

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  9. Good looking wantons you made there! Must be delicious! :) ela

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  10. Simple and delicious! I like them in hot chicken soup with some noodles and spring onions.

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    1. I love them that way too. Very good and satisfying. Thank you!

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  11. I've never eaten wontons, and I now I feel like I'm missing out. These look lovely, and I bet they're delish! Such a fun rainy day project indeed!
    And aww I love how you shaped them, they look so pretty!
    Have a great week! xx

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    1. It's sort of like a moist, flavorful juicy meatball with a barely-there thin pasta coating. : ) I hope you try it one of these days. Thank you, Consuelo!

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  12. For some reason i've had wontons on the brain lately AND THIS IS ONLY MAKING IT WORSE!!! Future husband would LOVE these (wonton soup is his favorite). I'm going to have to give them a try!

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    1. Really? Maybe we're all hankering for warm, cozy stuff..because right now, it's going to be like 10 degrees tonight! Hope you make some for FH soon...sounds like he would love it!

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  13. These wontons are perfection! I keep buying wonton pastry, but never get around to actually making them, thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Thank you so much! I hope you make a batch and enjoy them soon.

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  14. Your wontons look very comforting. My mom loves wontons. When I was in HK, we used to make them together. I think I really need to try making some myself. Thanks for sharing a great recipe!

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    1. Almost all my childhood memories revolve around food so I know what you mean...the cookbook definitely inspired me to get into action. It's so nice when someone breaks it down simply for you.

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  15. Beautiful wontons! I haven't made them in a while but a wonton-making party sounds like a great idea!

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    1. Thank you, Eva. A couple of friends, sitting around wrapping wontons and chatting, would be fun!

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  16. Wonton making is fun with friends. This sounds and looks super yummy. And in a soup, that sounds so comforting. Great way to start the New Year!

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  17. Okay, I love wontons but never thought about making them at home! haha Weird how certain things just never cross your mind. These look sooo good. And I actually really like projects where you can just get into the groove/process and relax : )

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    1. I totally understand! And I'm with you...I'm into doing cooking projects that involve some time or even a lot of stirring when I can find the open time to do it and just relax...

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  18. I am definitely craving wonton soup after seeing this! Yours are formed and shaped so perfectly!! Super impressed.

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    1. Thanks Joanne - you can make yours vegetarian! : )

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  19. Wow yum! I love the pork and shrimp filling. What a great combo. Wontons is my favorite comfort food (:

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    1. I know - it's a great traditional filling and if you eat meat, you understand why. : ) Comfort food is what we all need right now - it's freezing! : )

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  20. This looks so delicious right now. I love chinese food but haven't tried wontons.

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    1. Thanks, Balvinder! You can boil or fry these. I used to love indulging in the fried but the boiled ones for noodles or soup is such comfort food.

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  21. Love any sort of dumpling! I do like a good wonton. I actually have that cookbook, there are many great recipes in there. Your wontons look perfect!

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    1. Same here - dumplings are so heartwarming! : ) Anytime I'm thinking of trying something to cook, I look through the book...many simple recipes...glad I got it, too!

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  22. Your wontons look so beautiful Maureen! I love how you wrapped them up, especially in the photos before they were cooked! Now you have me craving some! :D

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    1. Thanks, Layla. I kept thinking they will fall apart in the water and I felt so proud when they didn't! I have a lot to learn. : )

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    1. Absolutely no worries, at all!! Btw, I love the title of your blog! Brunch is such a happy meal/time! : )

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  24. wow... your wontons really look perfect and so yummy!

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  25. Oh I have heard/seen this cookbook on internet. Is it good? My kids love wontons so I hide all kinds of veggies in the filling =P They look perfectly wrapped! (and so cute!) :)

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    1. I like it, Nami. If Chinese takeout is one of your (guilty) pleasures, it's good! The same rotation of pantry items can make for many of those dishes. In other words, it's simple and doesn't require a ton of ingredients. I'm happy to have the book. Your wontons must be delicious, I'm sure!

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  26. You clever, clever lady! I am super impressed by these! I would like to think that I can give these a try. I am a big fan of dumplings / wontons but have never considered making them. You have inspired me! :-)

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    1. Awww...I think I'm blushing, Jo! I feel proud to have inspired you. : ) These are actually fun to make and I look freezing some to have in the freezer at the ready.

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  27. Yum! Im such a fan of wontons! :)
    www.prettybitchescancooktoo.com

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    1. It is great comfort food, I agree!

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  28. I have been craving wonton soup lately! These look so so good, but I don't know if i have the patience to assemble them. I guess I'll just have to be stopping by your house for a few ;)

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  29. Those are BEAUTIFUL! Definitely pinning to my Recipes to Try board! I can't wait to make these!

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    1. Thank you so much! Hope you make a batch soon. : )

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