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.
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.
|Wontons, with pork and shrimp filling|
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|
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|
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!
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.