I didn’t realize it when I left home after high school graduation. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The unfamiliar and exhilarating sensation of freedom reverberated through me, and I was reeling. At last!
The spans of time when me, my parents, and my sisters were all together — the ones that I grew to totally take for granted after 17.5 years — would be few and far between.
I had already lived in four states and six cities by the time I was age 8. I remember having my 8th birthday party before we moved to California (storied land of sunshine and swimming pools). We got used to family meetings being called to tell us we were moving. I didn’t mind so much because I had never known any different.
The house we lived in and the school I went to changed each time. There were big trees and deep snow in upstate New York, tank tops and giant bugs in Texas, and people saying “wooter” instead of water in Pennsylvania.
No matter where we were, my parents and two sisters were always there with me. Despite being the perpetual new kid, stared at and trying to make friends, being at home with my family felt familiar. Even if my dad came home late, we waited, unfailingly, to eat the meal my mom cooked as a family.
Until we hit the west coast, I came to expect that we were the only Asian family in our neighborhood and the nearest Chinatown was an hour or more away. My parents still made the trip to sustain their craving for familiar tastes, and we were stuffed into the minivan along with them.
As my mom prepared dinner, I would come bouncing into the kitchen and demand to know what we were having. I hoped for spaghetti or bagel bites so my nose wrinkled at her answer — it was almost always Chinese food. Sometimes mom would wrangle us from homework-doing, piano-practicing, or fighting over the phone to help wrap wontons.
We gathered around the kitchen counter chatting and tucking the pork and shrimp mixture into wrappers. The smooth, cool sheets just begged to be nibbled. We 3 girls were seduced time after time into eating the wrappers raw as my mom sighed, then smiled. We laughed and critiqued each other’s dumplings, insisting we could tell with one look who had wrapped which ones.
Despite the dark, the cold, or the howling wind, our kitchen was warm and bright. The steamy bowl of broth, rich with juicy dumplings to slurp up made winter seem distant. No other wontons come close.
Now, when I wrap wontons far away from my younger sister on another continent, my older sister at home with her own little girls, and mom and dad on their own, it makes me think about those sessions where we giggled, goofed around, and waited for the rumble of the garage door signaling “Dad’s home!!”
There is something about cooking your mother’s food. I never thought much of it until I was subjected to feeding myself. I called my mom and asked how to make her wontons.
She said “Oh, very eeeeasy!” and “You make once and freeze, and you can have some whenever you like!”
These are her hands…
Of course, mom doesn’t have or use a recipe, so I work from the instructions she rattles off.
Mom: “Get some ground pork, not too lean…”
Me: “How much, mom?”
Mom: “Ah. Oh, I don’t know… 1 pound.”
Me: “Okay, a pound…”
Mom: “And shrimp. More shrimp is better! I have a secret way. Sherry [Mom's friend] begged me to show her how I make this because it’s so good. More crunchy!”
Mom pours directly from the sauce bottles and adds aromatics to the bowl, gauging the right amount just by looking. Predictably, my first attempt is good but I am miffed because it just doesn’t taste as good as mom’s! It took quite a few iterations to nail down the right amounts of the various ingredients, but here it is (including the secret to crunchy shrimp).
Place the ground pork in a large bowl (look for pork with some good flecks of fat in it), and add the rest of the ingredients. It doesn’t really matter what order.
Here, I’ve added the seasonings and wet ingredients — egg, salt & pepper, a little bit of sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and shaoxing wine (a distinctive aromatic Chinese cooking wine, definitely worth tracking down). If you can’t find shaoxing wine, sherry will do.
In goes a healthy dose of fresh ginger, green onions, cilantro, and garlic. Mmm, smells divine already.
When adding the cornstarch, sprinkle it over evenly so there are no clumps.
Then, have at it. Stir the ingredients together so they are thoroughly blended. A combination of stirring in a spiral and folding work pretty well. Do not over-mix.
The filling should be moist and rather sticky. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for 1 hour while you finish up. Your patience will be rewarded.
And now… the secret to crunchy shrimp. Maybe the word crunchy isn’t quite right. The flesh has a certain juicy snap to it when you bite in. I tried making the wontons without preparing the shrimp this way, and the difference was astounding! Night and day. No wonder my mom’s friends beg to know her secret!
Put the cold peeled and deveined whole shrimp in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle over a generous amount of coarse kosher salt.
Working quickly (before the salt dissolves), massage the shrimp all over with the salt, like you are giving them an invigorating salt scrub spa treatment. They will get slimy and a little foamy…
Rinse well in very cold water until the water runs clear. Dry thoroughly with paper towels (the shrimp will look white and a little scraggly), chop, then set aside, refrigerated.
This is a good time to slice up your green onions and ginger for garnishing the soup. Trust me, it makes a big difference! This is how much I make for Baelson and I.
Time’s up! After the meat filling has marinated for an hour, time to combine it with the shrimp and get to wrapping. Start calling over your friend, mom, boyfriend, sister, aunt, neighbor, or whoever to help. Wrapping time is a great time to dish or just share some laughs. There is just something about sitting down to a meal prepared together with each person’s hands.
Set up your wrapping station. Wipe down the counter, grab two teaspoons, a small dish with water, wonton wrappers, wonton filling, a tray and kitchen towel, and… I think that’s it. Let’s wrap.
Start with one of the corners of the wrapper pointing at you.
Scoop out a modest amount of the filling with one spoon (about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons), and use the other spoon to scoot it onto the center of the wrapper. This helps your fingers stay less porky. You want the wonton to be filled, but still close easily.
Dip a finger in the water, and moisten two edges of the square.
Now for the wrap-job.
Draw the un-moistened corner to the moistened corner and press together. Pinch the left and right corners together, then fold or pleat each of the two sides toward the center point. Gently press out any air bubbles, which can make the wontons burst when cooked. See detailed photos of how to wrap the wontons here.
If the wrapper breaks or you poke a hole while wrapping, just transfer the filling to another wrapper. Maybe there is someone hanging around who’d like the broken porky wrapper…
Cover the wontons with a kitchen towel to keep them from drying out as you wrap. If you are a slow wrapper, you will want to cover the stack of empty wrappers as well.
This is a simple way of wrapping wontons, but I like it best because it’s easy and leaves the edges of the wrapper wispy to float in the soup and get good and napped in dipping sauce. You want some amount of little folds (as opposed to just a plain triangle) so there are more nooks for sauce to cling to.
To cook, just boil up a pot of water and drop them in. While the water comes to a boil, start heating up some chicken broth, and mixing up a simple dipping sauce.
4 parts soy sauce to 2 parts vinegar,1/4 part sesame oil, 1/2 part sugar is a good mix. Add your favorite chile sauce to taste, if desired.
After the wontons float, continue to boil for another minute. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place in serving bowls. Pour the hot broth over, garnish with green onions and shredded ginger, and warm that belly!
Recipe: Pork & Shrimp Wontons
NOTE: Having wontons stocked in your freezer is like money in the bank. This recipe should make enough wontons for you to enjoy some now, and freeze the rest for another time. If not, go ahead and double it! Do not thaw before cooking.
Freeze individually on a tray, then package in a zipper-top bag for storage. Space saving alternative: Fresh wontons can be packaged loosely, laid flat in a single layer in quart-size zipper-top bags, and the bags stacked flat in the freezer. Portion wontons according to the number eaten in a typical serving (e.g. 10 per bag), as they cannot be separated before cooking. To cook, add the entire bag contents to boiling water and let boil undisturbed for a few minutes before gently coaxing them apart with chopsticks.
For the meat filling
1 pound ground pork (not lean)
1 large egg
1 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (9 grams)
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon shao xing wine
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
6 tablespoons finely chopped green onion (about 4 stalks)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pound large (31-40 count) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, chilled
Coarse kosher salt, such as Diamond Crystal brand
About 6 dozen wonton wrappers, such as Hong Kong Noodle Co. Thin wonton wrappers
Chicken broth (2-3 cups per serving)
Finely shredded fresh ginger
Sliced green onions
Chile sauce, such as fresh chile garlic sauce (optional)
Place pork in a large bowl, then add the remaining meat filling ingredients, sprinkling cornstarch evenly over. Mix together until thoroughly combined. Do not over-mix. The texture should be moist and slightly sticky. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, toss shrimp in about 3 tablespoons kosher salt. Massage shrimp well, scrubbing with the salt to exfoliate, about 30 seconds (they will get wet and slightly foamy). Run under cold water until water runs clear. Dry shrimp well with paper towels, dice finely. Cover and refrigerate.
Remove meat mixture and chilled prepared shrimp from refrigerator. Pat shrimp dry, if necessary, and add to meat mixture. Mix well with hands or spoon to distribute shrimp evenly throughout.
Fill a small bowl with water. On clean counter or plate, arrange a wonton wrapper with a point facing you. Place a heaping teaspoonful of filling in center of a wonton wrapper. Use water to moisten the far edges of wonton wrapper. Fold in half by drawing the far edge towards you, enclosing the filling (if the wrapper will not close easily, remove some filling). Gently press out any air within the wrapper, and pinch with your fingers to seal well. Repeat with remaining filling and wonton wrappers.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to boil, then reduce heat to keep hot.
Add wontons to the boiling water. After wontons float to the surface, continue cooking for another 60 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and divide amongst serving bowls. Pour hot broth over wontons and garnish with green onions and shredded ginger.
For the dipping sauce, mix together 4 parts soy sauce to 2 parts vinegar,¼ part sesame oil, ½ part sugar is a good mix. If desired, add your favorite chile sauce to taste. You will need about 1 ½ tablespoons of sauce per person.
© 2012 by Revel Kitchen. All Rights Reserved.