May 6, 2021
Shanghai Big Wontons
Try these Shanghai Big Wontons from the new cookbook, My Shanghai.
Wontons can be deeply personal: from ratio of filling to wrapper, contents of the filling, method of wrapping, to the way of serving. My favorite way to eat wontons is in a steaming bowl of hearty, homemade broth with generous amounts of white pepper, scallions and garlic greens. In warmer weather, wontons are often served at room temperature in a vibrant chili oil and vinegar sauce.
One of my earliest memories of helping my mom in the kitchen involves wrapping these wontons. It is considerably easier to wrap wontons than pleat dumplings, especially for small, young hands with poor coordination. But my sister and I still needed practice. As my mom moved in a fluid arc of chopstick to pork mix to wrapper, fold, seal and back to pork, rapidly filling up a tray of wontons, I recall slowly using a spoon to scoop the filling, dipping my finger in water to wet the perimeter of the wrapper, then carefully sealing it. Our tray was mostly empty, with a few wobbly, lopsided wontons in a variety of sizes, containing too much or too little filling (evidence of my sister’s and my amateur attempts). Next to my mom’s neat rows of wontons, which ones were ours was glaringly obvious.
These days, I make wontons regularly. There is always a giant bag of frozen wontons in my freezer. It’s the food I turn to when I’m in need of the comfort of home away from home.
Yield: Makes 90 wontons
Note: To make shrimp-pork wontons, add equal amounts of raw, peeled, de-veined, minced shrimp instead of greens.
Make The Filing
- To prepare frozen shepherd’s purse, thaw it in the fridge or in cold water on the counter. When using fresh or thawed shepherd’s purse, rinse it under cold water, then wring it well, reserving some of the water in a bowl. Add enough water to make ½ cup (120 mL). Discard the root at each stalk, then chop as finely as you can. In a blender or food processor, combine the ginger and scallions with the reserved water. Mix 2 tbsp of this ginger-scallion water with all of the filling ingredients and stir with chopsticks in one direction (see page 133, Step 1) until the mixture resembles a sticky paste. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
- Place about 2 tsp of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Trace water along the top edge of the wrapper. Bring the bottom half up to meet it and seal along the edges. Bring the two bottom corners together and seal them with a dab of water. (See page 91 for step-by-step photographs.) Continue to fill and seal the rest of the wonton wrappers following these instructions.
- At this point, you can either cook the wontons immediately or freeze some or all of them for later. To freeze, line up the wontons on a baking sheet and put in the freezer. Once frozen, after about an hour, transfer the wontons to freezer-safe bags and return them to the freezer. Wontons will keep for several months.
- To cook wontons, bring a pot of water to a boil over high. Add 10 to 15 wontons (depending on the size of your pot; do not overcrowd) and stir gently to prevent sticking. Bring to a simmer, just before the water reaches a rolling boil, and keep at this temperature for about 7 minutes, depending on the size of your wontons. The wontons should float, and their skin will turn more translucent, but they should not turn mushy nor fall apart. If your water comes to a boil before the wonton floats, add ½ cup (120 mL) of cold water and let it come to a simmer again. (To cook frozen wontons, let them simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.) You can always cut open a wonton to check that the pork is cooked through.
Make Wonton Soup
- Heat the broth until it is piping hot, add salt to taste and ladle into individual bowls. Remove the wontons from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and divide them among the bowls of broth. Serve immediately with white pepper, the scallions and the cilantro.
Make Chili Oil Wontons
- Remove the wontons from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place in individual bowls. Place a few cilantro leaves in each bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together the chili oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, scallion slices and sugar with 2 tbsp of the boiling wonton cooking water and spoon it over the wontons. Toss to combine and serve immediately with a spoonful of toasted white sesame seeds.