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My Mother’s Chicken Wontons

January 27, 2012

[Photo Credit JL]

Every time I step off the plane in Seattle, I know my mother will be there to pick me up with a bowl of her wontons.  I would hungrily devour these, just like I did so many times when I was younger.  This was the one meal that I had the most growing up and it was always the same every single time, wontons in soup first and then a small bowl of wontons tossed with a spicy soy and vinegar garlic sauce.  And now that I no longer live with my parents, having these wontons only when I go home is not nearly enough.  So what am I to do?  Learn how to recreate them of course!

What makes my mother’s wontons, well, my mother’s?  I think it starts with the fact that these are chicken wontons.  I had a strange aversion to pork wontons when I was little.  So, to get me to love the dish that she had grown up loving, my mother decided to substitute chicken (sometimes turkey works as well).  And to make wontons a complete meal, she worked large quantities of vegetables into the ground meat and my favorite combination is half napa cabbage and half Chinese spinach.

When my mother tell people that she used to make wontons for me after work, the response is often of amazement because to them, this is a rather complex and laborious process.  In reality, once you get the hang of the folding process, the ingredients are relatively simple and straightforward.  All you need are a few pounds of ground chicken, half a head of Napa cabbage, a cup of frozen Chinese spinach, scallion, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce and pepper.

I will confess that we don’t really have a recipe for wontons.  For the first few times that I attempted them on my own, I had my parents on speed dial in order to tap into their years of knowledge.  Now, I have finally learned from trial and error for that perfect wonton and sadly, I am no closer to putting together a written version of the wontons than before.  All I know is that the best wontons have lots of ginger and cracked black pepper as well as a surprisingly large amount of soy sauce and salt.

To prepare the filling, I start with the meat first by mixing in the minced ginger and scallions, pepper, soy and a splash of rice wine.  And when I say mix, I mean really mix it.  Usually, my arm will feel quite a burn at this stage.  You want the consistency of the meat to be a little sticky.   I have also recently started to add a couple spoonful of oil cured crab meat into the filling as well for a little extra richness.   Next, in go the vegetables.  The frozen Chinese spinach (a special kind of green that can be readily found in certain areas of China) is thawed and chopped finely and the Napa cabbage goes for a whirl in the food processor.  Make sure to squeeze out all the excess water in both vegetables before adding them to the chicken.

Once the filling is mixed, I make a few wontons to test out the flavors.  And more often than not, I find it needing more salt and soy.  This is the part where everything starts getting hazy and I never really remember how much more I am adding in.  However, this is also what makes it easy because you can’t really mess this up.  If it is too salty, you can always add more vegetables.  After two or three trials, I will find that perfect balance which should be on the slightly saltier side (trust me, it will be much better especially if you eat them as leftovers).

For the wrappers, I prefer the thinner square wonton wrappers which are often labled as Shanghainese wrappers that are an off-white.  By buying the wrappers, you save so much time for the folding.  And now the folding part.  Every family probably has their own method and below is a step by step tutorial of how I learned to fold wontons.  

[I know this isn’t nearly as helpful as a video tutorial so guess what?  I DID actually shoot a little segment but due to lack of free time recently, I will be posting that a little later.]

The finished wonton should resemble a yuanbao (Chinese gold nugget or gold sycee according to Wiki).

A few tips on the process.  Your work station should be kept pretty clean.  All you need is a large bowl full of the filling, a small bowl of tap water used to seal the edges of the wrapper, and the wrappers which are kept under a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out.  It is easy to be ambitious and use a large amount of filling.  My word of advice is to take it slow and start with a smaller portion so you don’t end up  with a big mess on your hands when the edges refuse to seal.  I like to stack my finished wontons in neat rows.  They just look so much nicer when organized properly.  The wontons freeze extraordinarily well when they are in the raw form so I always make sure to stuff my freezer with some for when I am lazy and don’t want to cook.

Finally, the wontons are ready for a bath in a big pot of water.  You want to make sure not to overcrowd the pot so the little guys can tumble freely.  They are cooked when the wontons are bobbing eagerly near the top of the water.  The surface becomes a little bit wrinkly and air bubbles form.

Like I said before, I love to have my first bowl in a clear chicken broth with a little bit of seaweed and scallions, finished with a drizzle of sesame oil.  There is really nothing like a big bowl of wontons to remind me of home, no matter how far away I may be.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 10.59 pm

    They taste just as delicious as they look! Can’t wait for the video!!!

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