Having grown up part of a Thai-Chinese family, wontons have always been the kind of food my mum would make as snacks, usually for our school fairs. Always deep-fried and usually served cold, they weren’t something I really thought much of when I was kid. I secretly wanted my mum to bake a banana loaf or lemon cake or just something … anything ‘Western’ was cool. These days, I find myself going back to my roots and appreciating the food of my childhood so much more. My mum taught my sister and I how to fold wontons from an early age. As far as I can remember, I used to sit in the kitchen and help mum cook a lot (cue me sitting there eating while chatting my face off) and wontons are something I remember well. I remember putting helpings of the meat filling onto the wonton pastry squares and being constantly told that mine were either too small or too big. (In my household, there was always room for improvement!) With all that ‘training’, when it came to wrapping wontons, years on, I had it down pat. Oddly enough, my sister seems to have forgotten!
Recently, I was flicking through my copy of Every Grain of Rice and found my eyes glued to the drool-worthy photo of steamed Sichuanese wontons that appeared before me on page 292. I like the boiled version of wontons, more than the deep-fried ones of my childhood, just because they aren’t as greasy and feel a bit more like comfort food. The recipe here is so simple except two things: learning how to actually fold the wontons and being bothered with the extra effort to make the aromatic soy sauce. The sauce is brilliant, it really brings this dish together and I like that if you put it in a jug, it can then be lovingly poured over the silky wontons as a final touch.
I made a batch of wontons that were egg free as my niece can’t tolerate egg and they worked out just as well as the ones with egg. I doubled this recipe and we had plenty of leftovers the next day for lunch and then some. Wontons or dumplings in general are something fun to make on a rainy afternoon in the weekend with family. Made with care and eaten with gusto.
Sichuanese wontons in chilli oil sauce
3 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
150 g minced pork
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
½ tsp sesame oil
ground white pepper
½ tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp pork stock
3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions
200 g package of wonton wrappers
flour, to dust
Sweet aromatic soy sauce
100 ml light soy sauce
½ small cinnamon stick
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ star anise
½ tsp Sichuan pepper
2 slices ginger, crushed
3 tbsp brown sugar
sweet aromatic soy sauce (as above)
3 tsp sesame oil
5 tbsp chilli oil
2 tsp very finely chopped garlic
3 tbsp finely sliced spring onions
First make the aromatic soy sauce. Heat the soy sauce and 200 ml water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the spices and ginger, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Next make the filling. In a large bowl, combine the pork, ginger, egg, wine and sesame oil. Add the sugar and salt and pepper and stir well. Mix in the stock, a tablespoon at a time. Finally, add the spring onions. Test the flavour of the filling at this stage by frying up a very small piece in a small frying pan until cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more or less ginger, and salt and pepper, if needed.
To wrap the wontons, have a bowl of cold water ready. Taking one wonton wrapper at a time, lay it flat in one hand with one corner towards your wrist. Use your finger to wet all the edges of the wrapper, then put a half tablespoonful of the pork mixture off-centre towards the bottom corner of the wrapper. Firmly roll the pastry upwards towards the opposite corner, enclosing the filling, until three-quarters of the way there (so it looks like a triangle). Turn the wonton around 180 degrees and then bring the two ‘wings’ together above the central body of the wonton, dab a little water on the back of the wing edges, then pinch firmly to seal (I would YouTube this method because it’s really hard to explain without photos). Keep the wontons covered with a damp tea towel to prevent them drying out.
Bring a large pan of water to a boil. When the water comes to a rapid boil, drop in the wontons, in batches, then stir gently to make sure they don’t stick together. Once the wontons have been boiling for about 2 minutes, some will appear to float at the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to remove the wontons that float to the top of the water and drain well. Check one for doneness to be sure. Repeat with the remaining wontons and serve as and when each bowl is ready (this isn’t one of those sit together and eat together meals because if you like your food hot, you’ll need to boil the wontons and drain them as you prepare bowl to bowl).
To serve, pour over some sweet aromatic soy sauce (it’s quite salty so don’t do what I did and pour in way too much), drizzle in the sesame and chilli oils and scatter with spring onions, finely chopped garlic.
(Recipe adapted from Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop, Bloomsbury)