Wonton soup

IMG_2581National Comfort Food Day is coming up this week, and in what finally feels like fall in southern California, there is nothing I crave more during this time of year than a huge bowl of piping hot, steamy, soup. Especially noodle soup. The Asian in me really comes out during the fall and winter months because I am eating pho at least once a week. When I’m not eating pho, I will seek out some less popularized Asian noodle soups: bun bo hue-a spicy lemon-grass flavored beef and pork noodle soup; bun rieu-noodle soup in a garlicky tomato and crab + pork meatball infused broth; Chinese chicken noodle soup- big chunks of chicken with rice noodle, fresh gingery broth, with cilantro and green onion. I just drooled a bit on my keyboard naming all these. Wonton soup is something that is a labor of love, but is so comforting and delicious. It will be worth every painstaking effort that you take to wrap these delicious dumplings.

Whenever I make dumplings or wontons of any kind, I make them in bulk. They are quite the undertaking and require lots of elbow grease….well, finger grease is more like it. Fine motor skills are very important in wonton wrapping and you might find your palm cramping after an hour or two of wrapping. There are many ways to eat won tons. Most people boil them and serve them with either a sauce or soup. Chinese broths are not to be taken lightly. They are simmered for hours on end to extract every ounce of flavor from the ingredients you place into the pot, usually, ginger, garlic, rice wine, and some kind of meat and bone. This soup that I made was flavored with dried shrimp, which packs a strong umami salty bite, and pork neck bones. I omitted the extra egg noodles because I am trying to limit my carbohydrate intake.

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I laugh every time I think of myself wrapping anything-dumplings, spring rolls, wontons. I was notoriously bad at wrapping anything in my family. You see, I am not exactly known for being graceful or precise with my motor skills. So I’ll often bump into furniture, stub my toes…yes, I am a very dangerous person to have in the kitchen. But alas, I couldn’t stay away. No matter how many burns I would get on my hands, no matter how many times I accidentally nicked my fingers, I would come right back to the kitchen. With time, of course, as with anything, I have become more skilled and adept with using my hands and maneuvering my body. Although my husband Ray will tell you that I often scare him with my moves in the kitchen. So, I hope you appreciate the fact that I put myself at risk every time I make a post. =P

Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Cooking notes/tips:

Buying pre-made wonton wrappers is a huge time saver. I have never made my own wonton skins. The fun part is that you can use them as a quick ravioli wrapper as well if you are short on time.

In any Chinese meatball dish, picking up the ball of meat and slamming it back into the bowl is essential in creating the perfect texture. This and the addition of a glutinous component-usually corn starch. Chinese meatballs are springy and bouncy. They do not fall apart or melt in your mouth like Italian style meatballs. So make sure you give your meat mixture a few good slams into the bowl before you start filling your wontons.

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Also, this may sound gross, but I always have a taste of my raw meat mixtures before I allow them to marinade and cook. Of course I don’t swallow the raw meat, but I have a taste of it for saltiness and spices and then quickly rinse my mouth. This is personal preference because I do not wish to devote all my time and energy to a large serving of food, only to discover it was under seasoned from the get-go.

This last one is more of a tip of life. Make shallot oil. Lots of it! It will add a burst of flavor to all of your Asian dishes. Many Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, and Thai dishes have this as a garnish, but it is so much more than that. It packs so much caramelized rich flavor that it acts more as a spice than a flavorless garnish.

Recipe
Serves: 10
Makes 80 wontons
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours

Broth
½ gallon water
2 lb pork neck bones
1 handful of whole dried shrimp
3 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
3 cloves garlic

Place pork neck bones into a shallow pot of boiling hot water and boil for 5 minutes, until impurities are boiled out of bones.

Pour out the water and rinse out pork bones thoroughly until they are clean and have no more brown impurities. Add pork bones back into pot and add ½ gallon of water. Allow to come to a boil and then lower fire to a simmer. Add in garlic and shrimp and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Toward the end of cooking run a sieve through broth to remove any shrimp particles and impurities. Add in fish sauce or salt to taste. Set aside for serving with boiled wontons.

 

Wontons
2 lb ground pork
1 lb raw shrimp, rough chopped or roughly ground
1 head garlic, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, minced
large handful of garlic chives, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
2 packages of wonton wrappers
1 beaten egg + 3 tbsp water

To garnish
Bok choy (boiled)
Handful of green onion, chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Shallot oil (created by caramelizing shallots in oil on low fire)

Prepare meat mixture by adding in pork, shrimp, garlic, ginger, garlic chives, salt, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and sugar. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients.

Pick up a handful of the meat mixture, lift slightly above the bowl, and then throw it back into the bowl with force. Repeat at least 5 times. Set meat mixture aside.

Prepare eggwash for wonton wrapping by adding a beaten egg to water in a bowl. Beat well.

Take a wonton wrapper and place it with a corner pointing down toward you (it will look like there is a kite on your plate). Place ~1 tbsp of filling onto the top half of the wonton. Take the eggwash with your finger and spread it along the top edges of your wonton wrapper.

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Then fold the bottom half up and over the top half, pushing out any excess air. Use your fingers to press down firmly on the edges to create a tight seal. You should end up with a triangle with the base on the bottom.

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Take the two corners on the left and right, and fold one over the other until they slightly overlap. Press down firmly to create a strong seal. Repeat until you are out of wonton wrappers. Should yield ~80 wontons.

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Boil a pot of hot water. When water is boiling, add in wontons and allow to boil ~7-10 minutes. Remove wontons from water when they begin to float to the top. Set aside. Serve with hot broth, boiled bok choy, and garnish with green onion, cilantro, and shallot oil.

Enjoy!

 

Rice Congee with Fish

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Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.

When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.

Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!

To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.

Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.

Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours

 1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.

Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.

While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.

Enjoy!