Saturday, June 04, 2005

Wontons - Swallowing Clouds

Recently, I picked up this book called "Swallowing Clouds - A Playful Journey through Chinese Culture, Language and Cuisine" by A.Zee. It is a delightful book, written in an engaging manner as Zee invites the reader to learn various written Chinese characters found in the names of Chinese dishes. There are highly interesting and humorous anecdotes on Chinese cooking and dishes which pepper the entire book.

I must admit that before I read the chapter on wontons, it had never crossed my mind to make my own wonton for after all wontons are one of the most common food items in Singapore. Even in Western countries, as long as there is a Chinese restaurant in the city, you can bet that wonton noodles or soup is on the menu. And yet I found myself in the kitchen this afternoon, testing my wontons-wrapping skills!

Wontons in the Rawwontons in the raw

But first, all wontons require a good clear broth to sup from. Using 4 chicken carcasses, I boil them in a stockpot together with about 10 slices of ginger (smashed, for the flavors to come through), sprigs of spring onions, and about half a cup of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine. After bringing to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for between 2 to 3 hours. According to Zee, traditional wonton stock should be "broth clear, taste thick" transliterated from the Chinese saying "tang 汤 qing 清, wei 味 hou 厚". Good clear tasty stock, with no additional MSG flavoring.

Wonton fillings are usually minced pork and prawns, but when at home, there are no rules, and my wonton fillings were made of 250g minced pork, 250g chopped prawns (I prefer not to mince them as I like to taste chunks of prawn in my wontons), 200g diced Chinese black mushrooms (dried mushrooms softened after soaking in water for 10 minutes or so), 100g peeled and diced water chestnuts (ready-peeled ones can be found in the supermarkets). Place all of the above ingredients in a big mixing bowl together with 2 tbsps of light soy sauce, 2 tbsps of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp black pepper and 2 tbsps cornflour. Mix to combine.

After that, the really fun part begins - place filling in the center of the wonton wrappers, moisten the edges of wrapper with water and fold into little gold pouches. Thought mine looked pretty good for a first-timer! To cook the wontons, bring a pot of water to the boil, add the wontons which should cook in about 5 to 6 minutes by which time, they will float to the surface. Remove and place in bowls. As I like to eat my wontons with some green vegetables, I cook the 'chye sim' (Chinese spinach) in the chicken stock (which I have now brought to a boil as well), and add the vegetables to the bowls. Then pour steaming hot stock into bowls and garnish with chopped spring onions.
swallowing clouds
Swallowing Clouds
Homemade wontons taste great. The wheat flour wrappers become translucent and slippery as they slide and slither down your throat, one bite into the filling and and you can't wait for the next bite - succulent, juicy and tender minced pork made sweet by the diced prawns, mushroom-and-wine flavored, and don't forget the chestnuts which give the filling bite.

As we sat and supped the steaming bowls of wonton, I'm thinking of clouds in the sky, and am convinced that the Chinese language is most beautiful and evocative when describing food. The name "won 云 ton 吞 " transliterated into "swallowing clouds", does give this simple dish a magical quality of its very own.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh dear it is 2am and argh why did i have to come across your blog! i miss that amk crab beehoon so much! arghh! and durian!!!

nice blog, keep posting!

6/06/2005 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Gwenda, yup, staying abroad sucks when local food hunger pangs strike, which is why coming home for holidays is such a BIG THING, not something to joke about to a foodie! Hang in there til your next home break!!

6/06/2005 01:18:00 AM  
Blogger junebee said...

Thanks for the recommendation, I just bought that book. I thought it would be
great for our Chinese-Caucasian kids when they get older. Good for me too! I know some verbal Chinese but only 3 characters (China - Zhongguo, Man - Ren, and Mountain - Shan)

6/23/2005 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi junebee - I'm Chinese but my Mandarin sucks big time. I understand that to be able to read properly any Mandarin publication, I will need to know at least 2000 chinese characters - phew! I only know maybe 50 or so - I have a long way to go. Thus I grab any book that helps me along the way - hope you enjoy it too!

6/23/2005 11:10:00 AM  

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