Best Authentic Wontons

The month of May brought several blessings to celebrate.

1. I graduated with my Master’s in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College!

2. I accepted a job offer with America’s Test Kitchen! I’ll be their new Email Marketing Specialist. I start on June 8th, and I can’t wait to return!

3. On the last day of May, I made wontons.

Do you remember my post on Lessons in Chinese Cooking? Well, I finally got around to making wontons, and they came out exceptionally well thanks to Mrs. Chang’s detailed instructions and infinite kitchen wisdom.

When I made wontons with her, we folded them like this:

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Aren’t these beautiful?!

My boyfriend helped catch me in action and take step-by-step photos for how to fold wontons. I shall now impart my wisdom unto you so that you can make the most glorious wontons at home.

Best Authentic Wontons

Filling (same as for steamed pork buns, fyi)

  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped (or 1/2 bag fresh spinach, sautéed, cooled, and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger (chopped or grated)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional ingredient: 1/8 teaspoon of Hondashi (a seasoning of sorts that can be made into a fish stock – adding a little of this brings out the flavor of everything else very well)

Wrapper 

To Make the Filling…

1. Take your ground pork and put it in a medium-large mixing bowl.

2. Chop the scallions, defrosted spinach (or sautéed and cooled spinach), and fresh ginger. Add that to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the sherry, sesame oil, egg, and spices (salt, pepper, and Hondashi if you have it). In this step, add as much liquid as you need in order to make the mixture sticky. You don’t want it too thin (too much liquid/oil) or too dry (not enough).

5. Take your hands (or chopsticks or a fork) and mix the filling together, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Wash your hands and set aside.

How to Fold Wontons

Step 1 for Making Wontons
Step 1

1. Add a small amount of filling to the middle of the wonton wrapper. Fill a small dish with water and set that beside you. Dip your finger into the water and wet the top edge of the wonton wrapper.

Step 2 for Making Wontons
Step 2

2. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper up to meet the wet top edge. Press down to create a seal.

Step 3 in Making Wontons
Step 3

3. Take the now sealed top edge and make a small fold towards you. The fold should hit the top of the meat filling. this ensures a tight seal.

Step 4 in Making Wontons
Step 4

4. Now, grab the left and right side of the wonton wrapper and fold it down so that the two ends meet in the middle. The motion is curved so that by the time your two hands meet, your hands have moved in a half circle meeting at the bottom-most point. Does that make sense? In other words, the wonton should look like your typical tortellini.

Step 5 in Making Wontons
Step 5

5. To create the seal, dip your finger into the water bowl and wet the bottom left inner edge of the wonton.

Step 6 in Making Wontons
Step 6

6. Finally, take the right side and bring it over to the left, creating a seal with the wet left edge. The two ends will not completely overlap, just those inner edges.

The final product should look like this:

My folded wontons
My folded wontons

Don’t worry if it takes a few tries to get the perfect fold. As long as you have a good seal, your filling won’t come out!

To Cook the Wontons

1. Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil.

2. Put as many wontons as you would like into the pot to cook. You can refrigerate the wontons for a day or so, or you can freeze them to use again later.

3. Once the wontons begin to float, let them cook for another minute or so. If there are many wontons crowded into the pot, add an additional minute just to be sure. Then they are ready to eat!

You can simply take a slotted spoon and place the wontons on a plate. Have some soy sauce, sriracha, and sesame oil on the ready for dipping sauces.

OR…and this is my favorite…make the easiest wonton soup ever.

Wonton Soup

1. As the wontons are boiling, grab a clean soup bowl and add your seasonings and fixings. I usually like to chop up one fresh scallion, mince a small amount of fresh ginger, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of sriracha, and a little salt and pepper. You can add almost anything that makes sense. Mrs. Chang had special pickled radishes you can find in an asian foods market, and she also had these little baby shrimps you can find in the asian foods market. This is your chance to get creative!

Ingredients for Wonton Soup
Ingredients for Wonton Soup

2. When the wontons are done, take a slotted spoon and add your wontons. Then, take a ladle and add some of the wonton water into the bowl. Mix it all around, and there you have it! Those seasonings will flavor that water so that it doesn’t just taste like boiled water, trust me.

Easiest Wonton Soup
Easiest Wonton Soup

Have fun with this! Please comment with any questions, concerns, or success stories. Have a wonderful week!

Chinese Cooking Experiment #2: Steamed Pork Buns

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

To start, my boyfriend Bailey wanted to say a few words about what steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao, mean to him:

Shengjian bao is a variant of its cousin, the “xiaolong bao,” or (little basket bun), which is basically a lump of dough filled with pork and vegetables, a favourite foodstuff in my parents’ hometown of Shanghai.  Only the steamed pork buns are lightly fried under water instead of steamed in bamboo baskets.  During my time in Shanghai as a young man, my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would break our nonstop video game marathons by advising us we would be having these buns for lunch.  Dilapidated metal bowls of these steamed pork buns, gravid with tasty broth generated by the action of the steam, would issue from the little café down the street, giving us the energy needed to continue playing on into the night.”

The process to perfect these beauties took much longer than expected. One day I will get them to look picture perfect, but the taste is sure there.

To review, the dough for steamed pork buns is the same I used for the scallion pancakes: frozen bread dough. Can you believe that? Sometimes the things that seem complicated on the outside are, in reality, quite simple when you delve into the process.

In my first experiment, I cut one loaf of frozen bread dough into small pieces and used flour to roll those pieces into balls to then flatten them out into medallions. Unfortunately, the flour made the dough less adhesive, and the pork buns opened up while cooking in the steam. Water got into some of them. It was kind of ugly. Nevertheless, some of them survived, and the filling was juicy with the right flavors.

First Experiment: Pork buns on cutting board unnecessarily floured.
First Experiment = Unnecessary Floured Dough

I cut out flour in my second experiment, letting the dough be pliable and sticky so that the folds stuck together and wouldn’t open in the steam. This post is proof that success was had!

Steamed Pork Buns

Dough

  • 1 loaf frozen bread dough (white or wheat)

Filling

  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped (or 1/2 bag fresh spinach, sautéed, cooled, and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger (chopped or grated)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional ingredient: 1/8 teaspoon of Hondashi (a seasoning of sorts that can be made into a fish stock – adding a little of this brings out the flavor of everything else very well)

1. Start by making the filling. Take your ground pork and put it in a medium-large mixing bowl.

2. Chop the scallions, defrosted spinach (or sautéed and cooled spinach), and fresh ginger. Add that to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the sherry, sesame oil, egg, and spices (salt, pepper, and Hondashi if you have it). In this step, add as much liquid as you need in order to make the mixture sticky. You don’t want it too thin (too much liquid/oil) or too dry (not enough).

5. Take your hands (or a fork if it grosses you out, but using your hands is so much fun!) and mix the filling together, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Wash your hands and set aside.

6. Thaw loaf of frozen bread dough according to package instructions.

7. With a serrated knife, cut the bread dough into small strips about 1 inch wide.

8. Roll each strip of bread dough into a ball. Set each ball of dough on your cutting board. It’s going to be sticky, but that’s what you want so the bun folds well!

9. Take one ball of bread dough and roll it out into a medallion a little over a quarter-inch thick. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can flatten it with your hands.

10. Place a small portion of your filling in the center.

Filling the Pork Bun
Filling the Pork Bun

11. Now, to fold the pork buns, lift up one edge of the medallion with your thumb and pointer finger towards the center. With your other hand, take the edge to the right and have that meet the first. It’s hard to explain in writing, but think about the crimping process for pie crust. Keep taking small portions of the edge and folding them up to meet in the center.

Folding the Pork Bun
Folding the Pork Bun

12. Once all the edges are folded into the center, twist the dough on top so there is no chance of it opening in the steam.

Pork Buns Ready for Steaming
Pork Buns Ready for Steaming

13. You will need a large pan with a lid to cook the steam buns. The process is the same as making scallion pancakes. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and place the pork buns into the pan.

14. Pour water into the pan so that the buns are about halfway submerged.

15. Cover the pan and allow the pork buns to steam in the boiling water. The pork buns will grow in size, don’t be alarmed!

16. Once you see that the water is about evaporated, turn the heat down to low and let the pork buns brown on the bottom. Some may have already browned before you turn the heat down. Just check each bun using a pair of tongs and cook accordingly.

17. When the pork buns are browned on the bottom, they are ready to eat. A crispy bottom with a little char is perfect.

You can dip the pork buns in soy sauce or in a Chinese vinegar. Bailey’s family uses Zhenjiang vinegar. Another fact that is good to know – this filling can be used in wontons to make wonton soup. Genius.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the process of making these, especially when it comes to folding them!

Chinese Cooking Experiment #1: Scallion Pancakes

Last night I delved into Chinese cooking experimentation (while Mrs. Chang’s advice is still fresh in my mind). First up – scallion pancakes!

True confession: I did not discover scallion pancakes until I went to Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston’s Chinatown last January. My boyfriend took me there on a date and ordered them for us. I sat there quite confused, imagining your typical Hungry Jack breakfast pancake with scallions. When the waiter brought the pancakes to our table, my eyes widened in surprise. With one bite you are immediately hit with fresh scallions warmed to perfection within the dough. I sometimes lose the flavor of scallions when I sauté them too much, and sometimes too many fresh scallions in a salad can make them too pungent. Scallions were just made to be put into a pancake like this (in my humble opinion). And the pancake magically has these doughy layers reminiscent of flaky biscuits, though it’s not exactly the same thing. Wondrous!

I know. It’s tragic how long I went without them.

So, if you have never had the immense pleasure of eating scallion pancakes, never fear! A recipe is here.

To remind you from my previous post, here is the picture of Mrs. Chang’s scallion pancake.

Mrs. Chang's version of scallion pancakes
Mrs. Chang’s Scallion Pancakes

Scallion Pancakes

  • 1 “loaf” of frozen bread dough
  • 1 bunch of scallions, washed and chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sesame oil
  • black or white sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 large pan with a cover (for cooking)

1. Thaw frozen bread dough according to the package’s instructions.

2. Cut the bread dough into thirds. One loaf of bread dough makes about three good sized pancakes.

3. On a wooden board or cutting board, roll out the first piece of dough until it resembles a round pancake, about one-quarter to one-half inch thick. It will help if you flour the surface on which you are rolling and flour the bread dough itself so that nothing sticks!

4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and sesame oil (about the size of a nickel will do) on the pancake’s surface. Spread that sesame oil around so it covers the entire pancake.

5. Take your chopped scallions and sprinkle them on top as well. You can add as much or as little as you’d like. In my opinion, the more the better!

6. Now, roll up the pancake long ways as if you were making cinnamon buns. It should look like a thin log at this step.

7. Take both ends of the rolled up pancake and join them together to make a circle. The pancake is now going to look like a bagel without the large hole in the middle. The dough is going to want to separate here and be that log again, but you want it to be a pancake! With your fingers, smoosh the separated parts of the dough together so that the pancake stays round with no gaping holes.

8. If you want to add sesame seeds to the pancake, you will sprinkle them on top of the pancake at this point. Then, take your rolling pin and roll the pancake out again so that it’s about one-half inch thick.

9. Repeat the previous steps for the next two pancakes.

10. Put some olive oil (or the oil of your choice – canola, coconut, etc.) in the pan and turn the heat on high. Place the scallion pancakes in the pan.

11. Add water to the pan so that the pancakes are submerged about halfway.

12. Cover the pan and let the pancakes cook until the boiling water evaporates. Then turn down the heat to medium-low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides. Watch them carefully here! Once the pancakes are browned, they are ready to eat.

My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes
My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes

That’s it!

Things I Learned

1. I would turn the heat down a little bit before the water evaporates (around 1-2 minutes before, perhaps). I had a few pancakes start to brown before all the water evaporated, making some of the bottoms burn too much for my liking.

2. Adding sesame seeds to the dough adds another level of flavor that I’d like to try next time. This recipe is still tasty without them, though!

Stay tuned for my next experiment in Chinese cooking: steamed pork buns!

Lessons in Chinese Cooking

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a restful, joyous holiday season full of delicious food. My immediate family resides in Ohio, so I was there for about 10 days delighting in family recipes. This holiday was different for me, however, as I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time! His parents are from Shanghai and have resided in Atlanta for a long time now. His mother has the reputation for being an amazing traditional Chinese chef, so I was even more elated with the opportunity to bond and learn a few things from her repertoire!

My flight was delayed four hours, but this did not deter me from missing lunch. Thank goodness.

First, I witnessed Mrs. Chang make scallion pancakes. Her version is a little puffier than you’ll find in Chinese restaurants, but the flavor is the best I’ve tasted. She uses bread dough, fresh scallions, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil to create this masterpiece. The pancakes are placed in a skillet with a little olive oil and water. The pan is then covered so that the pancakes steam until the water evaporates. The heat is then turned on low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides without getting burned. Note: I am going to attempt these recipes for myself and then provide the full recipe on the blog to be sure I convey the best tips and tricks.

Scallion pancakes
Scallion pancakes

Then I watched as she created steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao. She used the same dough for these as for the scallion pancakes. The dough was broken apart into small balls and rolled out to be round and flat, about the size of a typical sand dollar and about a quarter inch thick. The main ingredients for the filling include ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallion, sherry, one egg, salt, and pepper. From what she told me, I am going to recreate these myself and post the recipe with exact ingredients and measurements. She put a small amount of the ground pork filling in the middle, and then made folds upwards that met in the middle. The buns are cooked the same way as the scallion pancake, with oil and water until the water evaporates, and then the bottoms are browned on lower heat.

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

The next day she taught me how to fold wontons and make wonton soup. Mrs. Chang used Twin Marquis wonton wrappers from the Asian supermarket. These have the same filling as the steamed pork buns. You just put a little filling in the center of the wrapper. Take a little water and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper “hamburger style” up so that it meets the dampened edge. You then fold the top edge in towards you, and finally fold the two sides down so that they meet at the bottom. You wet one of the edges and then press them together. They kind of look like Italian tortellini! The wontons are then boiled in water until they float to the top. In the meantime, take your bowl and add salt, pepper, sesame oil, fresh scallion, and fresh ginger. When the wontons are done cooking, all you do is ladle the wontons with the hot water into your bowl. So easy!

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Finally, one of the best lunches we had there included a roast chicken stuffed with fried rice. Oh my goodness gracious. The chicken was marinated overnight and came incredibly tender. The fried rice absorbed the flavorful juice from the chicken – need I say more? Again, once I gather exact measurements and ingredients, all will be revealed on how to make this!

Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing
Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing

What new things did you learn while cooking over the holidays? I hope these discoveries inspire some of your culinary adventures in this new year!

Restaurant Review: Mei Mei

Three words: scallion pancake sandwiches.

Say no more.

Boston Magazine’s “Boston’s Best Restaurants” series has become a sort of bible for me as I discover my city’s culinary stars. When I saw their entry for Mei Mei, my mouth immediately and involuntarily watered at the sight of scallion pancake sandwiches. The restaurant’s main location is on Park Dr. by the St. Mary’s T stop on the C-line. However, Mei Mei is best known as a food truck. Alton Brown was just here to try it, so I have additional proof that this place is the bomb (dot) com.

I went to Mei Mei’s Park Dr. location with a dear friend of mine for lunch. We are both Master’s students and are both in need of wholesome comfort food. Behold:

The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters
The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters

I ordered the porco rosso sandwich. A thin, yet perfectly dense scallion pancake is filled with applewood smoked ham, ginger-scallion ricotta, cranberry hoisin sauce, and fresh mixed greens. The tartness of the cranberry balances the richness of the ricotta. Add the smoky meat and the spicy kick of ginger in the ricotta, and you have yourself a one-of-a-kind combination of flavors with each bite. Be warned: the sandwich can be extremely messy while eating; but don’t worry, it is so worth it. The sandwich is light, yet filling enough to satisfy your hunger.

Now, about those sweet corn fritters. Imagine fried balls of the moistest cornbread imaginable (they use Four Star Farms cornmeal batter). Sweet yellow corn kernels are balanced by the savory flavor of the oil in which it was fried. The fritters are served with sriracha aioli and fresh chopped scallions. It’s sweet and spicy perfection.

If you are looking for an innovative twist to Chinese cuisine, look no further than Mei Mei. I will most certainly be back to taste more of their mouthwatering menu.