Throughout my childhood, my grandmother, aunts, and uncles would come over to our house on holidays or the occasional weekend. We'd sit around and wrap dumplings and wontons, cooking them in batches and taking turns eating.
Wontons are small dumplings wrapped in thin wheat flour wrappers. They are usually boiled and served in a broth or sauce. For this recipe, I make a chicken broth with garlic, ginger, and scallions.
The filling in my wonton is a basic one, aromatic without being overwhelming: ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, salt, and black pepper. It’s bound with egg and cornstarch.
I consider wontons to be a weekend project, one where you can get Zen with the repetitive motions while chatting with family and friends. It’s worthwhile to make a double or even multiple batches, allowing you to stock enough in the freezer for a quick meal later.
The Chicken Broth
My mom used canned chicken broth that she heated and ladled into a bowl with finely chopped Tianjin preserved vegetable (pickled Chinese cabbage), scallions, and sesame oil. I’ve noticed that many store-bought broths these days are seasoned with herbs and spices that don’t jive with the Chinese flavors in the wontons.
The broth should have a clean chicken flavor with no prominent vegetable, herb, or spice. I make my own broth with a whole chicken, onion, and the holy trinity of garlic, ginger, and scallions.
I suspect the addition of Tianjin preserved vegetable was my mother’s idea as I haven’t seen others use it, although one of its common uses is in soups.
Tianjin preserved vegetable is a Chinese cabbage from the Tianjin region. It is dried, coarsely chopped, mixed with garlic and salt, and tightly packed into a squat brown crock. It has a salty savory flavor. If you’re not using it, taste and adjust the seasoning of the broth with salt.
The brand of Tianjin preserved vegetables I use comes in a brown crock with the wrapper in mostly Chinese characters. Sometimes the label says Giant Wall, but it’s difficult for me to tell if the ones not labeled as such are the same brand. In any case, there are not a lot of brands to choose from. Look for it in the dry goods section of Chinese markets as well as online.
The Best Wonton Wrappers
The brands of wonton wrappers I see at my local supermarket tend to be too thick and heavy. The ones I buy are sold in the refrigerated section of Asian markets. They should be thin and square. I prefer the Twin Marquis brand square Hong Kong-style wonton wrappers. Shanghai wrappers are thicker.
As a safety measure, buy an extra package of wrappers in case you run into the problem of the wrappers drying out or tearing. If you have extra wrappers, wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and freeze them for another time.
Tips for Perfect Wonton Filling
Stir the filling rigorously in one direction until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off, a minimum of 5 minutes. The mixture should lighten in color and become cohesive, pasty, and sticky.
This robust mixing aerates the mixture so that the filling is smooth and light. This is the task my mother gave to us kids. It was a mindless task for sitting in front of the TV. I’ve heard that you can use a food processor or standing mixer, but I’ve never tried it myself.
Keep the filling mixture cool by portioning it out into smaller lidded containers (plastic pint takeout containers work well). Bring out one container at a time while the rest remain covered and chilled in the refrigerator. If the wrapping process is slow going, hold the container of filling in a small ice bath.
Folding the Wontons
When I first learned how to fold dumplings, at about age 4, wontons were easier than potstickers. For wontons, we used store-bought wrappers. For potstickers, we made the dough and laboriously rolled each out by hand.
My family did not wrap wontons in the ingot- or bonnet-style shape that you get from your local Chinese takeout joint. Our wontons looked more like haphazardly bundled beggar's purses.
Once cooked, they remind me of betta fish with their flowing fins. I was taught that wontons are about the thin smooth slippery wrappers with just a small bite of meat filling; this free-form shape showcases the wrappers better than the stodgier shapes.
Making Wontons: Tips and Tricks
These wontons aren’t too fussy to wrap. There are no fancy pleats and once cooked, they’re indistinguishable from one another. Once you get the hang of it, the wrapping is very quick. It’s fun to get your family and friends involved. Here are some tips and tricks for making wontons:
- Don’t be tempted to overfill the wrappers. It may seem like a level teaspoon of filling is too skimpy, but the meat does expand during cooking.
- Set up the wrapping station before you start to wrap the wontons. Line two sheet pans with parchment or wax paper, or lightly dust with flour. Set the bowl with the wonton filling over a bowl of ice water to keep it chilled while you make the wontons. Unwrap the wonton wrappers and cover them with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out. Fill a small bowl with water—it will be used to seal the wonton wrappers. Have a small plate in front of you unless you prefer to wrap the wontons directly on your hands, a clean table, or counter. It’s also helpful to have a damp paper towel to wipe your fingers clean as necessary.
- The stack of wrappers will dry out if not covered. I cover them loosely with its packaging, but plastic wrap or a damp paper towel will also do the trick.
- Arrange the wontons on a sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper or lightly dusted with flour. Leave enough space between the wontons so that they don’t touch, or they’ll stick to each other. The wontons can be lightly covered with plastic wrap or damp paper towels to keep them from drying out.
- Cook the wontons in a separate pot of water and not in the broth that they will be served in. The wrappers will release starch, making the broth thick, but not in a good way. If you plan to serve a whole batch of the wontons, you may want to have a second large pot of water to boil them simultaneously.
- Don’t toss leftover wrappers or filling. The wrappers can be cut, cooked, and served with the wonton as noodles. If you have extra filling, but not enough to break into another package of wrappers, form them into small patties and pan-fry them. You could also reserve it for an easy stir-fry with green beans or asparagus.
This recipe is for the wontons that I grew up eating and that I make for my own family and friends. Feel free to make use of these perfectly acceptable substitutions:
- Use ground chicken or turkey (preferably dark meat) instead of pork.
- Add chicken stock instead of water to the meat filling. My mother added milk—she thought it was a sneaky way to get milk into us.
- Substitute the Shaoxing wine with dry sherry.
The filling, shape, and size of the wontons vary depending on the region of origin. Here are some variations I enjoy:
- Add chopped raw shrimp to the pork mixture.
- Add chopped shiitake mushrooms or reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms to the pork mixture. If reconstituting mushrooms, add the soaking liquid in lieu of the water into the filling.
- Instead of serving the wontons in a soup, serve them Sichuan-style in a spicy chili oil.
- Deep fry the wontons and serve them with a spicy mustard sauce, sweet chili sauce, or sweet and sour sauce.
Wontons need to be eaten right away and don’t hold well once cooked. If not being served right away, store the uncooked wontons separately from the soup. The wontons will get mushy if left in the soup.
Once you get the hang of wrapping the wontons, it goes by very quickly, making it worth your while to double the batch and throw some in the freezer for a quick no fuss meal. When freezing, arrange the wontons in a single layer, not touching, on parchment-lined or lightly floured sheet pans and freeze until solid. Transfer the frozen wontons to a container with a tight-fitting lid.
A zip-top bag is not recommended for storage as the wrappers are fragile and will break off easily. No need to thaw the wontons before cooking them. Throw them frozen into the pot of boiling water.
More Flavorful Soups to Try
My family rarely ate wonton soup with noodles but when we did, it was with thin egg noodles called wonton noodles. They’re labeled as Hong Kong Wonton Noodles and can be found in the refrigerated section of Asian markets. Baby bok choy is a common addition to noodle soup.
I use Twin Marquis brand wonton wrappers. A package contains about 80 wonton wrappers.
For the chicken broth
1 (4 pound) whole chicken
15 cups cold water
1 medium yellow onion, halved
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 scallions, halved crosswise
1-inch fresh ginger, cut into 1/4-inch coins and smashed
1 tablespoon Tianjin preserved vegetables, finely chopped (optional)
Kosher salt, for seasoning the broth to taste
For the wontons
1 pound ground pork
2 scallions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4-inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 large egg
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting the sheet pan (optional)
80 square wonton wrappers
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Make the broth:
In a large pot, add the chicken and the 15 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. You do not want a hard boil. Occasionally, use a large spoon or skimmer to skim and discard the foam that floats to the top of the water.
Add the aromatic vegetables:
Add the onions, garlic, scallions, and ginger and simmer, skimming the foam occasionally, for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Strain the broth:
Set a large fine mesh sieve over a pot large enough to hold 8 to 10 cups of liquid. Use a ladle to transfer the broth and solids into the sieve. The broth will be easier to strain once you discard the solids, so try to transfer all the solids into the sieve first. If the sieve gets too full, you can discard the solids as you go. The chicken will be mealy so I discard it as well, but you are welcome to keep it for another use if you’d like.
Add the preserved vegetables, if using, and cover the pot, keeping it warm over low heat. If not using the preserved vegetables, season the broth to taste with salt.
If not using immediately, let the broth cool and then transfer it into a lidded container. Refrigerate it until ready to use.
Rinse the same large pot used to make the stock, fill it two thirds of the way up with water, and set it on the stove. You will use it to cook the wontons.
Make the wonton filling:
In a large bowl, add the pork, scallions, garlic, ginger, egg, Shaoxing wine, water, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and black pepper. Using chopsticks or a wooden spoon, beat the mixture vigorously in one direction until lightened in color, pasty, and sticky, at least 5 minutes.
Chill the wonton filling:
Transfer the filling into two small, lidded containers (like plastic deli pint containers) and chill until ready to use. The filling can be used immediately but it will be easier to work with when chilled for about 30 minutes. You will work with one container at a time while the other stays chilled.
Set up your wonton station:
Line two sheet pans with parchment or wax paper, or lightly dust them with flour. Set the container of filling over a bowl of ice water to keep it chilled while you make the wontons.
Unwrap the wonton wrappers and cover them with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel. Fill a small bowl with water—it will be used to seal the wonton wrappers.
Have a small plate in front of you unless you prefer to wrap the wontons directly on your hands, a clean table, or counter. It’s also helpful to have a damp paper towel to wipe your fingers clean as needed.
Bring the large pot of water on the stove to a boil over high heat while you wrap the wontons.
Fill the wonton:
Place a wonton wrapper with a pointy tip facing you either on a plate or in the palm of your non-dominant hand.
Use a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon, to scoop and place a dollop of filling in the center of the wrapper.
Lightly moisten the index finger of your dominant hand with water and run it around the edges of the two sides flanking the pointy tip opposite you.
Seal two tips together:
Gently fold the tip closest to you up to meet the tip opposite you, forming a triangle. Gently press the top tips together but leave the sides open and unsealed.
Pleat the sides:
Use your index finger to push the bottom right corner of the triangle up into a sloppy pleat. Repeat with the left side. You are creating the pleats, but not yet sealing it tightly. Also, make sure the edges are not sealed flat, creating a triangular wonton.
Remove air pockets and seal:
Gather the wrapper around the filling and gently but firmly squeeze together to push out any air and to seal the wrapper around the filling.
Set the wonton aside and repeat:
Set the wonton on the sheet pan with the filling-side down. Press it down gently to flatten the bottom so that it sits upright.
Continue wrapping the wontons and arrange them in a single layer so that they don’t touch. Otherwise, they will stick to each other. Lightly cover the wrapped wontons with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out.
Cook the wontons:
Gently slide half of the wontons into the pot of boiling water. Stir with a wooden spoon to separate them and to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The wontons should freely fan and float around as they cook. Once the water returns to a boil and the wontons rise to the water’s surface, allow them to cook for 1 minute.
Test for doneness:
Scoop out one wonton and cut it open to make sure the filling is cooked through. It should no longer be pink and look raw in the center. If not, allow them to simmer for another minute.
Be careful not to overcook them or they’ll fall apart.
Serve wontons in the soup:
Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to transfer the wontons into bowls. Ladle the hot chicken broth over the wontons, garnish with scallions and sesame oil, and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining wontons.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 56g||72%|
|Saturated Fat 17g||83%|
|Total Carbohydrate 58g||21%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||9%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||32%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|