Wednesday, January 05, 2011


On Monday I wrote about eating Wonton, and mentioned that my readers should expect a recipe on this blog sometime soon. Soon is now.

[RECAP: Wonton (雲吞 'wan tan') are Cantonese soul food. Cantonese are neurotic (in a very good way) about food. If you are in San Francisco, you probably want to go to Hon's Wun Tun House (洪記麵家) on Kearny Street between Commercial and Clay Streets, if you are in Hong Kong, definitely visit the heirs to Scrawny Mak: Mak's Noodle (麥奀雲吞麵世家), 77 Wellington Street - Ground Floor, Central District, HK. (中環, 威靈頓街, 77號, 地下); Mak Man Kee Noodle ( 麥文記麵家), 51 Parkes Street - Ground Floor, Jordan, in the Yau Tsim Mong District (油尖旺區), Kowloon. (九龍, 佐敦, 白加士街, 51號, 地下); Chung Kee Noodle (忠記麵家), 37 Wing Kut Street, Sheung Wan, HK (香港島, 上環, 永吉街, 37號). Hon's in C'town is quite decent, Mak's in Hong Kong is famous. Chung Kee Noodle is actually Scrawny Mak's oldest son's place.]


Wonton are small noodle-skin dumplings, like ravioli or kreplach, filled with either pork or shrimp, often a mixture of both. They are usually served in broth - the ends of the noodly wrapper trail in the liquid like fish or clouds. All of China makes wonton, but only the Cantonese make wonderful wonton.

The difference is in the details: filling - broth - additions - attitude.

Wantan tong-mien: Wonton soup-noodles. Utterly Cantonese.

Dried flounder is more than just a flavour; it's a way of life.

Rather than making your own wrappers, it is best to buy them premade - the quality is virtually the same, and if you live near Chinatown (唐人街 'Tongyan Kai') you can simply buy them by the pound at Hon's. So I shall not discuss how to make the skins, other than to say that if you've made kreplach from scratch, you could use the same recipe for the wrapper.

[2016 ADDENDUM: For more on some of the ingredients, see this post: Dried shrimp cooking fat Chinese girls. Or this one: Cantonese ingredients
Where to buy: Stockton Street, various shops.]

Enough for fifty dumplings

One cup chopped shrimp.
One cup ground pork.
Quarter cup chopped water chestnuts (馬蹄 'maa tai').
One TBS minced parsley (洋香芹 'yeung heung kan') .
One TBS minced cilantro (芫茜 'yuen sai').
One stalk scallion (葱 'tsung'), minced.
Half TBS sherry or rice wine.
Half TBS oyster sauce (豪油 'ho yau').
One Tsp. soy sauce (醬油 'cheung yau', 豉油 'si yau').
One Tsp. sesame oil (麻油 'ma yau').
Half Tsp. cornstarch (玉米淀粉 'yiuk mai din fan').
Half Tsp. sugar (白糖 'pak tong').

[Regarding cup measurements for the shrimp and pork: these are more or less eight ounces or 226 grammes. Trust me on this, I weighed it out recently just to be sure.]

Mix everything, but do not overwork it, as doing so makes the meat tough. The shrimp fragments should be larger than the pork or water chestnut particles, everything else smaller - reason being that you want the 'crunch' of the shrimp, and the lesser ingredients need to be evenly distributed throughout.
Parsley is NOT traditional, but I like the taste, and it's good for the digestion.
Substitutions can be made, for instance the proportion of shrimp increased drastically and the quantity of pork decreased correspondingly.
Instead of water chestnut, chopped rehydrated cloud ear (雲耳 'wun yi') could be used, as they too have a wonderful textural effect.

Note: the amount of pork given above is the equivalent of two fresh Italian sausages. You could actually use four sausages squeezed from their casings for the filling entirely, if you're strapped for time. Radical, and perhaps it qualifies as 'fusion cuisine'.
But it certainly won't be kosher.

Put a dab of filling into each wonton skin, brush the exposed edges with egg wash, and first press two diagonal corners against each other, then bring up the other two corners up to form tails, pressing out the air in the pouch.
The result should look like a purse or hobo's pack.
Place each finished dumpling on a floured plate or tray. It is VERY important that the surface be floured. Otherwise you will rip the wontons when you try to pick them up.

You're making fifty wonton. Whatever you do not intend to use immediately, you can wrap in plastic and freeze.


Two pounds chicken on the bone.
One pound pork on the bone.
Half cup pieces dried flounder (左口魚 'jorhau yu', 大地魚 'daidei yu').
Two TBS dried shrimp (蝦米 'haa mai').
Four quarts (16 cups, approx 5 litres) water.
Quarter cup sherry or rice wine.
Three or four slices ginger.
Half Tsp. white peppercorns.

Roast or fry the dried flounder pieces nicely brown, but do not burn them.
Blanch the chicken and pork briefly in boiling water, drain and rinse well.
Place everything except the dried shrimp in a cauldron and simmer on low for three hours, skimming a few times in the first half hour.
Add the dried shrimp in the last half hour.
Strain very well.

Blanching the meat and bones first prevents overmuch scum, and yields a much cleaner broth.

The dried flounder is the essential Cantonese touch - it will NOT make the broth taste like stinky dried fish, but instead unify the flavours and add a nutty seafood saveur of its own.
Think of it as bouillon base.

Well then. You have your wonton, you've got the broth. What else will you need?


Egg-noodles. These have to be thin and fresh, for the best texture and taste. Fresh egg noodles need about a minute of blanching, whereas dried noodles take between three to five minutes, depending on thickness.
Dried noodles will also have a whiff of lye water.

Vegetables. It is very 'Chinatown' to add a few coarsely ripped baby bokchoi (小白菜 'siu paktsoi') to the bowl of soup, though it isn't traditional. For that matter, neither is adding noodles, and most non-Cantonese are appalled at that innovation, so go right ahead.
The sweet crisp freshness of the tiny greens are a marvelous chiddush.

Meats. Some people like to add some thinly sliced charsiu pork (叉燒) on top of the soup. This is not necessary at all, but no great heresy either. If you choose to do so, use the fattier kind.
I've added chunks of roast duck, which is also delicious.

Garnishes. Garlic chives are traditional in Hong Kong, but regular chives also can. Chopped scallion works too.
Personally I like to dump some cilantro on top.

Dipping sauce. I am a barbarian, I like hot and salty. What works for me is equal parts soy sauce, oyster sauce, chilipaste, and dark vinegar, with a little sugar and finely minced ginger mixed in. If it's too stiff, add some Louisiana hot sauce.
You do not really need a dip for the wontons, but it is always fun to play with your food.


It's supposed to be merely a snack and require only a small bowl, but after going through all the trouble of getting everything ready you aren't going to cook any other dishes.
So go ahead, use the big bowls.

Keep the broth on the back burner, below boiling temperature.

Heat up a large pot of water. When it boils, dump in the wonton. They're done when they all float. Scoop them out and apportion them in the bowls. Gently pour a sufficient quantity of hot broth over them. Put a porcelain soup spoon in each bowl, anchored by the wonton.

Blanch the noodles in the boiling water till toothsome. Immediately rinse them in cold water to stop them cooking any further. Place a skein on top of the wontons in the bowls, top off with a little more broth.

Add whatever else you feel necessary at this point, but it's fine already.

Garnish with chives, or scallion, and cilantro.

Now, go enjoy your wonton soup-noodles (雲吞湯麵 'wantan tong-mien') in front of the television, with one of your legs hurked up on the chair, wearing nothing but pajama pants and a wife-beater.
I would suggest watching a Chinese soap-opera, but you might not have that in your part of the world.
Maybe the discovery channel instead?
Kitten videos?


Right about now you are probably wondering 'why so specific an order to the soup assembly? Why not cook the noodles and wonton IN the broth?'

There are two very good reasons. The first one is that the wonton and the noodles have different cooking times. The second reason is that you do not want the starches that adhere to either the noodles or the wonton to muddy-up your fine broth.

Additionally, it just looks better if the wonton and the noodles form distinct areas in your bowl. That's why the dark green of scallions are, to my mind, a better garnish than the garlic chives commonly used - they're more dramatic, more visually appealing.
For the same reason, three thin slices of charsiu fanned out on top are also pleasing.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


heretically amphibious said...

King of Thai Restaurant adds yow choy and charsiu to their won ton soup, with noodles optional.

The back of the hill said...

Please note - new shark fin post:

Mmmm, delicious shark fin!

Anonymous said...

Really, there is nothing better than the wanton made at home.

Anonymous said...

Make wanton while the sun shines!

The back of the hill said...

"Make wanton while the sun shines!"

And in the dark. Make it whenever it seems right to do so.
I heartily approve, either way.

Need any help?

Towkay said...

All that cilantro, seasoning, water chestnut and/or woods ear makes a Sui Kau not a wonton. And while Sui Kau's are delicious, you have to K.I.S.S. to make a cloud.

The back of the hill said...


A difference of opinion. I can see your point, but while I can appreciate the simplicity that some seek in a wonton, there's a tweeky complexity that appeals at the other end of the spectrum.

My apartment mate's wonton are far more involved than mine. I usually take unorthodox shortcuts, such as simply using Italian sausage instead of pork with all that other stuff. Key thing being to get the proportion of stuffing just right, so that it is neither overdone nor under-cooked when it floats to the surface.

The importance of the broth, however, cannot be overstressed. Good clean broth, made with dried flounder and bones. Nothing else will do.

Summicron said...

It's 1:45am, way past my bedtime but I'm glad I stay up late tonight. You blogged some of the most thorough wonton soup noodle related info and recipe there is out there on the web. I absolutely love a nice of bowl of wonton soup noodles and if I only get to make one recipe, and to make it really well, let that be wonton soup noodles. Thank you very much for sharing.

The back of the hill said...


Thanks! Glad you like it.
Wonton are great with sambal, by the way. Either a plain sambla ulek, or a sambal with blatchang and a squeeze of lime juice.

Even chili paste with a touch of ketjap manis.

Anonymous said...

@ Towkay;

A suikau is ALL SHRIMP! Wontons have pork, shrimp, and crunchy stuff.

Where the hell are you from??!?

The back of the hill said...

Sometimes a mere touch of flounder is best. Instead of half a cup pieces for the broth, you can also use a tablespoon or two of dried flounder powder, which is easy to make.

Fry broken up dried flounder till crisp but not burnt. Put it on paper towels to absorb all the oil. Grind it in a mortar till crumbly -- not too fine, as it will by oily and stick together if you do so.

It can be stored for several weeks in a sealed jar in a cool place.

Use it before it goes funky.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Can you recommend a store in SF Chinatown where I can buy good quality dried flounder? Thank you.

The back of the hill said...

The easiest place is probably the Stockton Street Seafood Center
(蟲草城海味店 'chung-chou seng hoi-mei dim) at 900 Stockton Street, corner of Clay. Same building as Wu Yee Children's Services (護兒兒童服務). Green awning.

Dried flounder (左口魚 'jorhau yü', 大地魚 daidei yü) is usually in the bins near the door.

Many groceries on Stockton Street also carry it, though. There's a row of them on Stockton between Broadway and Pacific, just north of Stark Street (a cul de sac).

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