Jan’s friends from childhood—she has known Barbara since the second grade—are coming once again for the Quilt Festival. One will not eat anything with chunks of cooked tomatoes and the other will only eat chicken or fish. To top it off, Jan has just had two crowns and needs soft foods like soups. How to please everyone?
Earlier this week, I made a “practice” wonton soup for the expected visit of my brother-in-law. I have left over wontons, but they are made with pork. For this weekend, I decided that a chicken wonton soup would fit the bill.
I learned a lot in skimming different recipes and I know the range of choices I can make. For this soup I will coarsely grind the chicken—instead of using finely ground meat from the store. To add vegetables to the wontons I will add garlic chives—one of Jan’s favorites. To add more vegetables to the soup I will add napa cabbage and shiitake mushrooms—I will leave the mushrooms as big pieces so Eilene can easily pick them out.
The broth is almost as important as the wontons in this iconic soup. Some recipes start by making a complex broth from scratch, many recipes used commercial chicken stocks, and one even used only water with a little bit of green onion. I am planning a second meal this weekend—chicken and dumplings—so I bought an entire chicken so that I would have the carcass to make the stock with. I used a mixed technique, using commercial broth to stretch the home made.
The traditional recipes for wontons do not include egg in the filling. In a meat filling, eggs do two things. First, it acts as a binder when you have disparate ingredients that do not bind on their own. The second thing eggs do is make the filling more tender, because—unlike the pork proteins that contract—egg proteins expand as they are heated.
Karl’s Wonton Soup
2 lb. chicken parts
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chunks
2 stalks celery, chunked
½ tsp. Kosher salt
5 cloves garlic, cracked
64 oz. chicken broth
1 inch ginger root, smashed
2 star anise
2 Tbs. shaoxing
2 Tbs. light soy sauce
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
1 lb. chicken dark meat, coarsely ground
2 Tbs. egg, lightly scrambled
1 cup garlic chives, minced
1 green onion, minced
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbs. shaoxing
1 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1 Tbs. corn starch
½ tsp. dark sesame oil
¼ tsp. white pepper
wonton wrappers (square)
6-8 shiitaki or black mushrooms
6-8 napa cabbage leaves, sliced finely (2 cups)
¼ cup green onion tops, sliced finely
1. Lay the chicken parts in a single layer on a lipped baking sheet and broil until they are well browned on all sides.
Tip: When I buy a chicken I usually cut out the back and wingtips. Today, I cut up an entire large chicken—leaving a good bit of meat on the bones. I added the wings to the pan. I saved the breasts for another meal and I ground the thigh and leg meat in my meat grinder for the wontons—the bones, of course, joined the rest in the pan.
2. Heat the oil in a large soup pot and sauté the onions and celery with the salt, until starting to pick up some color, 8-10 minutes.
3. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about another minute.
4. Add some of the chicken broth to deglaze the pot and then add the rest of the broth.
5. Add an 32 oz. of water.
6. During the long simmer a good deal of the water in the pot will evaporate away.
7. Stir in the rest of the soup ingredients—ginger root, star anise, shaoxing, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil.
8. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 3-5 hours.
Tip: The longer the better.
9. Strain the solids from the broth.
Note: Wonton soup is usually served with a clear broth. What to do with these solids is a bit of a thing with me. Most chefs would simply discard these solids, as used up. for this soup I had left a fair amount of chicken on the bones. When the bones were cool enough, I picked out the meat to add to my chicken and dumplings on Sunday.
10. While the soup is simmering, finely slice the garlic chives.
Tip: Garlic chives are a very grass like vegetable. A ¼ inch slice gives you nice, confetti-like squares of green. Leave the last inch near the base behind—it is hard to wash all of the dirt out of the leaf folds.
11. Put the ground chicken in a bowl and add the rest of the filling ingredients and thoroughly mix them together, 5-10 minutes.
Tip: Lightly beat the egg in a small cup and measure out two tablespoons into the filling.
Note: Set the rest of the egg aside to use in sealing the wontons—if necessary you may add a little water to stretch your amount of egg wash.
12. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to meld.
Tip: You should do the same for the remaining egg.
13. Remove half of the wonton wraps, place them on a small plate, and cover them with a damp paper towel.
Note: A wonton wrap is dough that has been rolled out into a very thin sheet. The wraps come in both square and round shapes. They also come in as thicker sheet—these are used when you plan to fry, rather than boil, the wontons—AKA pot-stickers.
14. Arrange the filling, wraps, the egg cup, and a clean plate around a work surface.
Tip: A spoon and a small brush are also useful.
Note: Filling the wontons is a labor intensive process. Traditionally it is a task form many hands—roping your family and/or guests into helping is a bonding experience. Working alone, I found it useful to lay out three wrappers in a row to speed up the process.
15. Lay the wrapper with one side pointing at you.
Note: I am using a traditional Chinese fold.
16. Place a small teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrap.
Tip: Do not overfill the wrappers, any excess filling will ooze out the edges of the wrapper and prevent a good seal. A loose edge might rupture when the wonton is boiled.
17. Brush a thin wash of egg along the edge of the wrapper that is closest to you.
18. Lift the edge that is away from you , fold it over the filling, and align it with the edge near you.
Tip: Forming a humped rectangle.
19. Gently press down on the edge to seal it.
Note: Do not slide your finger over the edges. The wrappers are very thin and will rip easily.
20. Fold the rapper over a second time—towards you—over the edge that you just sealed.
21. Pick the wrapper up by the folded edges and bring them together.
22. Put a dab of egg wash on one corner and pinch the ends together to form a fat rectangle.
23. Lay the filled wonton on the plate and repeat until you are out of filling or wrappers.
Tip: If you are serving the soup as a main dish, you want 6-8 wontons per person. As a starter soup, you want 3-4 per person. You can freeze any remaining wontons for a later meal. Lay any extra wontons on a small tray and set them uncovered in a freezer. Once they have frozen—about 30 minutes—transfer the wontons to a sealable plastic bag.
Note: This recipe makes enough filling to stuff a whole package of 80 wrappers, if you do not over fill them.
24. Stem the mushrooms and put them in the simmering broth.
Tip: Some cooks would use dried mushrooms, rather than fresh—they think the flavor is enhanced in the drying process. I prefer using fresh shiitaki.
Note: Reheat the soup in its own pot.
25, Simmer the mushrooms for 10-15 minutes, until fully cooked.
26. Rinse and cut the napa cabbage leaves—crosswise—into half inch shreds.
27. Set a medium pot of water to a boil.
Tip: Most of the Chinese cooks boiled the wontons separately, so that the surface starch would not thicken and cloud the soup. Only the Western cooks boiled the wontons in the stock.
28. Add the wontons to the boiling water pot and simmer for 6-8 minutes.
Tip: You should boil the wontons and cabbage at the same time so everything is done at the same time.
29. When the wontons float to the surface, continue simmering them for another 4-6 minutes.
Tip: Scoop them out with a spider when they are done and put them on a plate.
30. Add the napa cabbage to the soup and simmer for 2-4 minutes.
31. Scoop the soup, mushrooms, and cabbage into a individual bowl and top the vegetables with the warm wontons.
32. Garnish the bowls with the green onions and serve immediately.