Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crispy wontons with sweet-sour sauce

Here's the column I wrote for Chinese New Year recently.

At Chinese New Year, Chinese families customarily indulge on foods considered to bring wealth and luck.

Orange or gold-colored edibles symbolize money, as do those that are round like coins. But most interesting to me, and the tastiest, are stuffed dumplings, whose shape conjures up a full money bag.

Here for the Year of the Rabbit is a special dumpling, crispy fried wontons and a sweet and sour sauce to dip them in. Wontons usually are stuffed with pork, or sometimes with chicken, duck or shrimp, but I offer a vegetarian alternative, too.

This recipe serves six as an appetizer.

They typically go with beer. Chinese beers, like many East Asian beers, are lager style and fairly low in hops. For wine, try a chilled sauvignon blanc, albariño or dry rosé.

Crispy Wontons

1 package wonton skins (available frozen at Asian groceries)
3/4 pound ground pork or chicken*
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 inch fresh ginger, finely minced
21/2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (available at Asian groceries)
Canola or vegetable oil for frying

Thaw wonton skins in their package, refrigerated for a day or at room temperature for a few hours.

Make sweet-sour dipping sauce (recipe below).

Combine ground meat, cornstarch, sugar, pepper, salt, minced ginger and soy sauce. Add sesame oil and mix well.

Use 24 to 30 wonton skins. Divide filling into the same number of portions. Place one portion in the center of a skin.

Moisten entire edge of skin with a finger dipped in water.

Fold skin diagonally over filling and place the two points a quarter inch apart from each other. Seal up the skin all around, gently squeezing out any air.

The two opposite points at the fold can then (optionally) be stuck together with a bit of water to make a crown-shaped wonton.

Place stuffed wontons on a tray until ready to cook. Cover with a clean kitchen towel.

Heat oil 11/2 inches deep in a wok or small pot to medium hot (test by frying a bit of wonton skin, which should brown in about 20 seconds). Adjust heat up or down as necessary.

Fry wontons 5 or 6 at a time, turning them frequently, until deep golden colored, but not brown. Lift out with a slotted spoon or tongs, and drain on paper towel.

Arrange on a platter, accompanied by dipping sauce in small serving dishes where diners can reach them.

* Note: For a vegetarian version, replace meat with 1 block tofu, frozen, thawed, squeezed out and mashed up with a fork. Increase ginger to 1/2 inch, sesame oil to 1 teaspoon and add 1 small scallion (green onion), finely minced. Several dried Asian mushrooms (shiitake), soaked in warm water 20 minutes, stem discarded, caps minced, also can be added, if desired.

Sweet-Sour Dipping Sauce

6 tablespoons sugar, part of it brown
6 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons apricot preserves or 1 tablespoon tomato catsup
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, bruised
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (available at Asian groceries)

Mix all ingredients except sesame oil in stainless steel or enamel (not aluminum or cast iron) pan.

Bring to a boil, then simmer 30 seconds, stirring.

Remove from heat. Stir in sesame oil. Let cool. Remove garlic.