Monday, July 10, 2017

Wontons in chile oil

Wontons appear all over southern China. In the United States, we most often see them served Guangdong-style, as shrimp and pork packets floating in a pork broth. Near the Yangtze, wontons are much larger and usually served in pale broths with shreds of omelet, laver seaweed (nori), and green onions.

This wonderful idea traveled west into the chile-laden embrace of Sichuan, where simple pork-filled packets are tossed in an addictively nose tingling sauce. Bright green rings of scallion ornament the top in this refined street food. I used to eat this on bamboo stools at the sides of busy alleys

This particular preparation from Sichuan is my favorite. It’s basically a street food, and I have very fond memories of eating it in busy alleys, sitting on a bamboo stool, watching the world bustle by, and luxuriating in the searing oil biting at my lips and tongue before the sweet porky juice popped out and doused the heat. I’d sweat and smile and order another bowl.

As in most Sichuanese dishes, the chile-laden sauce packs a punch, but here it is sensu­ously tempered by the juicy wonton filling. The sauce will also be slightly diluted by the water that clings to the soft wontons. So, serve extra chile oil or even more of the sauce on the side for those who want to sweat a bit.

The setup
This is an updated version of the recipe that can be found on page 298 of All Under Heaven. I love this recipe so much that I am always making it and fooling around with it, so here are some suggestions that will make your days much easier and much more filled with wontons, which is a great way to live your life.

Making the filling in a food processor really is the way to go here, and it also makes this dish incredibly easy.

Be sure to use 2 packages of wonton wrappers, which will give you a nice surplus of wontons to freeze.

Place the wontons on plastic wrap as you finish making them, as this is so much easier than a tea towel – it might not be traditional, but hey, I’m all about evolution. Be sure and mark up your book accordingly!

To freeze the wontons, freeze them as they are on the lined baking sheets, just be sure that they don’t touch each other. As soon as they are completely solid, transfer them to resealable freezer bags. You should toss these frozen wontons directly into the boiling water without defrosting them first.
Lots of seasoning... yay
Wontons in chile oil
Hóngyóu chăoshŏu  紅油炒手
Makes about 180 wontons and serves a whole lotta people

2 inches (5 cm) fresh ginger, more or less
1½ cups (360 ml) unsalted chicken stock, divided into ½ cup (120 ml) and 1 cup (240 ml)
1½ pounds (500 g) ground pork, preferably around 30 percent fat cut of pork, chilled
Sea salt to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons mild rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
3 green onions, white parts only, trimmed and finely minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wonton wrappers:
2 (1 pound, 460 g) packages thin wonton wrappers
Flour for dusting
Sauce (may be doubled)
3 tablespoons red chile oil with toasty bits, or to taste
3 tablespoons light soy sauce, or to taste
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced, optional
Sugar to taste

3 green onions, green parts only, trimmed and cut into thin rounds
Ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns

1. Cut the ginger into roughly ½-inch (1 cm) pieces, then whirl it in a food processor with ½ cup (120 ml) of the stock. Strain the liquid, squeezing out every last drop of ginger-flavored stock into a bowl before discarding the fibrous mass left behind.
Ready to go
2. Place the pork, ginger-flavored stock, salt, eggs, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, the whites of the green onions, sesame oil, and the black pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse in the remaining 1 cup (240 ml) stock in incre­ments so that the pork absorbs all of the liquid. It will be light and fluffy at this point. Chill the filling for an hour or longer, if you have the time, as this will firm it up and make it easier to wrap.

4. Before you start wrapping the wontons, place 2 baking sheets next to your work area, cover them with plastic wrap, and have a couple of extra towels on the side to cover the filled wontons. Place a couple of tablespoons of cool water in a small bowl next to the filling bowl, as well as a flat piece of wood or a small blunt knife. (You’ll use both to wrap the wontons; see the movie below.) If you are going to cook these right away, pour water (at least 8 cups or 2 liters) into a large pot and bring it to a boil just before you are ready to cook. Wrap the wontons as shown below:

6. Mix together the sauce ingredients, taste and adjust the seasoning as desired, and divide the sauce among as many bowls you wish; double the amount of sauce if you really enjoy spicy flavors.

7. To cook the wontons, drop them in small handfuls into the boiling water while stirring with a wooden spoon. As soon as the water returns to a boil, pour in about 1 cup (240 ml) cold water. Bring the pot to a boil again and pour in another cup (240 ml) of cold water. When the pot boils a third time, the wontons should be floating gracefully.

8. Use a Chinese spider or slotted spoon to gently remove the wontons into the prepared bowls, draining off as much of the water as you can. Toss them lightly in the sauce and sprinkle with the chopped green onions and the ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns to taste. Serve immediately.


  1. OMG. This is one of my favorite ever things to eat. The key, imo, is the chile oil.

    1. Totally. We just got back from Chengdu, and the make-or-break at every place, fancy or not, was the chile oil. A couple of places made the most delightfully smoky, subtly hot, delicately numbing oils, while a few just tossed a car battery in with the chiles and called it a day. When done right, this is one of my most favorite meals, too!

  2. Oh Carolyn, this took me straight back to childhood, helping my grandmother make wontons on special Sundays when she wasn't at work at our family's printing factory. The pork mixture is pretty much how she would make it too - but she would add fresh, diced shrimp to it as well to make it more 'springy' in the mouth, in her words. She'd also add rehydrated diced wood ear mushrooms too on occasion. She'd also add the green bits of spring onions for colour!

    When she made shui jiao, however, she would always add diced fresh water chestnuts, shrimp, diced carrots, and wood ear mushrooms along with green and white parts of spring onions - it made for a really lovely mouth feel of textures. Her stock for both wonton and shui jiao though was a concentrated dried anchovy stock to which she'd add some slices of ginger during the boiling process. For serving, she'd put in some choy sum or choy fa, and it was so good I can remember it all these years later.

    1. Sounds like your grandmother was an amazing Cantonese-style cook! I love that you remember these details so that you and your family can enjoy them as part of her legacy. Write these down and share them! :)

    2. Hmmm. I never thought about that, but maybe I should - she really was an amazing cook. She wasn't doing a lot of it by the time I was old enough to remember, but my father and my aunts recall her luo buo gao and how she used to grind spices on our big grindstone that's now in my aunt's house. She also made amazing coconut jam - kaya, in local speech. That one I'll have to try, and then give you the recipe :)

    3. Please, please do hunt down those recipes! Sometimes aunties will have these memories hidden away, or something even written down, if you're lucky. Ask your family how the luo buo gao was made, or even describe it in detail. I'm also jealous of that grindstone... what an heirloom! And yes, I'd love your recipe for kaya - sounds delicious!

  3. Carolyn: I love your blog. I love Chinese food. But I have a question for you -- I am a lover of gau gees, similar to the won tons you posted about. I can never find them here on the CONUS. I get them all the time in Hawaii. So I concluded that gau gees were a Hawaiian/Cantonese concoction but a friend of mine from Guangzhou told me that gau gees are indeed Cantonese in origin -- he even invited me to have dinner at his house and his wife made them for me. If this is so, why can't I find gau gees here on the Mainland?

    1. Thank you, Alan! Gau gee is simply a Cantonese pronunciation of jiaozi: 餃子, but here they mean wontons. (Isn't language fun?) You can find fried wontons in most American Chinese joints, and you can also make them yourself. For example, you could add coarsely chopped shrimp to the filling (don't use a processor after you've added the shrimp, as that will make them disappear), as well as some chopped water chestnuts and oyster sauce. Then, fill each wonton with lots of this and then fold them simply in half to form a rectangle and seal closed. Deep fry in medium-hot oil until golden and puffy.

      I too wish they had good Chinese Hawaiian here on the mainland. Malasadas, long rice, and good haupia cake... that would make my life very happy. Aloha and mahalo!

    2. Thanks for the explanation. You are probably right, but the funny thing is that when I ask for gau gees here, the look at me funny and act like they never heard of that stuff. I like the version with pork, water chessnuts, mushrooms, green onions, shrimp, and cilantro in them and folded into just a big, fat rectangle. I am too lazy to make them since I don't like deep fry frying at home (I like mine deep fried). I also love those jumbo stuffed prawns wrapped in caul fat, rolled in corn starch and deep fried!!

    3. Oh man, you have made me seriously hungry. Those shrimp sound like something I could devour in a minute!

  4. In case you want a surprise: These wontons have been the go-to sunday dish for a family in Uppsala, Sweden, for a couple of months. Just finished cleaning up after dinner - we had the wontons as well as some Mien Kham (vietnamese dish). The 6 and 8 year olds have learnt to make the wontons!

    Thanks for the recipe and cheers!


    1. Thank you, Hans. I'm delighted that you and your family love these as much as we do.

      I'm so impressed that your children make these, too... that's brilliant!