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.
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.
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
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.
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.