Wonton Ways Transcript

Harry's Farmers Market

    [enters and pushes a grocery cart around while taking groceries off the shelves as he goes] Behold, the great American Mega-Mart. At no time in human history have so many edibles been available to the general population. But did you know that the average American shopper has a list of fewer than a hundred items from which he or she rarely deviates. To put that into perspective, consider the fact that this store has that many different kinds of canned soup.
    Why is this? Well, I think weíve lost our sense of curiosity, of wonder. Weíre so busy focusing on our shopping list, that we donít allow ourselves to discover new ingredients. And that is a crying culinary shame. Because as you run your usual circuit from cereal to sour cream, you may be walking right past something that could change your culinary life.
    The cure? Just stop. Stop. [stops the cart and steps back] Step away from the cart. Look around. Look for something that youíve never seen before, that youíve never tasted or used before. Take take these wonton wrappers. Now I used to pass these by without a second thought. But now I really canít live with out them. Sure they look innocuous enough, but inside this little envelope lurks a culinary currency capable of converting any standard stuffing into cultured cuisine. You can bake them, broil them, fry them, sautť, steam them whatever. The secret is out, or at least weíre going to let it out.
    Stick around as we discover more about this treasure of the mega-mart exclusively on ... [cut to opening montage]

Wong's House of Food: Atlanta, GA - 12:15 pm

GUEST: Restaurant Waitress

    You know, the word 'wonton' is actually an Anglicized version of a Cantonese phrase "guangdong" [wŗhn-tAn] which means "cloud swallow". ...

RW: [enters and hands AB a plate of wonton soup]
AB: Ooh thank you very much.

... Itís a moniker which makes some sense when you look into a bowl of wonton soup, a dish with which most Americans are familiar. They do look a little bit like clouds ... kind of ... sort of ... maybe.
    But wonton wrappers have many other uses besides 'cloud swallows'. I mean weíve got pot stickers, steamed dumplings. Heck, even those noodles that they serve for your hot and sour soup can be made simply by cutting wonton wrappers into strips and deep frying them.
    Like fresh pasta, wonton wrappers are made with flour, salt, egg, and water. So, why not make your own at home?

[the walls open up behind AB and we find we're actually in his kitchen]

The Kitchen

    Iíll give you two reasons. One: itís almost impossible to make the noodle dough thin enough even with a pasta machine. And two, when the temporal chips are downómeaning Iím out of timeóIíd rather spend my time working on the payload rather than the missile, if you get my drift? Well, you will.
    Since a lot of things look like wonton skins that arenít wonton skins, we should take a little bit of time for product review. Actual wonton skins or wrappers usually come in packages of sixty to seventy three inch squares. Now I dig the square shape because I think itís versatile and easy to use. But if you just got to have round, look for gyoza wrappers or pot sticker wrappers. Theyíre exactly the same thing as wonton wrappers but only they are round.
    Now, going up in size weíve got spring roll wrappers and even larger egg roll wrappers. Now they are not exactly the same recipe as wonton skins; theyíre not as flexible as wonton wrappers and theyíre harder to seal. So I donít use these for dumpling type applications.
    Moving on up, weíve got rice paper which is a brittle translucent cousin of the wonton skin. Itís ideal for steaming, but you have to soak them before you use them. And you donít keep them in the fridge and they are not interchangeable with wonton skins. Neither are moo-shu shells which are usually called Chinese tortillas because they have so much in common with their South-of-the... Sorry. That would be our south-of-the-border kin. Tort... Well, you know what I mean. Iím sticking with these [wonton skins].
    [AB does the following monologue on a unicycle] The Chinese desire to achieve balance in all things, culinary and otherwise: yin-yang, dark-light, great taste-less filling. Now in a wonton, this is all wrapped up in the principal of fan tsai [Hsi‚o Phan?]. Fan or starches and grains need to be balanced by the tísai, that is the meats and the vegetables. By definition a wonton has perfect fan tsai thanks to its balance of filling verses wrapper, thoughtful flavor combinations and the contrasting kou gan or mouth feel. Now the perfect pot sticker, for instance, has both a crusty golden surface and a plump moist body. Of course, the only way to achieve this is to go against every natural instinct and actually encourage the food to stick to the pan.

    First, the payload software. We have 1/2 pound of ground pork, 1/4 of a cup of chopped scallions or green onions, one egg lightly beaten, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped bell pepper ... doesn't get it all in] oops ... one and half teaspoons kosher salt, one half teaspoon of freshly ground black pepperóand I do mean freshly ground. Weíve got one teaspoon light brown sugaróyou can use the dark brown if you likeó1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, and finally 2 teaspoons of ketchup and one teaspoon of mustard. Iím just going to eyeball that. Now we need to mix and the best tool for this, your hand. Put on the glove for your protection.

1/2 Pound Ground Pork
1/4 Cup Chopped Scallions
1 Egg Lightly Beaten
2 Tbs. Finally Chopped Red
    Bell Pepper
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper
1 tsp. Light Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. Ketuchup
1 tsp. Yellow Mustard

    [voice over] I like to keep my wonton wrappers covered with a moist paper towel so that they donít dry out. Place it before you and then wipe two edges with water. Thatíll become glue later. And then place a mere half teaspoons in the middle. I like to use a melon baller for that. Squeeze to seal. Be sure you push out as much of the air as possible. If you donít, itíll expand and blow up later during the cooking process. Thatís not good. Then we do the final pleat, two on each side. Aww. Itís cute.

1/2 tsp. Filling

    One of the really cool things about wontons is how fabulously fast they can go from freezer to fry pan, usually with little or no thawing. If you want to look at a long-term storage solution, just freeze them on the pan and then move them to a zip top bag. You can store them, in the freezer at least, for at least six months.

For Chinese New Year, silver coins are placed inside wontons for good luck.

The Kitchen

    When itís time to execute your pot stickers, heat your largest skillet or fry pan over medium heat. Now you donít want to use a non-stick pan here because if you do, the pot stickers wonít stick and then they wonít be pot stickers. You follow? Okay.

    How do you know the pans hot enough? [he appears to throw some water onto the the hot pan] When the water jumps around like that, then you know that the pan is plenty hot. There.

12 inch Sautť Pan

    Now brush on a very, very thin layer of vegetable oil very quickly. Not much, we donít want a sautť. And invite eight to ten pot stickers to the party. Do not over crowd the pan or the heat will drop and you wonít get enough heat to stick. Let these sit without touching them for two full minutes, okay?. No matter what you see or hear or think is going on in this pan just, just walk away.

    Two minutes is up. Letís see if weíve got stickage. Indeed we do. Cemented to the bottom. How will we release them? Chicken broth. Chicken stock, you can use either. You could even use water, but it doesnít bring much flavor to the party. Iíve got a third of a cup here Iím going dump it on and immediately clamp on the lid. Ready? One third cup of chicken broth. Reduce the heat to low and walk away for another two minutes. [his glasses fog up due to the steam] Whoo, Iíve got to clean my glasses.

1/3 Cup Chicken Broth

    Two minutes have passed and look, Iíve been in crafts class. Of course we need a place to keep our pot stickers hot while we cook the rest of the batch, so I made my own little aluminum foil wonton which I'll stash in the oven.
    So lid comes off. And see how they deflated right away. That gives us the characteristic wrinkle of a pot sticker. If youíve ever seen those in a Chinese restaurant, thatís the sign that weíve done things right. So Iím just going to scoop them up. Be gentle, just because theyíve let go once, doesnít mean they wonít reapply themselves to the bottom of the pot. Do not turn the heat off, because weíre going go with another batch right away. That one stuck a little bit, but thatís all right. Take your time. Always approach, approach the pot sticker from the back. Be careful how you hold your cone. There we go. Now, Iím going to seal this and put these into the oven. And before we do another back, Iím going quickly to deglaze or clean the pan with water so itíll be ready the next batch.
    Mmm. Dip in a little hoisin sauce or a maybe some soy mixed with honey and I promise you youíll never order Chinese take out again. Well not very often at least. Of course, whoís to say that we have to stick with Chinese flavors here? I mean, I can think of a dozen other cuisines that would perfectly fit in with the wonton treatment.

Empanada is the Spanish version of a wonton.

Steam Room

GUEST: W, Equipment Specialist

    You know, steaming is an excellent way to create healthful wontons without sacrificing texture or flavor. But if weíre going to contemplate steaming, weíre going to have to contemplate steamers.

AB: W, what do you have for us?
W: A bamboo steamer. Itís been used for several millennia in China and works quite well.
AB: Really. You know my problem with these has always been the fact that they fall apart, you canít put them in the dishwasher and the bamboo harbors not only bacteria, but flavors from everything that you cook in it. Nope. Got anything else?
W: Sure. Two thousand years of tradition just not good for you, huh?
AB: Nope, nope.
W: All right, we have a stainless steel steamers just like the bamboo steamer only except itís efficient, easy to clean and cooks a lot of food at once.
AB: Wow. The problem with these is that theyíre really loud and theyíre generally pretty expensive and they take up a lot of space and you know steel can get so hot that Iím afraid it will actually burn the outside of the wonton and make them tough before the steam has done itís job. Nope. Donít like it. Got anything else?
W: Ah, multi-tiered electric steamers. Dishwasher safe, easy to use and comes in lots of sizes.
AB: Looks like, looks like my daughters humidifier. You know even if I had the space on the counter for this, what if I lose one of these fifty parts? I mean this thing is like taking a car apart. And these, these kind of timers, these are really irritating because theyíre almost always inaccurate and that can be a really bad thing when dealing with wontons. No, I don't think so. What else you got for me?
W: What else? No. This is it. Unless you want to make one those stupid things that you...  You do! You want to make one of those stupid contraptions. You had me bring all this stuff ... these things  ... in this ...  in here ...  in that. Give me that! Give me that. Iím outta here.

[someone off camera whistles]

W: Animal! Youíll hear from my lawyer!

The Kitchen

    Odds are good that everything that you need to make your own multi-layered steamer is in already in your kitchen, or at least at the grocery store. The secret? Perfectly perforated pie pans. The disposable kind. With spacers in between. You can use either pastry rings or tuna cans with both the top and bottom cut out. In the bottom the pot, a half an inch of water.

    The focal point of our next filling is firm tofu, a half-pound block of it in fact. But before we can work with it, we need to wring out some of the moisture that it was packaged in. So we first make a cut horizontally across the curd and lay it open and scoot it on to some paper towels. You can do this on a tea towel too. There we go. Now, simply layer the paper towel over thusly, folding, flip it over so that most of the paper towel will be on the bottom, add a little weight on top of something flat like a colorful platter, and leave for twenty minutes. Meanwhile we can contemplate another ingredient.

1/2 Pound Firm Tofu

Wontons are more than likely Chinaís most
ancient type of dumpling, dating back to 206 B.C.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 2:35 pm

GUEST: Shopper

SHOPPER: [places lettuce in her cart, looks at her list and moves to find more produce]

    [sneaks up to the cart and begins pushing it around] The peppery yet slightly sweet flavor of ginger makes it a prime time player in Asian cuisines and of course in certain traditional English cookies. Ginger comes in many forms. Weíve got ground, pickled, crystallized. But our interest is in the fresh rhizome from which this popular ornamental springs. Now when shopping you want to pick out a heavy hand, thatís what this rhizome is called. It should have a fresh spicy fragrance and smooth skin. Unlike certain middle aged television personalities, a wrinkly rhizome is past itís prime. It should be avoided.

S: [pears over produce at her cart]

    Now to keep this fresh, store it in the fridge, wrapped a paper towel inside a plastic bag. There youíll probably get about three weeks out of it. If you want to get three months just seal it up tight and toss in the freezer. Oh, do not try substituting this [rhizome] with this [ground ginger]. The ground is okay in deserts, but it will not work like fresh in wontons. Oh, if your lucky enough to shop in a store that has young ginger, just keep in mind that, well, thatís exactly what it is, young. So the flavor is going to be a little bit more subtle than it is in the mature version. You can use them interchangeably youíre just going to have to use more of this. [takes a bite of teh ginerbread man] Mmm.

S: [stands behind AB and leers]
AB: [hands the cookie to S] Here you go. Excuse me.

Crystallized ginger has been cooked in a
sugar syrup and coated with a coarse sugar.

The Kitchen

    Now, time to assemble the payload for out vegetarian wonton. We have one-half pound of firm tofu cubed, one-half cup grated carrot, one-half cup shredded Napa cabbage. And please buy the Napa stuff. Donít use regular green cabbage. It wonít be the same. Two tablespoons of scallions chopped fine, two tablespoons of finely chopped red pepper, two teaspoons of fresh minced ginger, one tablespoon of fresh chopped cilantro, one tablespoon of soy sauce, and one tablespoon of hoisin sauce. This is a sauce you can find in the Asian section of your local mega mart. Two teaspoons of sesame oil which youíll find right next to the Hoisin sauce. One teaspoon of kosher salt, one-quarter teaspoon of black pepper, again ... well you know. And one egg lightly beaten. This is just to bring the mixture together and to keep it from falling apart inside the wrapper. Now we need to bring this together, but unlike our previous filling, we donít want to squish this one up or else the tofu will fall apart. So lightly stir.

1/2 Pound Tofu Pressed &
1/2 Cup Grated Carrot
1/2 Cup Shredded Napa
2 Tbs. Scallions Chopped
2 Tbs. Finely Chopped Red
    Bell Pepper
2 tsp. Fresh Minced Ginger
1 Tbs. Fresh Chopped
1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
1 Tbs. Hoisin Sauce
2 tsp. Sesame Oil
1 tsp. Kosher-Salt
1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper
1 Egg Lightly Beaten

    So, weíll remove another skin from our little safety spot. But instead of only wetting two sides, this time we will wet all four edges of the skin. About half a teaspoon of the tofu filling goes in the middle. Fold two of the opposing corners together then the other two corners together squeezing out the air and creating four seams. Thatís it.
    Our tofu dumplings are complete, but we still have one pre-steam maneuver to accomplish. And that is weíve got to lube up these pie tins or they will definitely stick to those wonton skins. Iím just going to give them a quick blast of no stick spray and Iíll do this somewhere else.

[places 5 wontons in each pie plate with a ring in the middle, on top of which he places another plate until he reaches the top of the pot]

Cover & Steam For 10 to 12 Minutes

    Mmmm. I like to set my little purses afloat in chicken broth, but you can serve them however you like. Now, I know what youíre thinking, "Hey whenís he gonna fry something?" Well, Iíve been waiting for desert.

    [voice over] Combine a quarter of a cup of sugar with a quarter cup of water in a small saucepan or saucier. Bring that to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. We just want to dissolve the sugar here.

1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Water

    In the meantime split and scrape one vanilla bean. Remove the newly born syrup from the heat, stir in a tablespoon of orange liqueur and the vanilla bean insides.

1 Vanilla Bean, Scraped
1 Tbs. Orange Liqueur

    While the syrup cools down, we will contemplate six ounces of dried pears. [holding a dried pear up] "Mr. Van Gough we found your ..." Oh, never mind. Weíve got to chop these up, but theyíre pretty sticky because of the sugar content, so you might want to use a glove. And make sure you keep your fingers out of the way. I usually stack up about three. And donít chop down, slice across them, youíll find the going a lot easier.

6 Ounces Dried Pears

    You can use just about any dried fruit that you got around. Iím using pears though, well, because thatís what Iíve got laying around and they taste good. Now, move these to the work bowl of your food processor. I know what youíre thinking, why not use the food processor in the first place? Well, when these pears are whole they are so sticky that they just grab hold of the blade and spin. You really donít get anywhere. Once theyíre chopped however, theyíll chop even finer. So pulse a few times, just until they get clumpy and then add the syrup. Just dump it right on top. And pulse until smooth.

Dim Sum the original Chinese ďbrunchĒ,
consists of a variety of dumplings and wontons.

The Kitchen

    Last, but by no means least, one and a quarter ounces of chipped walnuts, toasted first please. Thatís about a quarter of a cup. Now weíre going to put that in a bowl and add the pear mixture. Now youíre probably wondering, well, why not chop the nuts in the food processor? Well, because we turn them into walnut butter. Which is good, but another show.
    Now since the syrup is still a little on the warm side, stash this in the refrigerator for at least one hour before you make your dumplings, wontons, whatever. You could do this a day ahead but I wouldnít go any more than that or the mixture will dry up and get gummy. And thatís not good eats.
    This time weíre going to build things just a little bit differently. Place the wonton wrapper on the top of your fist and push the center down into the little hole between your fingers. Dab on a little bit of water and a little bit of filling. Then crimp around the filling being careful to get out the excess air and flare out the edges. There.

    As soon as all your perfect little purses are stuffed and twisted, cover them with a moist paper towel and set them aside while youíre oil heats up to 360 degrees.


 And when I say oil I mean half a gallon of either vegetable or peanut oil. Now you could certainly do this in an electric fryer if you like, but I kind of like using this wide Dutch oven because it allows for more circulation and more movement which means the dumplings are going to cook a lot faster and they insure that they donít stick together. Also gives me an opportunity to use my favorite analog thermometer which never tells me a lie.
    Now I want these to be all done at the same time, so Iím going to put them all in at the same time via this wire strainer or spider as they call it. Iím going to add about eight at a time here. That will prevent the temperature of the oil from dropping too dramatically. Weíre talking about two minutes. Iím going to set that, but Iím really going to use my eyes cause Iím looking for golden brown and delicious and itís hard to know exactly when thatís going to be.

    Oh, one another thing you will need is, of course, a landing spot. And whenever I deep fry, I like to use a cooling rack turned upside down on some newspaper. I think that is a better device for wicking oil from away from the food.

Sheet Pan Lined with Newspaper Topped With A Rack

    There we go. Poke them around to make sure they donít stick. As soon as the food goes in, youíll probably notice a bit of a temperature drop, so youíll to boost the heat a bit recover to 360.
    Thereís exactly what Iím looking for: golden, brown, and delicious. Now let them drain, thereís a good bit of oil caught on there. And deliver them to their final resting place. Well not final, but close to final.

Sweet wontons are great with ice cream.
All this goodness is possible because we ...

Harry's Farmers Market

    ... we took the time to explore our mega-mart. Now I hope you will all proceed in a safe and orderly manner to your own grocery stores. If you are willing to take a little time and to toss aside your shopping list blinders, I promise right around that next end cap youíre going discover some new and exciting good eats.

Transcribed by Danita A.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010