This is a fine recipe that I made for the first time in February 2011. Janet and I are enjoying Chinese food more often now, either by going to one specific local high-end restaurant that is superb or by cooking at home. The general ideas are to eat a more healthy diet for weight control and to enjoy the taste and texture and appearance of foods that are made to perfection, and thus expand our enjoyment, our meal variety and our knowledge. Of course, the real benefit is in learning to do Chinese cooking very well at home, and certainly better than I have done since the distant past.
Good grief! I remember when all we had to choose from when I was young in western PA were canned products like Chun King® Chicken Chow Mein in the supermarket along with dry crunchy things that were sold as noodles. Those excuses for Chinese food were disgusting as they tasted bad and they contained almost no chicken. Thank God I escaped that limited environment! Now back to the present story.
On that behalf I bought a classic book for Chinese cooking that has been around ever since Gloria Bley Miller published it way back in 1966. The title is "The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook©." I found it at Barnes and Noble® for $25 (less with my membership discount) and I was impressed by the encyclopedic nature of the book. I then read parts of the book to learn about the world of ingredients and about how best to do different types of Chinese cooking. I then talked with Janet and we went to a local Asian market that has an unbelievable variety of ingredients used in Asian, African and Hispanic foods. I had a ball, I was excited, and I bought a large variety of ingredients I had never bought before, as I knew I would use them all very soon. I was overwhelmed, seeing too many things to even begin to process them in my mind or even know why, when or how to use them. But I will learn very willingly.
I noted in the book that the recommended seasonings for virtually all the recipes are intentionally on the light side, for in a typical Chinese meal for a family of four there will be four different dishes prepared plus rice. The idea is that no dish is to overpower the other dishes so final seasoning is left to the individual. That actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We tend to think in western cooking that each dish stands alone and should be seasoned according to what makes that dish best. It is food for thought. More important is the idea that the Chinese recipes I provide for your use may seem to be only mildly seasoned. Adjust the seasoning to suit yourself.
I did some reasonable Chinese cooking in the past, but my repertoire was dismally limited. It was limited to Egg Foo Yung, Sweet and Sour Pork and Shrimp Toast.
A final historical note is appropriate before getting to the wonton soup recipe. Back in the early 1970’s I had a great work friend who was Chinese, Dora (Lin) Clark. We often ate lunch in local Chinese restaurants in Wilmington, Delaware. On being invited to Dora’s and her husband Dick’s home for dinner I learned just how unique top quality Chinese cooking can be. Along with a variety of other wonderful dishes Dora served to my wife Pat and me was her own homemade wonton soup. It was delicious! It was vastly better than any wonton soup I ever ate in a restaurant and I never forgot about Dora’s soup.
As you can see, my memory of great food translated yet again into me deciding to make wonton soup before any of the other dishes with recipes in Ms. Miller’s book. The results to my great happiness were wonderful. Janet is really impressed. I am delighted and this is my takeoff point to try many different Chinese dishes.
I begin by providing you a recipe for making the wonton wrappers. You may choose to make them or to buy them in an Asian market for about $2/lb. for 72 wonton wrappers.
Wonton Wrapper Ingredients: (Makes 24 or more wonton wrappers)
2 cups of flour
1 jumbo or two large eggs
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/2 cup of water
Cornstarch for surface dusting during rolling and cutting
Wonton Wrapper Directions:
Sift the flour into a large electric mixer bowl.
Whisk together the eggs, salt and water.
Start the mixer on low speed and gradually pour in the egg mixture. Then increase the speed to medium.
Mix for about a minute. If the dough is too dry it will not form into a ball of dough. If that happens then add one tablespoon of water and mix for an additional minute. Repeat if necessary but do not add too much water overall or the dough will be sticky, and that is not good.
Remove the mixer beater and replace it with a dough hook.
Run the mixer for one to two minutes to knead the dough. The dough should not be at all sticky. If it is then add a small amount of flour, like one tablespoon, and knead the dough for half a minute longer. Be sure the flour is well mixed into the dough. Repeat the flour addition if necessary.
Remove the dough and separate it into four pieces. Flatten the pieces to a thickness of about 1/2" and a width of about 1" and wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for one hour at room temperature. NOTE: I use that hour to make the wonton filling that I will use later, which saves a lot time overall in the making of wonton soup.
I use a pasta maker attachment with my KitchenAid® mixer to convert each dough piece into one about two feet long and four inches wide, and somewhat less than 1/16th inch thick. You may have to roll out each piece of dough with a rolling pin. I recommend doing that using a long piece of plastic wrap on a hard counter surface that has been liberally dusted with cornstarch. You may also want to dust the top surface of the dough while you are rolling it to a thickness of about 1/16th of an inch or less, to facilitate rolling.
Use a sharp knife to cut squares of dough roughly four inches to a side and place each square in a pile, remembering to dust the top of each piece lightly with cornstarch before adding the next piece to the stack.
You are now ready to proceed with making the wonton soup.
Ingredients: (Makes four generous or six normal servings)
36 wonton wrappers
2 ½ cups of ground lean boneless pork chops, roughly 12 ounces total weight.
1 cup of raw or canned vegetables (or more) ground, for the filling (Many different vegetables can be used. I used sliced water chestnuts, bean sprouts, hearts of palm, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and a scallion. Bamboo shoots are also a typical filling ingredient.)
1 tbsp. of Soy sauce
½ tsp. of Sea salt
1 raw egg
¼ cup of water (for an egg wash)
4 cups of water (for parboiling)
6 cups of chicken broth (I used five cups plus one cup of beef broth)
¾ tsp. of sea salt
1 or 2 scallions, finely chopped, including all of the green part
1 tsp. of soy sauce
12 frozen pre-cooked medium size shrimp, shelled and deveined (You can use anything that appeals to you for taste and appearance in the soup. Some folks use slivers of cooked pork. The recipe in the book also used egg strips. I did not.)
2 cups of chopped Chinese cabbage (I remove most of the green leafy area and chop the wide white stems. Also, I used Napa, which technically is not Chinese cabbage.)
Make the wontons first. Use a meat grinder with 1/8" diameter holes. Cut up and grind the pork chops. Cut up and grind the vegetables and mix them well with the ground pork. Add the sea salt and soy sauce and again mix well. I did this by hand but the next time I make wonton soup I will simply use my electric mixer to eliminate needless labor. In the future I may also beat the ground pork first (as I did in my sausage recipes to blend meat and fat into a paste) to get an even finer texture. Note: I used the mixer the second time I made this soup and the result was excellent.
Make an egg wash by whisking the raw egg in a shallow bowl, then adding the ¼ cup of water, and then whisk again for one minute.
Open the pack of wonton skins (which are really just very thinly rolled dough slices cut into 3" x 3" squares), put one in the palm of your hand and put about 2 tsp. of the filling into the center. Then use one finger of your other hand to dip into the egg wash and put a thin coating of egg wash along the perimeter of the skin about ½ inch wide. Fold the wonton skin and filling into a triangle shape, squeezing the air out as you press the skin edges together going from one end to the other. Set the wonton on a dinner plate and repeat the process until all the filling mixture is used. It is your choice how much or how little filling you use for each wonton skin. Note that anything more than 1 tbsp. of filling per skin will make the proper closing and sealing of the skin more difficult if not impossible. Note also that the amount of filling per skin determines how many skins you will need to use, so the number 36 shown in the ingredient list is variable.
Chop the vegetables for the soup base and add all except the scallion pieces to the broth in a 6 quart soup pot. Add the shrimp, the salt and the soy sauce. Bring the mixture barely up to a scalding temperature (around 180º F) on low heat and hold it briefly at that temperature. Reduce the heat if necessary. Do not boil it. The essence of great Chinese cooking is to retain some of the texture and taste of each ingredient and overcooking will ruin that.
Bring the 4 cups of water to a rapid boil on high heat in a separate pot to parboil the wontons. When the water is boiling add about six wontons and let them parboil on high heat for three minutes. Then remove them individually with a slotted spoon and put them into the soup base. Repeat the process until all wontons have been parboiled and added to the soup base.
Bring the soup base with wontons to a gentle boil and cook for five minutes. Add the chopped scallion(s) and cook for one additional minute.
Ladle the soup into wide soup bowls, making sure each bowl has an even/equal mixture of soup base ingredients and wontons, and serve it. You and your guests will be delighted. It is very attractive and great tasting soup.