Wontons in Sichuan Chili Oil

 

Wontons are on the menu of almost every Chinese restaurant around the world, from Los Angeles to Paris. They are an incredibly adaptable dish: steamed, boiled, deep fried or floating in soup, they are a bite-sized package of delicious meat. My first introduction to ‘Chinese ravioli’ was in the classic Wonton Soup, a bowl of clear broth filled with a pile of hearty dumplings.

 

Wontons are popular in the street stalls and restaurants of Southern China, running the gamut from one yuan orders served on styrofoam and noshed on while perched at stools on the sidewalk, to daintily pleated upper crust versions served on silver platters at five star hotels. I have two favourite versions I ate while traveling in China. First,  at the Michelin recognized Mak’s Wonton Noodles in Hong Kong, they serve a perfect, tiny bowl of shrimp and pork broth with thin noodles topped by delicate wontons. Second is the inspiration for this recipe, the Wontons in Sichuan Chili Oil doled out in the markets of Chengdu. They also serve a mouth-watering version of Spicy Won Tons at Tim Ho Wan.

 

FYI: You need a blender, food processor or bad ass knife skills to make this recipe well.

steamed-wontons

Wontons in Sichuan Chili Oil

Prep time: 1-2 hour

Cook time: 10 minutes

Makes 50 wontons; chili oil to last for 1-2 months

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers.
Note: bend wrappers at the corner in package, like a sheaf of paper, to make sure they are pliable and don’t stick to each other.
Pork filling:
  • 500g/1.1lbs ground pork, roughly 30% fat, well chilled
  • 300ml/1 1/4C pork/chicken stock
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 30ml/2 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
  • 30ml/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 30ml/2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 30ml/2 tbsp white sugar
  • 15ml/1 tbsp sesame oil
Sichuan Chili oil:
  • 250ml/1C peanut or vegetable oil
  • 20 whole dried chili peppers, hunan, thai or a similar small red chili pepper
  • 45ml/3 tbsp coarse salt
  • 30ml/2 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
  • 30ml/2 tbsp sichuan peppers, crushed or chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 15ml/1 tbsp sesame oil

Instructions:

Prep:

Pork filling:
  1. This recipe is easiest with a food processor, if you have one throw everything in their and pulse until it forms a ball. If not chop everything finely and evenly, then toss together in a mixing bowl using a fork or spatula. If you use your hands, you’ll melt with body heat everything, which you don’t want.

Note: The only way you can mess this up is if you don’t chill the filling before you fold your wontons, which will quickly turn into a sticky, messy disaster.

Sichuan Chili Oil:
  1. Heat a wok or frying pan and add the peanut/vegetable oil. Just before oil reaches smoking point, add garlic and ginger. Fry until golden in colour. Add half of the chilis and fry until they begin to turn a dark, crimson red.
  2. Remove from heat. Add remaining chili peppers and let cool for a few minutes.
  3. Once the mixture is a safe temperature, pour into a blender, add salt and pulse until chunky but uniform.
  4. Stir in sesame oil and put in a sealed container.

Note: This Sichuan chili oil lasts for months because the moisture has been cooked out of the garlic and ginger. It tastes ridiculously delicious on everything, adding a round numbing spice to any dish, and a depth of flavour to even simple soups and sauces.

Wontons:
  1. Before you wrap the wontons (choose a folding style, there’s great Youtube videos), line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil, soak a tea towel in water to cover finished wontons while you’re working, and fill a bowl with cold water to rinse your fingers. You may want an additional tea towel to wipe your hands.
  2. Take your time folding the wontons, if they’re sealed properly the juice will stay locked inside and you’ll get that incredible soup dumpling explosion of juicy flavour when you bite into them.

Note: I fold wontons while I’m watching Netflix, or Mind of a Chef or whatever, so I get a whole folding station setup on my coffee table. Also, the wontons will keep for a week, if frozen on a baking sheet and properly sealed. So you can fold them ahead of time.

 

Cooking:

  1. Add enough water to cover wontons to a wide pan or pot and bring to a rolling boil. Add a pinch of salt, then place in a layer of wontons. Make sure they do not touch each other.
  2. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the wrappers are completely translucent.
  3. Serve wontons immediately, while they’re still bursting with juicy filling, drenched in the mala Sichuan chili oil.
  4. Alternatively, you can steam these wontons in a bamboo basket, or deep fry them in crock pot or any deep stock pot.

Note: These wontons are insanely addictive, scalding hot, and I betcha can’t just eat one.

Thanksgiving Cola Braised Ham Hocks

 

Turkey, turkey, turkey. You say Thanksgiving, first thing everyone pictures is a wattle-necked gobbler. Then they think dry, tough, chewy: these are not the words you want associated with your home cooking.

Some of you might think stuffing or cornbread dressing is the best item on your Thanksgiving table. Stuffing and dressing are certainly scrumptious, but they’re side dishes, and so, left out of the running for best holiday plate. It’s really no contest. Ham hocks are the best Thanksgiving dish. A thick, cheap, fatty, bone-in slab of pork, braised slowly over low temperature, these ham hocks are tenderly simmered in a delicious bath of stock and cola rendering a more delicious, more juicy and more flavourful meat to adorn your holiday table than any turkey, deep-fried or baked.

 

This is a very easy recipe that lets bold flavours sit at the head of the table without too much fuss in the kitchen. These braised ham hocks stew in Asian staples, like soy and hoisin, with a sweet American classic, cola, to build depth and subtlety that soaks up into a hearty cut of meat until it slips free of the bone. A pot of these cola braised ham hocks will make your whole house smell like the sweet savoury salty sticky bits that everybody wants on their plate at Thanksgiving.

braised-ham-hock-pot-overhead

 

Cola Braised Ham Hocks Recipe

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 3-8 hours
Serves 8-12 people

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 6 ham hocks
  • pork neck bones
Cola Braise
  • 1L/4C of bone broth (substitute any kind of stock)
  • 750ml/3C of your favourite cola (Mine is a Canadian classic, A & W Root Beer)
  • 125ml/1/2C soy sauce
  • 30ml/2tbsp oyster sauce
  • 30ml/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 30ml/2 tbsp Chinese five spice
  • 15ml/1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or black rice vinegar
  • 15ml/1tbsp tomato paste or red bean curd (for depth and colour)
  • 1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 whole dried chiles (chipotles add a bit of smoke, but whatever works)
  • 2 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions:

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
  2. Heat up  broth/stock in a pot until it reaches boiling point.
  3. In a large crock pot or Dutch oven layer up ham hocks, seasoning each piece of meat on both sides before placing it in the pot, then weigh down with seasoned neck bones.
  4. In a mixing bowl, stir together all ingredients of cola braise except stock, then pour over ham hocks and bones.

Cooking:

  1. Pour simmering broth over meat and braising liquid. If liquid does not reach the top of your pot, add water until it is sufficiently full to cover all the meat.
  2. Place in oven and braised for a minimum of 3 hours.

Note:

This dish will only get better with time, cooking for a whole day will allow the flavours to fully come together, while breaking down the tendons and connective tissue in the meat, resulting in that tender fall off the bone, melt in your mouth yum yum.

Serve & Plate:

  1. Pull out each piece of meat and gently slide out the bones, then plate the meat on a serving platter. If strained, the braising liquid can be boiled down, or thickened with a corn starch slurry, to make an amazing cola gravy. Ham hock leftovers and remaining gravy will make awesome pulled pork sandwiches for the rest of the week.