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.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Lion’s Head Meatballs (紅燒獅子頭) and Sichuan Strange Flavour Sauce (Guaiwei 怪味)

The first time I made Lion’s Head Meatballs (紅燒獅子頭), I forgot to write down the recipe. I had looked at a hundred variations, but none of them stuck. I planned to serve the wok-fried then braised meatballs with bok choy, then finish them with Sichuan ‘strange flavor’ sauce (Guaiwei 怪味) to add a bit of lip smacking flavour to what seemed like a plain sort of meat and greens dish with a punchy name. When I got home, annoyed at myself for having lost the recipe I wanted to riff on, I unpacked my groceries and realized I had compounded my mistake and somehow bought ground turkey instead of pork. Thus, this crackpot Chinese-American Thanksgiving holiday mashup recipe was born.

bok-choy

The dish works like a charm for a bunch of reasons: turkey meat is primarily dark and packed with rich, gamey flavour, but famously dry and texturally boring. The meatballs are heavily seasoned and fried, giving a deep caramelized brown to the exterior and a bit of crunch to the exterior while sealing in the natural juices. Then, they’re braised in chicken stock suffusing the potentially dry meat with succulent moisture and ensuring a delicious and juice-packed meatball. The Sichuan strange flavour sauce has a tahini and sesame base, ingredients not native to Sichuan which were introduced via the Silk Road, hence the unique name. The nutty chilli sauce adds a layer of salty sour sweet and spicy umami bang to the dish that will give you a bit of leo pride when you lay it down on the table beside the sliced cardboard, dry beast meat everyone else is serving.

lions-head-meatball

Lion’s Head Meatball  Recipe (紅燒獅子頭)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Makes  8-10 meatballs, serves 4-6 people

Ingredients:

Meatballs
  • 900g/2 lb ground turkey
  • 30ml Shaoxing Rice Wine
  • 45ml soy sauce
  • 15ml sesame oil
  • 15ml neutral oil
  • 10ml cornstarch
Broth
  • 2 scallions, slivered
  • 1 finger of ginger, in matchsticks
  • 200ml Shaoxing Rice Wine
  • 500ml chicken broth, simmering
Odd Sauce
  • 45ml soy sauce
  • 45 ml neutral oil
  • 30ml tahini
  • 15ml chinkiang black rice vinegar
  • 15ml sesame oil
  • 10ml sugar
  • 20g ginger, roughly chopped
  • 20g garlic, smashed
  • 10g Sichuan peppers
  • 2 whole dried chilis
Garnish
  • 1 head of bok choy

Instructions:

Preparation:

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat together turkey, soy, shaoxing wine, and sesame oil until the meat forms a smooth paste.
  2. Stir in cornstarch and neutral oil, then form 10-12 large meatballs, cover and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.

Cooking:

Odd Sauce:
  1. Heat oil in wok or frying pan until smoking point. Add ginger, garlic, chilis, Sichuan peppers and scallions.
  2. Remove from heat and stir rapidly for 30 second as the oil cools.
  3. Blend mixture in a food processor, coffee grinder or mortar. Stir in remaining ingredients and set aside. (Note: this is an awesome all purpose umami rich dipping sauce.)
Meatballs (Not using a wok):
  1. If not using a wok, line a roasting pan or crock pot with cleaned and stemmed leaves of bok choy. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame, coat in a thin layer of neutral oil, rolling oil around the cooking surface.
  3. In two or three batches, fry the meatballs, cooking evenly on all surface areas. As they brown, set meatballs on waiting bok choy leaves.
  4. When the meatballs are all browned and set aside, deglaze your frying pan with shaoxing wine, add ginger matchsticks and slivered scallions and stir rapidly as moisture evaporates.
  5. When the wine sauce is reduced by half pour it over the meatballs, add simmering chicken stock.
  6. Cover with aluminum or parchment and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Meatballs (With wok):
  1. Heat wok over high flame, coat in a thin layer of neutral oil, rolling oil around the cooking surface.
  2. At smoking point, add meatballs and roll around cooking surface to brown, careful not to burn as you must work fast.
  3. Once the meatballs have all browned, push to the side of cooking surface, deglaze wok with shaoxing wine, and add ginger matchsticks and slivered scallions, toss mixture together as moisture evaporates.
  4. Slip bok choy leaves under meatballs, add simmering chicken stock, and cover wok with a large lid. Turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Serve & Plate:
  1. Serve as Turkey Lion’s Head Meatballs in a larger meal, such as a Thanksgiving or a pot luck. Plate meatballs on bok choy leaves and drizzle with odd sauce.
  2. Don’t ditch the broth! Make a soup, or freeze for stock.
  3. Alternatively, if you’re making Turkey Lion’s Head Meatballs for a weekday dinner or your family, serve swimming in the broth, atop noodles or rice. These meatballs and their cooking broth make a hearty and pungent soup, served over a starch.
  4. This dish will be the most talked about addition to any holiday dinner. It tastes delicious, looks intense and has a bad ass name. It might even be healthy.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Scallion Pancake Recipe – Cong You Bing (葱油饼)

Note: scroll straight to the bottom of the post for recipe details.

I grew up in a vegetarian household during the 1980s and, like most adolescence, I was always hungry. The maddening lack of meatless options at friends’ houses and in Toronto’s diners led me to experiment in my tastes. As a result of my diet, I was usually left with starches to tied me over between home cooked meals.

And so, as a youngster in Toronto, I developed an affinity for substantial snacks, which gave potato and bread the lead role. In the Little India on Gerrard Street, there were plentiful samosas: deep-fried pockets of dough, packed with potatoes and peas heavily spiced with cumin and turmeric-laced curry powders. At Willow Fish and Chips on Queen Street East, there were thick, hand-cut fries tossed in salt and wrapped in newsprint, which I doused in malt vinegar and buried in a heap of glistening ketchup.

As I branched out into downtown, I found the strip of Chinese restaurants and bakeries on Dundas Street West between the art gallery and Spadina Avenue. Toronto’s first Chinese community had landed on their feet in The Ward, and after being pushed north by the construction of the new City Hall, the neighbourhood’s belly occupied the storefront’s along Dundas in the city’s original Chinatown.

dundas-streetcar

I didn’t know I was having my first dim sum experience, as I entered the old Kim Moon Bakery at 438 Dundas. When Howard Wong opened the restaurant in the 1970s, it was the largest Chinese bakery in the city. But by the time I found my seat, the upstairs dining room was a ghost of its former self. Through the sliding doors, past the bakery display case full of moon pastries, and a steel dumb waiter with a port hole, there was an unadorned dining room. Elderly Chinese men in weathered sport coats read the Apple Daily and South China Morning Post, drank Hong Kong milk tea, and let ash accumulate on the cigarettes that burned black worms along Kim Moon’s red-belted side plates. A paper menu was delivered to my table with a stub-nosed pencil, and a love affair began, as soon as I saw the prices: buns and pastries were a dollar, dim sum items set you back between $2 for a Small, and $4.50 for a Large. I ignored the Extra Large and Specialty items, which were out of my price range.

The free jasmine tea (茉莉花茶) , stuffed eggplant (煎釀茄子) — I was too naive then to realize the filling had shrimp and/or seafood– , turnip cakes (蘿蔔糕), and red bean pastries (红豆酥 ) became regular after school snacks. But it was the spring onion pancakes (葱油饼), Cong You Bing, that kept me coming back for years afterward. They were cheap, crunchy, filling, and once slathered in black vinegar, soy sauce and chilli paste, they fulfilled all the basic requirements: salty, sweet, sour and spicy.

Around the corner, at the first location of Mother’s Dumplings on Huron Street, I truly came to understand what Cong You Bing could become with the right tough. I was studying History at the University of Toronto, and living up the street in a basement matchbox at the Epitome Apartments, when I made the big switch. Unlike the notebook-thin, cracker like pancakes served at Kim Moon, Mother’s was (and still is) serving scallion pancakes similar to those you’ll find stacked on the trays of vendors in the streets of Shanghai — almost like ‘grabbed flatbreads’, zhua bing (手饼). By my undergraduate years, I was deep into the delights of an omnivore’s diet, and the ground meat stuffing at Mother’s added a new layer of complexity to an old favourite, keeping me wedded to the simple appetizer.

The recipe below will render a much thicker, crunchier, and flakier pastry, which actually has a bit of spice to it, lent by a quick paint on of a roux-like wash, “yo sue”. But enough with the backstory, see the recipe below for further details.

scallion-pancake-vendor

Scallion Pancakes Recipe – Cong You Bing (葱油饼)

Makes 6 pancakes, serves 4 to 6 people

  • Peanut or vegetable oil, on hand
  • 2 bunches of green onion/scallions, finely chopped greens
  • (Optional) 200 grams of ground pork

DOUGH

  • 350 grams of Chinese flour (low protein/gluten content)
  • 250 ml boiling water

SEASONING PASTE (YO SUE)

  • 70 grams Chinese flour
  • 15 grams sea salt
  • 15 grams of ground Chinese five spice
  • 60 grams lard/butter, melted
  • 30 grams of peanut/vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large mixing bowl, form a well in the flour and start adding boiling water, little by little. Slowly incorporate the water into flour, using chopsticks, two butter knives, or a food processor.
  2. Once a dough ball has formed, turn out and knead gently on an oiled working surface, trying not to add more flour unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Once the dough is tensile, oil its smooth surface, and cover in plastic wrap. Let rest for half an hour, as glutens activate and work their magic.
  4. In a smaller bowl, make paste by mixing flour, salt and Chinese five spice. Add melted fat and oil and beat until a smooth, glossy paste forms. It should look like an egg wash.
  5. Portion dough into 6 balls, and cover remaining dough balls with a moist tea towel while you form pancakes, one by one.
  6. Press the ball into a flat rectangle with the palm of your hand. Pinch one end of the rectangle, and give your wrist a quick flick, to slap the dough onto your work surface and stretch it thin. Slap dough repeatedly, until you have a 20cm long, almost transparently thin strip, roughly as wide as your hand. If the prospect of dough slapping is too much for your gentle soul, use a rolling pin. But make sure to get the dough to 3 or 4 mm in thickness– roughly as thick as leather belt.
  7. Coat one-side of the rectangle with seasoning paste, then roll up a small handful of pork/scallion into a short, fat tube, and pinch off the ends.(Refer to the picture above for a visual reference) Repeat with each portion until you have 6 balls of spiralled dough filled with scallions, pinched closed on the sides.
  8. Heat pan/wok over high flame, add a thick coating of cooking oil, then place all six balls in the hot oil and gently press flat with the back of your spatula. Fry until golden and crusty on each side, pressing thinner with each flip of the pancake.
  9. For an extra crispy pancake, place the pancakes on a rack in a hot oven or toaster oven for 5 to 10 minutes at 180C, and let the excess fat bake off. This mimics the use of the drying rack inside the charcoal ovens street vendors use in Shanghai.
  10. Eat’em while they’re hot!

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.