Monday, October 3, 2011

Wonton Noodle Soup (Wonton Mee)

Up until middle school my Chinese grandmother (popo) lived with us.  And I always got excited when my other non-Chinese grandmother came to visit because popo would then make us all homemade wonton soup.  And I loved her wonton soup.  It was amazing.  I wouldn't eat wonton soup at any restaurant, except for one restaurant in Wheaton, MD called Full Kee, because I thought it just didn't compare.  Years later my mom told me that the secret to her wonton soup was the jar of MSG she kept in the pantry.  Whatever her secret was, those wontons were delicious.  And now that popo is no longer with us, I have had to resort to wonton soup or wonton noodle soup (aka "wonton mee") from restaurants for years.  I have found a few decent bowls of wonton mee here in the city, including the one at Great NY Noodletown, but none that are as good at popo's wonton soup or even as good as Full Kee's.  And I can't tell you how many mediocre bowls I have had throughout the years.  But it is still my go-to soup at Chinese restaurants.  It's also a benchmark by which I judge all Cantonese restaurants, although I only order the noodles when I am confident that I am in a true Cantonese restaurant.

This soup was a pretty decent first attempt at homemade wonton soup.  I think the broth needed more depth of flavor (I wish we had added some pork so it wasn't just a chicken stock), but since we made the broth separately that's a whole separate critique.  The next time I make this soup I will whip up another batch of stock with a heartier flavor.  I also wish I had some veggies to throw in the soup because a lot of the time wonton mee has random wilted greens (sometimes baby bok choy) floating in the broth.  But the wontons were pretty darn good for our first attempt.  I was fairly impressed with us.  I did look at Asian Dumplings: Mastering Spring Rolls, Samosas and More for some guidance, but the recipe there was for pure shrimp wontons and I was in the mood for mixed pork and shrimp.  So I decided to just wing it.  I had some trouble deciding on the proportions of shrimp and pork, but decided that 50-50 sounded safe.  And I remembered my popo's wontons tasting like sesame oil and white pepper so I added a decent amount to the wontons themselves and also to the soup.  I can't remember if she used scallions in her dumplings, but I happen to like scallions in my dumplings so I threw those in too.  The soup was a bit labor intensive, but it was comforting and very satisfying.  And for me, it was more than a little nostalgic.  Alex and I both enjoyed it.  If I made it again I would make a few tweaks here and there - making a better stock being the most important one, and potentially blanching the wontons and the noodles in a separate pot of boiling water like they do in most restaurants before adding them to the broth so as to not dilute/muddy the flavors of the broth.  If you cook the noodles in the broth they release starch into the broth, which makes it a little starchy and changes the flavor a bit.  It also makes the broth a little cloudy.  I just have to decide whether the purity of flavor of the stock is really worth using (and cleaning) another pot...

Recipe after the jump!

Wonton Noodle Soup (Wonton Mee)

1/4 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into pea-sized pieces
1/4 lb ground pork
1 scallion, white and green parts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch ground white pepper
wonton wrappers
6 cups homemade chicken stock (ours was flavored with ginger and scallion)
package fresh wonton noodles (you can find them at Asian markets and specialty grocery stores)
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the bias

Combine shrimp, pork, scallion, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Mix well.  Cover and set aside for 15 minutes at room temperature or at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set up your wonton making station on a large cutting board with wonton wrappers, a small dish of water and a teaspoon.  Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.  Using your finger, moisten three of the four edges of the wonton wrapper.  Fold the wrapper in half, forming a rectangle.  Seal the edges by pinching.  Then bring together the two folded corners (not the sealed corners) and press firmly to seal.  This will form dumplings in a shape called a "nurse's cap."  Repeat with remaining filling and wonton wrappers.  Keep dumpling wrappers and freshly formed dumplings covered with damp paper towels.

Bring stock to a boil in a large pot.  Blanch noodles briefly, just until they have softened, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Remove and drain briefly.  Drizzle with a little sesame oil and place noodles in separate serving bowls.  Bring stock back to a rapid simmer.  Add dumplings, roughly 8-10 at a time and cook until translucent and all of the wontons have been floating for 2 minutes, about 3-4 minutes total.  Using a slotted spoon, remove wontons from the stock and add them to the bowls with the noodles.  Drizzle with a little sesame oil.  Repeat with remaining wontons.

Taste stock and add salt if necessary.  Ladle stock over the wontons and noodles.  Garnish with a little white pepper and remaining scallions.  If desired, drizzle with additional sesame oil.

Serve immediately.

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