Classic Wonton Soup

This dish, so familiar to patrons of Chinese restaurants in the West, is an authentic Chinese classic that somehow managed to avoid being corrupted beyond recognition. Why this is so is unclear. Of course, wontons are small dumplings, and dumplings in any form, whether fried, poached or steamed, are universally popular. Perhaps it is simply that they sell themselves as they are, and Chinese chefs wisely stayed with the original.

At their best, wontons are filled with savoury meats, vegetables and seasonings. The light, sheer dough that serves as a wrapper can be easily purchased in Chinese grocers and sometimes in large supermarkets. Gently poached and floating in a rich, clear chicken stock, they make a dish that is at once exotic and familiar. And the soup is delicious. Poaching, incidentally, removes excess starch, which would tend to cloud the chicken stock. Those who prefer their wontons fried are making a mistake.

The Chinese compulsion to make sense of the world in its food metaphors is well represented here. ‘Wonton’ derives from ‘hun-tun,’ E. N. Anderson writes, ‘the original cosmic chaos when the universe was “without form and void”’. Out of something akin to this splendid soup, one imagines, arose the balance and harmony of all the elements that make life possible and enjoyable. Westerners were instinctively wise to take wonton soup as it is.

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Ingredients

  • 1 packet wonton skins
  • 1 litre ( pints) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped spring onions, white and green parts, to garnish
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

For the Wonton Filling

  • 225 g (8 oz) raw prawns, peeled, deveined and chopped
  • 225 g (8 oz) fatty minced pork
  • 175 g (6 oz) fresh peeled and chopped water chestnuts or 85 g (3 oz) canned water chestnuts
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Method

Put all the wonton filling ingredients together in a large bowl and mix well. Allow to marinate for about 20 minutes.

Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the centre of a wonton skin. Dampen the edges with water and bring the sides of the dough up around the filling. Pinch the edges together at the top to seal; it will look like a small sack. Continue to fill all the wonton skins until you have used up all the filling.

When the wontons are filled, bring the stock to a simmer, stirring in the soy sauce and sesame oil.

In another pot, bring salted water to the boil and poach the wontons for 1 minute. Remove them with a strainer and put them into the simmering stock. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Ladle the wontons and soup into a large soup tureen or individual bowls. Garnish with spring onions and coriander leaves and serve at once.

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