If you’re new to Sichuan cuisine, let me tell you something about it. It’s hot. Like spicy hot. And sometimes, it’s aggressively hot. But that’s what the Sichuan peppercorn is for, folks. It tramples all over hot and leaves you feeling a bit numb from the experience.
You walk away wondering, “What just happened here?”
Then you go back for more.
Again. And again. And again.
Also, if you’re new to Sichuan cuisine, a word about soup broth. If it’s red…don’t drink it. Think of it more like a salad dressing that you dip your noodles into so that they won’t stick. But while you’re at it, you catch hints of things like star anise, fennel, smoke, cinnamon (yes, cinnamon), and green onion. More like you accidentally bite into bits and pieces of licorice. They’re bigger than “hints” most of the time.
And the word wonton? Well, apparently it’s from Cantonese. It makes sense that it is the word we’ve chosen for the word in English despite its many regional forms. There are a lot of Chinese-Americans living in the US that originally come from Cantonese-speaking areas, so our Chinese-American food has been heavily influenced by this style of cooking.
But here in the Sichuan Province they go by the name Chao Shou.’ 抄手’ in Chinese. The second character in the name means hand, and it is called this because it the wonton is folded in the same way one might fold their hands. (There, we’ll all go to bed a little smarter tonight!)
And I learned the hard way that unless you specifically tell a person you don’t want your order to be spicy and you’re over the age of…I’m not sure there is an exact age, let’s say if you’re over the age of ten, you’re probably going to be served spicy broth with your Chao Shou. In fact, it’s kind of the distinctive feature of Sichuan wontons. They’re served in a mixture of hot oil, black vinegar,sesame oil, and soy sauce.
And every time we’ve ordered them, they are also served as a bowl of soup. It’s funny because even in China they don’t seem to know this. I watched three Chinese cooking shows in which they omitted the broth. I’ve never seen the broth omitted…not that it wouldn’t be equally delicious or anything. It’s just a variation, after all.
Anyway, this meal is perfect for all ages because you can adjust the level of heat according to each person’s taste buds. And if there are people who want to go get their Big, Bad Wolf on, you can set a little extra red oil (and black vinegar) at the table so people can adjust their seasoning, much the same as if they would with salt and pepper. If you follow the instructions for the pot where you cook your wontons in, you should end up with a very simple mushroom broth infused with some of the vitamins from the greens, and even a little flavor from the pork wontons.
I have added two ingredients to my variation: shitake mushrooms- dried, because their flavor is stronger, and fresh for texture and added flavor, and garlic scapes. Garlic scapes should be in season right about now, and you should pounce on them while you can. They are highly seasonal. If garlic scape season ends and you’re reading this for the first time, feel free to substitute with fresh, peeled/deveined shrimp, more shitake mushrooms, or cabbage.
When you are folding these, be truly careful not to overstuff them! I’ve heard some bloggers cringe at the idea of using words like “a scant…”, but in this case it’s true. In fact, my example picture probably has a tad too much. You should get the hang of it after
a few tries 60 tries.
On a side note, this can serve anywhere between 4-6 people. It depends how hungry you are. As fairly big eaters, we usually each take about 12-14 in our bowls. Our 4 year-old son can eat 6 or 7.
And if you have hungry friends, set them to work! Why not have a wonton party and plop a few bowls of filling on the table and have people make what they think they’ll eat?
Let’s get ready to blow the house down – with awesome food, shall we?
Note: Do you need a good chili oil recipe? I’ve already got you covered. Just click on link.
- For wontons:
- Approximately 60 wonton wrappers
- ½ pound ground pork
- 1 egg
- 3 spring onions, minced
- 6 garlic scapes – approximately ½ cup when minced
- 3 dried shitake mushrooms, finely grated
- 3-4 fresh shitake mushrooms- ½ cup minced
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon cooking wine
- Spicy Bowls/Serving:
- 1-3 tablespoons red oil (depends how spicy you want it)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon black vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Spring onion greens, from the pork filling + 3 more spring onions, chopped
- Water from cooking the pasta, enough to top off the bowl (approximately 1 cup)
- Wonton Cooking Water:
- Water to fill a pot ⅔ full
- 2 shitake mushrooms, sliced/serving
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 bay leaves
- Reserve 3-4 stem lettuce leaves or a handful of baby spinach for the last 30 seconds of cooking
- If you don’t have red oil, please see my link in the post and make red oil before you start the rest of the wonton (chao shou) process. Note that for this red oil, I used the additions I mention in my post on red oil: licorice, fennel seeds, star anise, cassia root, sand ginger, and black cardamom. These ingredients are optional.
- Place the pork, the egg, cooking wine, and oyster sauce in a bowl. Grate the dried shitake mushrooms and the ginger. Mince everything else and add to the bowl. Using a fork or a pair of chopsticks mix everything until thoroughly combined. Set aside while you prepare your work station.
- Gather wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water, a place to set your prepared wontons (parchment paper, a large cutting board sprinkled in corn starch, etc.), and a ½ teaspoon.
- Take a wonton sheet in your hand and gently spoon a scant ½ teaspoon of filling into the middle of the wanton. Using a finger, dip it into the water and run it along the four edges. Fold the wonton in half and seal, making sure you take the air bubbles out. Then fold it again so the meat filling is bent like a moon and pinch the two edges together so it kind of looks like a small boat. If you need to add a drop of water at the place you pinch. Make sure no seals came undone (if they did, gently pinch them shut again) and set them aside on the parchment paper or cutting board.
- Prepare your bowls with the different ingredients.
- Once done, set a pot of water to boil. Toss in salt, bay leaves, and sliced mushrooms. Add your wontons to the pot when it comes to a rolling boil. Cook wontons for 3.5 -4 minutes until the wonton wrapper wilts and the part around the meat looks like a brain. In the last 30 seconds of cooking, add greens. Then take a strainer and dip it into the pot to fish the wontons out. Do not pour the water down the sink!
- Add the wontons to the bowls. Then take some water from the pot and pour it over them until almost submerged by the water. Garnish with more green onions or some Sichuan pickles if you have any.
- NOTE: I have a small pot and a small family, so I cook my wontons in batches and add more water after each bowl is prepared. I also only add the mushrooms for each serving as I go-2 mushrooms at a time. For 3-4 people this wouldn’t be a big deal because the wonton soup takes a while to cool down anyway. For a larger pot, you could successfully cook more, but you’d probably want to add a little more salt.