Spicy Pork Wonton Soup

Spicy Pork Wonton Soup

It’s All Asia All Month at LunaCafe. Of all the dishes I wanted to explore this month, Wonton Soup was at the top of my list. It’s one of the world’s greatest soups and my absolute favorite. This version is as close to perfection as you will find. Be sure to check back as the adventure unfolds this month.

No matter where we are, MauiJim and I seem to be in perpetual search of the quintessential Wonton Soup. Once while in San Francisco’s Chinatown, we found ourselves in a tiny, near empty Chinese restaurant and at a table in the far corner were three men, chatting amiably in Chinese while folding wontons. There was a mountain of folded wontons on the table. I wanted to stake a claim and move in. Or maybe just dash over, grab them all, and run.

We ordered the soup, which was over-the-top delicious—but it contained only a precious few of those glorious mouthfuls. I toyed with the idea of asking for three orders of wontons in one order of broth.

And that’s the second problem with ordering Wonton Soup in a restaurant—too few wontons in the soup. I need at least five for myself. And seven is even better. But they are doled out like gold.

The first problem is finding Wonton Soup that is worthy of the name. Too often the broth is a close cousin to water, the wonton wrappers are bloated from too much time in the tasteless broth, and the wonton filling is bland and without texture. You’ve had this soup, right?

In contrast, a perfectly made Wonton Soup has these characteristics:

  • Aromatic, clear, perfectly seasoned, full-tasting broth. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you should be content sipping the broth on its own–with no embellishments. Of course, homemade stock is always best.
  • Carefully crafted and seasoned wonton filling. Fillings are often one dimensional and bland. The filling should have full flavor, along with a textural component for interest and chew.
  • Perfectly cooked wontons. The primary concern here is not to overcook the wontons prior to adding them to the soup broth. Wontons must be cooked separately in boiling water so that they do not release cloudy starch into the soup broth later.
  • Zippy, colorful, fresh, preserved, or fried elements to embellish the soup, such as green onions, fresh herbs, ginger, pickled vegetables, or crispy fried onions or shallots. These add interest and counterpoints to the otherwise simple soup.

But why spend countless hours and dollars in search of perfect wonton soup when you can make it easily in your own kitchen? Filling the wontons may seem daunting at first, but it’s easy–and fun too.

There are many ways to fill and wrap wontons. Use whichever way you prefer. The main thing is to ensure that the filling is encased and doesn’t pop out when boiling the wontons. Under Additional Inspiration below, there are pointers to several excellent videos on the different methods. The method I used is demonstrated here. In this case, a video is worth two thousand words.

Spicy Pork Wonton Soup

This is the Wonton Soup of my dreams. Each serving is loaded with succulent, spicy, silky wontons. The ground pork filling is fully flavored and a little or a lot zippy from the chili paste. (To ensure the filling is perfection, the recipe instructs you to sauté a small nugget and test the seasoning before filling the wontons. I wish every restaurant would take this extra step. What a difference it makes.) And the colorful, textural embellishments keep you eating to the very last slurp.

Ingredient Note   Homemade chicken stock is ideal here, but you will get good results even with canned broth because of the extra flavor you will pack into it.

Ingredient Note   The best wonton wrappers have a silky, melt-in-your-mouth lusciousness that is irresistible. Cantonese wonton wrappers contain egg, while northern Chinese wrappers are simply flour, water, and salt. Regardless of type or brand, wonton wrappers are very inexpensive when purchased in an Asian supermarket–so buy a few different brands and determine which you prefer.

Wonton wrappers dry easily and can become brittle. Keep unfilled and filled wrappers covered with a slightly damp, clean cloth.

Timing Note   This is not the kind of dish to prepare for a hungry horde on a hectic night after work. It takes time to prepare the filling and shape the wontons. I like to prepare the filling one evening and then leisurely shape the wontons the next day. Shaped wontons can also be covered with a clean cloth and refrigerated for a day or more before boiling. Avoid covering them with plastic wrap, as they may become damp and sticky.

Serving Note   If you serve 6-8 wontons per person, you will use only 36-48 wontons for this recipe. You can freeze the extra uncooked wontons, make additional soup base for another dinner, or prepare only half the wontons specified in the recipe.

Wonton Wrappers
1 pound package fresh or frozen thin wonton wrappers (about 90 wrappers)

Spicy Pork Filling (enough for about 90 wonton wrappers)
1 pound ground pork
1 cup peeled, diced water chestnuts (8 ounce can)
2 tablespoons minced green onion
2 tablespoons minced Chinese chives (if you can’t find them, use additional green onion)
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon skinned, minced garlic
2 tablespoons Kikkoman soy sauce
2 teaspoons Pagoda brand, Chinese Shaoxing Rice Wine (or manzanilla or amontillado sherry) (not COOKING rice wine or sherry)
1 teaspoon hot chili paste or oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Soup Base
2 quarts chicken stock
½ medium yellow onion
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with a mallet
4 quarter-size pieces of fresh ginger, crushed with a mallet
fine sea salt, to taste

4 baby bok choy, ends trimmed, larger leaves cut lengthwise
2 large peeled, julienned carrots
2 green onions, cut into 1½-inch slivers

¼ cup minced green onion
¼ cup minced Chinese chives
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Wonton wrappers have a silky, melt-in-the mouth lusciousness that is irresistible. Cantonese wonton wrappers contain egg while northern Chinese wrappers are simply flour, water, and salt.

  1. To make the pork filling, in a large mixing bowl, with your hands or a flexible spatula, combine the pork, water chestnuts, green onion, Chinese chives, fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, chili paste, salt, and pepper.
  2. In a small sauté pan, heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil and sauté a small patty of the pork filling, turning once to brown both sides. Remove from the heat and taste the filling for seasoning. Adjust the seasonings of the uncooked filling accordingly.
  3. To fill the wontons, if frozen, defrost the wonton wrappers at room temperature. Don’t try to pry them apart until they are completely thawed, or they will tear.
  4. Using the photos above as guides, position a wrapper on your work surface and place 1 teaspoon of filling near a top corner. Fold the corner over to encase the filling. Roll one turn to encase the filling further. Bring the two rolled edges together over the filling, moisten one edge with water, and pinch to seal. This method is demonstrated here. Check the pointers below for videos on additional wrapping methods.
  5. To make the soup base, in a large saucepan, combine the stock, onion, garlic, ginger, and salt to taste. Let simmer slowly, partially covered for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, and if you aren’t in a rush, allow the base to further meld at room temperature until cooled. Strain and reheat just before serving.
  6. To cook the wontons, fill a deep skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add a dozen wontons to the simmering water and cook just until they float to the top, 2-3 minutes. With a flat strainer or slotted spoon remove drained wontons to a platter. Continue with this process until 36-48 wontons are cooked.
  7. To serve the soup, bring the soup base to a simmer and then add wontons, bok choy, carrots, and green onions. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

Additional Inspiration

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