Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 + mini 2015 recap

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comThis is a nostalgic post -wontons have always been a comforting, slurp-it-up food, both easy to make and easy to save. My mom used to make rows of wontons, and I’d happily help her fold them. Wontons are much easier to fold than dumplings, in my opinion, because there’s no complicated pleating involved. Instead, simply stuff, fold, seal. When I went to visit Suzhou with my then-boyfriend Alex during college, we stopped by a small, local spot (NOT in the tourist-heavy areas) that served quite simply the best soup dumplings (小笼包) I’ve ever had, and for awhile my attention was completely diverted to those. However, Alex also made sure to grab two bowls of steaming hot, fragrant, mini wontons (小馄饨). Mini wontons? Small wontons? These wontons are stuffed with a tiny bit of pork filling with a paper-thin skin, immersed in a rich broth. Slurping in these small wontons are like slurping up noodles – smooth, fast, and incredibly satisfying. Alex recalled seeing his grandmother in Suzhou make these at home. She’d take a piece of wonton skin, dip her pinky finger into the meat filling to scoop up a tiny bit of meat, smear it across the skin, and then quickly stuff it into a little baggy pouch. These small wontons are not folded neatly like a little pouch. Instead, these small wontons look like they’re stuffed quickly and then just smashed together to seal, and that’s pretty much how these wontons are folded! See the stop-motion vignette below. I used chopsticks to take a tiny bit of meat and smeared it on a wonton skin. I used store-bought skins (sigh), which aren’t as thin as I’d like for these wontons, so next time I may try my hand at making wonton skin at home. Avoid the egg-based wonton skins that are yellow – those aren’t what you want for these wontons. Look for the shanghai-style wonton skins that are white and eggless, not yellow! Small wontons’ soup is a key part of this dish – don’t settle for plain water or bouillon cubes – make the real thing. Get chicken bones (or a whole chicken) and simmer it for 4-5 hours to get that rich broth necessary for this dish.

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comSuzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.com

The next time we went to Suzhou to visit Alex’s grandparents, after we got married, we beelined to that little shop and had a hearty meal of soup dumplings and small wonton soup!

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.com

As I made these wontons, I gave my mom a call. My mom is from Shanghai, and Alex’s grandparents are from Suzhou, but both are part of the Jiang Su region, so shanghai and suzhou cuisine are actually pretty similar. There are a lot of overlapping dishes with some differences, but for the most part the cuisine is familiar. My mom immediately knew what I was talking about – small wontons. It’s a familiar dish in Shanghai, too, and the way she described it – a hearty broth, a tiny bit of meat (just meat, no vegetables in the filling), the skin scrunched up to enclose the meat – closely resembled what I had in Suzhou.

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comSuzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comSuzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comSuzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comThe wontons can be served with piping hot soup, topped with scallions, but I also like to add a dash of white pepper and a drizzle of sesame oil to the soup. Since it’s just Alex and me, we froze the rest up and then divided them into plastic bags, ready for easy consumption in the future.
Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.com

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.comLet’s be even more nostalgic, shall we? I took some time to really think about the new year – what my goals and aspirations are, especially for this blog. In the end, the answer was simple – to have fun with this blog. To continue to make the connections in this truly wonderful community that lead to fun “in real life” friends. To explore the history, culture, and techniques of various foods, such as learning about making kombucha at home. To continue to develop my food photography and styling. To enjoy blogging. Last year, I put the pressure on myself to try to blog once a week at least, and while it was a stimulating and challenging experience, I think it was a bit too much, and with wedding photography and starting medical school, I knew I needed to re-evaluate. I want to go back to my roots. The whole reason I started this blog was to document my mom’s recipes so that I could make them, all the way across the country, and I’m going to do more of this :). Also, some changes are coming to this blog! Mostly minor – some restructuring, reorganizing, etc (for example, more fermentation exploration and possibly a whole section on it!!!) For now, here are some highlights in the wonderful 2015:

Anyways, I’m hoping to do some more travel this year, more workshops (!), and more photography experiments.:)

PS, gorgeous raku ceramics by the freaky table!

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.com


Notes:

  • Try to find eggless wonton wrappers, as thin as you can find them. Usually the Shanghai-style wonton wrappers will do, although the real version you can find in China uses paper-thin wrappers that almost dissolve in your mouth.
  • It really is a tiny amount of meat per wonton wrapper. In fact, Alex noted that my wontons are probably still too stuffed -it’s literally a tiny bit smeared across the wonton skin. I couldn’t help but add slightly more, but maybe next time I’ll add less.
  • Don’t worry about wrapping them perfectly. These wontons are meant to be scrunched up and sealed – probably the easiest “dumpling” to wrap. No pleating, no folding, no worrying about the perfect look!
  • It’s easy (in my experience) to scoop up a tiny bit of meat filling from the bowl and onto the wonton skin, smeared, and then using that same pair of chopsticks to scrunch it up in your hand.
  • To freeze, lay the wontons out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and freeze. Then, separate wontons into plastic bags and place back into the freezer. To eat, simply boil water and add the wontons in. When the wontons float, they are ready. Serve with hot soup.
  • Do your wontons look wrinkled? Yes? Good. They’re supposed to be!
  • If you’re unsure about the seasoning, you can make one wonton, then cook it and taste-test. I do this usually if I’m making a big batch, and if it is too bland, I add more salt or soy sauce.

RECIPE: Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 

Simple Chinese Chicken Stock
This is a chicken stock that can be used in sauces or as a base for other soups – it’s easy to make and so versatile. It’s not unusual to find a pot of it simmering along in the background in most Chinese households :). There’s no real measurement, but usually I get around 3-4 lbs of chicken with bone and then fill up the pot until there’s only 1″ space from the rim. You can use chicken thighs, a whole carcass, or whatever parts you have, but make sure there is bone!!! 

3-4 lb chicken parts with bone
water
one bunch scallion, white to pale green parts
5 slices ginger
1/4 cup shoaxing rice wine
1 tsp szechuan peppercorns (optional, but I love the flavor this adds)
1 tsp salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in chicken parts and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain and wash chicken thoroughly. Line white and pale green parts of scallion at the bottom of a new, clean pot. Place washed chicken parts in. Add enough water to fill the pot to 1″ from the brim. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat low to a simmer. Keep at a simmer for 4-5 hours. Occasionally skim the surface if any foam or scum appears. If necessary, strain, but usually I skip that part. Keep in fridge (reboiling to eat) or freeze for later usage!

Small Wontons 小馄饨

½ lb ground lean pork
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 clove minced garlic
2-3 tsp water (or less, depending on texture)
1 tsp cornstarch
1 stalk scallion, finely chopped
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp shaoxing wine
dash white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg for filling
1/2 tsp salt

1 package thin, eggless wonton skin

Serve with white pepper, fresh sliced scallions, and sesame oil

Combine ginger, garlic, pork, 2 tsp water, cornstarch, scallion, soy sauce, wine, pepper, sesame oil, egg, and salt together. Using a wooden spoon, mix in one direction until the texture resembles a paste. If the mixture is too stiff, add one more tsp water. For this step, I like to use my hand to just mash the meat mixture together.

Wrap wontons. Using a pair of chopsticks, scoop about 1 teaspoon of meat filling and scoop it onto a wonton wrapper. Use chopsticks to smear meat mixture onto the wonton skin, and then using the chopsticks, press wonton skin into your opposite hand and begin to scrunch the opening closed. Seal by pressing tightly and set aside.

Continue making wontons. I keep a sheet of plastic wrap over my ready-made wontons to prevent any drying out.

To cook: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add in dumplings. When they float, continue to cook for about 1 minute, then drain and rinse quickly with cold water.

To serve: Bring a pot of chicken stock to a boil. Place wontons in a bowl, then spoon soup over wontons. Top with fresh scallions, a dash of white pepper, and a small drizzle of sesame oil.

Suzhou Small Wontons 苏州小馄饨 | bettysliu.com

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  • Hi sweet friend! Happy New Year. What a beautiful way to begin 2016—and I loved reading about your resolutions for the blog, because all that you mentioned is exactly why I love coming here. So yay for that. And for these gorgeous mini wontons, and their history! Love.ReplyCancel

  • Betty, this is amazing. I’m proud of you. This post seems so you. I really like how you enumerated realistic goals for yourself and how so much a part of your goals for the future reaches into your roots. I love your vids and photography, but I especially love how you demystify these wontons. I really want to make this. I completely agree with how the community of bloggers expand your boundaries and your cooking repertoire. You really are an inspiration. All the best to you always.ReplyCancel

  • Have always loved wonton soup and love how delicate these look. We used to call them brain dumplings because the way the dough shrivels around the met and creates little creases looks like a tiny brain. Haha.

    My grandma on the Chinese side is from Suzhou and although I wasn’t able to fit that in on my trip to China it’s definitely on my list. She has such crazy/interesting stories about growing up in a big courtyard house with a canal running through it and my great grandfather and all his antics (he was reallyyyyy into mah jong and had something like 5 wives).ReplyCancel

  • Mmmmm, warm soup sounds great about now :) love the story too 😉ReplyCancel

  • I started blogging to I could have my mum’s recipes down too! Your blog has grown to be so beautiful and filled with lots of gorgeous pictures and recipes. I’m impressed with everything you’ve done last year too :D. Keep up with everything. I get blown away every time you post!ReplyCancel

  • Love these adorable wontons! And also loved reading about your 2015 reflections and hopes for 2016. I was just telling another blogger last week that the pressure to post every week — especially if you’re working in other areas and/or in school (ahem!) — can be really intense. Sometimes it takes the joy out of it with all that pressure! So good on ya for reevaluating why you got into it.

    I love seeing recipes from your roots, so excited to see more of that. And I had to smile when I read that line because that was one of my goals for 2016 too…only my roots are a little different. (Cajun, cher!) 😉 Cheers to 2016, Betty!ReplyCancel

  • Oh mannnnn that gif has got me mesmerized!!! Wontons are such an intriguing food to me because they seem so close to korean mandoo (dumplings), yet so different. I’ve yet to try a really memorable wonton and I think I miiiiight find it because they’re opening a Din Tai Fung 10 min. away from my house!!!!! Eeeek. 😉 And by the way, thank you for sharing with us that it can become a liiiittle crazy even for you! With a toddler invading my life–and I’m happy to have that blessing by the way–and supporting my husband in his endeavors and doing ministry, I’ve been really learning to just let go and let it be. I feel you and so glad we can relate sista!ReplyCancel

  • Betty, I love how you have taken the trouble to give such detailed instructions, beautiful step by step photos and your little vignettes ( I still need to try and make on of these 😉 I feel confident that I could re-create your little wontons. We have a wonderful asian spice store locally were I am sure I will find your egg free wonton wrappers. Looking forward to more of your beautiful posts in 2016! <3 xReplyCancel

  • OK – I am DEFINITELY making these this weekend. They look so amazing. Congratulations for all your successes and for your kombucha scare :p I definitely need some of that red-braised pork belly in my life. Ps. if you don’t win a saveur award for best photography, I will cry.ReplyCancel

  • Skylar

    Can I do this with ground chicken? I don’t eat pork and it looks deliciousReplyCancel

  • I’m totally in love with this post, Betty! Your wontons look so pretty (and that gif!) and delicious. I’ve never had the courage to make wontons or Asian dumplings at home but this post encourages me to finally give it a go.

    P.S. What a year you’ve had! I can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2016. xoReplyCancel

  • Love this post! We make wontons about every two weeks and so different than these! I’ll have to try and find the eggless wontons next time I’m at Ranch 99. I’m lucky to have a few Chinese foodie friends that can probably tell me where to buy them. And holy cow, congrats on starting medical school! Betty, you’re incredible talented! I don’t know how you have time for wedding photography, blogging and food photography, and medical school! Go easy on yourself! I didn’t really put much time into blogging until the end of my residency because patient care comes first!ReplyCancel

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