Chinese New Year: Fried Wontons
Chinese takeout-style fried wontons are perhaps one of the most perfect examples of a bastardized Cantonese classic, served by the foil bagful at two in the morning to college students for whom spending $3 on a late night snack is a rare luxury. A type of soup dumpling, served not in a broth, but instead deep fried and served dry, with a classic sweet and sour sauce, fried wontons are hot, they’re greasy, they’re crunchy, they’re dirt-cheap, you can eat them by the dozen, and they are endlessly satisfying.
With an understanding of their basic appeal, why is it, then, that they aren’t a staple in Chinese takeout restaurants in Maine? Our survey of Chinese restaurants last year gave us some idea. Many restaurants in town simply didn’t offer them at all. Nearly all of the restaurants who did serve wontons were serving nothing more than hot bags of deep-fried wonton wrappers, with no filling to be found anywhere, which takes the concept of fried wontons to their most cynical and depressing possible conclusion. That’s right. Instead of expertly folded, golden-fried, blistered purses bursting with bits of pork or beef, waiting to be dragged through a thick, sticky sweet and sour sauce, we were often confronted with sad, sodden bags of nothing but puffed dough and air. It’s easy to see why someone who may not have ever tried a real wonton would take one look at this offering, and then politely pick up the bag , walk to the front door, and throw it out into the yard. Even at two or three dollars, a bag of empty fried wonton skins is nobody’s idea of a satisfying meal.
Our version of fried wontons uses a thin, pre-bought wrapper stuffed with a filling of ground pork, scallion, and a bit of diced shrimp. That “can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it” flavor in a lot of Chinese cooking? Yeah, it’s fish. The resulting fried wontons are as light as air (much like their Cantonese name, “Zhá Yúntūn,” or “Swallowing Clouds”), with a touch of warm, ground-pork filling that is perfectly paired with a dab of sweet and sour sauce and a light, crisp beer. When made correctly, they are a food that I will eat as many of as there are in the room.
Adapted from a recipe from “Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More, by Andrea Nguyen”
Makes about four dozen wontons. Plan on between four and forty per person.
- 1/3 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and finely chopped
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pinch of black pepper
- 48 small square wonton skins
- Canola or peanut oil, for frying
- 1 cup Sweet and Sour sauce
- To make the filling, combine the shrimp, pork, scallion, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly dust with cornstarch. To assemble wontons, fill each skin with about a teaspoon of filling, and fold either in half, into flower blossoms, or into nurse’s caps (see video below for more information on wonton folds). Place each finished wonton on the baking sheet.
- Put a wire cooling rack on a baking sheet, and place next to the stove. Pour oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat to about 325 degrees.
- Working in batches, slide the wontons into the hot oil and fry for about 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown. Remove with tongs and transfer to rack to drain.
- Arrange the wontons on a platter and serve hot with sweet and sour sauce for dipping.
What’s that you say? Having some trouble with your wonton technique? We’ve made a video to help you get the hang of the three main types of folds for wontons: