Boxing Day Batch Wonton

A traditional boxing day activity for us at home is making a big batch of won ton – some to eat that day whilst all the family are still around, and some for the freezer to munch on another time. They’re a bit of a faff to make if you only doing a few at a time as the pastry wrappers come in packets of about 30 or so. They freeze very well, and most of all my mother takes great pride in packing a box of them in a cool bag for us to take back home after Christmas, to share with other friends or loved ones.

Mum: “Does Tom like my won ton?”
Me: “Yes mum”
Mum: “Does he really like them, or are you just saying?”
Me: “Yes mum, he does like them”
(Mum: Grins)
Mum: “How many does he have?”
Me: “Depends how hungry he is mum”
Mum: “Ah…does he prefer these won ton or the won ton I made last time?”
Me: “I don’t really know mum…he doesn’t talk about your won ton that much”
Mum: “Huhh?…I think he likes these won ton better”
Me: “Ok mum”

Batch Wonton

Won ton batch ready to go…

You can find a recipe for the won ton dumpling mix here.

A couple of tips for freezing them…
– dust a little cornflour on a tray and place each made dumpling on the tray, making sure they are not touching each other too much. Once you have a full complete layer of dumplings, loosely cover with cling film.
– you can then add another layer or two (I’d suggest no more than 3 in total), with a layer of cling film between each one.  Then freeze them overnight – once frozen, you’ll be able to put them in a tuppaware box, or portion 4-6 (depending on how hungry you are!) in sandwich bags, ready for your next meal.
– don’t be tempted to put them all in a tuppaware box or bag straight away and freeze them all in one go as they’ll stick together.  You’ll never be able to separate them and all your hard work will be wasted! (& Tom won’t get his dumplings).
– to cook from frozen, plunge several into boiling broth or stock for 8-10 minutes, depending on size. No need to defrost before cooking. Add some noodles in the last few minutes of cooking if you like as well as some chinese greens and a sprinkling of spring onions to serve.

Batch of Won Ton Dumplings

Dumpling Heaven

Black Truffle Linguine

An indulgent splurge on the man’s birthday left me with no choice but to smother butter coated Linguine with generous shavings of Black Truffle. A very simple recipe, no fuss allowed.

Boil the Linguine in salted water till al dente, saving a little of the starchy water back when draining.  Add a generous knob of  unsalted butter to a frying pan and allow to bubbly way till nutty and brown but not burnt.

Add the drained pasta to the frying pan and coat the Linguine with the butter, adding a little of the starchy water to loosen and provide a little more moisture. Season generously with salt, and transfer to a plate immediately. Top generously with shavings of freshly grated black truffle (or as generously as the wallet allows) and devour!

U-don think it’s easy to make Udon?

My latest cookery course endeavour was a fresh noodle making class with Reiko Hashimoto, possibly the first of its kind in London, for I’ve yet to come across anything remotely similar.  I’ve been to Reiko’s Gourmet course and left with nothing but praise for the standard of expertise in Japanese cuisine that Reiko offers, relaxed and informal surroundings and above all, damn tasty food that you CAN recreate at home (whilst wowing your friends as they marvel at your culinary skills!).

My assumption has always been that it’s pretty tough to make noodles and I was so surprised to see how so few ingredients and a little hard graft result in fresh noodles ready for the pot in less than 20 minuntes (or a little longer for feebles like me with wimpy arms).

We made Udon noodles – equal quantities of strong white flour and plain flour, and Reiko explained how to make Soba noodles – a combination of buckwheat flour and plain flour.  Nothing else needed, just a little cold water to bring the mixture together.  The soba noodles were made before the class began to allow for resting.

This is a very hands-on class, and no doubt the messiest one for Reiko’s kitchen, although aprons were thoughtfully provided for all of us. Everyone has their own Udon mix to knead and after about 15 minutes of taking out the days aggressions on the dough, it is miraculously transformed into a springy ball ready for rolling and cutting.

The noodles are hand cut, which all adds to the ‘feel-good’ factor when making something very tactile like this, and you get a much better idea of how thin the dough should be rolled and cut than if it were to be pressed through a machine.

We also rolled and cut the Soba, which were more tricky to work with as the dough was drier and less elastic, and the strands should be cut much thinner than for Udon.

Some of the noodles came out fat, some thin…and some with a rogue hair in them (whoops!).  For me, this was all part of the enjoyment and I’m sure we all left learning from our mishaps.

At the beginning of the class, Reiko started by preparing a traditional Dashi stock with Kombu and Bonito flakes and we revisit the pot at several stages throughout the class. Of course when you’re in a rush it’s ok to use instant dashi stock, but you really can taste the difference if the stock is made from scratch.

We went through a variety of accompaniments for the noodles – Soy & Honey Glazed Smoked Mackeral or Saba and Deep Fried Tofu or Kitsune for the udon, and a sweet soy based Zaru dressing for the Soba noodles which are traditionally eaten cold with a little wasabi and chopped spring onion. We also had some sliced Japanese fish cake to serve with the udon. Needless to say, this then led to the inevitable slurping of the noodles, with a refreshing glass of wine or beer.  I dare say we deserved it for all that kneading!

The Udon and amazing dashi stock were especially good – when freshly made they have a certain spring to them that you don’t get with dried or frozen udon. This is something I will definitely try at home, I really was amazed at how simple they were to make, with no specialist equipment or ingredients needed.

All in the evening costs £65 and it’s one of a kind. Reiko’s classes always attract a nice mix of attendees from all kinds of backgrounds, and the ice is broken quickly with such a hands on class where everyone rolls up their sleeves and mucks in. Another triumph from Reiko which I wholeheartedly recommend!

Wonton Dumplings (Sui Kow)

Sui Kow is a type of Chinese Dumpling, typically filled with minced pork, prawns or shrimp and some form of vegetable for additional flavour and crunch.  Here I added water chestnuts, bamboo and chinese chives, but they’re also great with chinese cabbage (pickled or fresh), dried shitake mushrooms and black fungus. They’re delicious on their own in a vegetable or chicken broth, or with fine egg noodles for a heartier meal.

Feel free to play around with the quantities of pork to prawn and balance of vegetables according to taste. You can substitute the vegetables I’ve used with carrot, green beans or even peas.  It’s one of those recipes you can be inventive with – the important thing is to achieve a bit of variation in texture and taste.

They take a bit of time but are easy to do with a little practice.  I use ready made wonton skins, best fresh rather than frozen if you can get hold of them (from chinese supermarkets) as the skin is a bit more elastic and less prone to tearing. They freeze well, so I always make a batch ready to take from the freezer and add to a simmering soup broth as the urge takes me.  No need to defrost before using.

Sui Kow DumplingsIngredients
200g lean, good quality minced pork (makes about 30 dumplings)
80g raw prawns, roughly chopped
25g water chestnuts, finely cubed
20g bamboo, finely cubed
3 tbsp chives, finely chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp cornflour
1/2 egg white (small egg)
pinch white pepper
30 dumpling skins
 

Method
Remove the veins from the raw prawns first by running a knife on the top side of the prawn and pulling out the dark intestinal tract.  It helps if you have a bowl of water on the side so you can dip in your fingers as you go – the vein has a habit of clinging to your fingers!  Roughly chop the prawns, keeping some larger chunks for texture. Add the prawns to a bowl with the minced pork, water chestnuts, chives and bamboo and roughly mix.  Then add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Get ready to make the dumplings – have a finger bowl of cold water on the side and lightly dust a chopping board or tray with cornflour (this is to place the dumplings on once made – the cornflour will stop them from sticking).

Take a wonton skin and place on your palm.  Add a teaspoon of the mix to the centre of the skin, being careful not to over fill.

1. Making Dumplings

With your other hand, dab the edge of the skin with a little water to help the edges stick together. Then fold over one side to make a triangle, pressing lightly at the edge to seal the dumpling and squeeze out any excess air.

2. Making Dumplings

The next bit is more fiddly and takes a little practice – using your fore fingers and thumbs, crimp and pinch together the edge to make little folds.  Work inwards from the outer edge.

3. Making Dumplings

The skins are quite forgiving but if you happen to tear one just empty out the filling and start again with a fresh skin. Once crimped all the way to the other edge, place on the dusted tray…and keep going till all the mix is gone.

If you want to want to cook them straight away, you can plunge into simmering soup broth for about 6-8 minutes, or steam in a bamboo steamer for about 8 minutes (place a slice of carrot or cucumber under each dumpling to stop them from sticking).

To cook from frozen, they’ll take 10-12 minutes to boil, or 12-14 to steam (depending on size).

To freeze them, I put the whole tray of dumplings into the freezer for a couple of hours. Once they have hardened, I then place them in a tuppaware box or freezer bag.  If you put them straight into a tuppaware box or bag when soft, they’ll stick together and deform and will be tricky to separate when you just want to grab a few.

Serve alone in a soup or with fine egg noodles, add some chinese leaf in the final minute of cooking and sprinkle liberally with spring onions and a few drops of sesame oil.

Delicious!

Squid-Inky Orzo

2

Perhaps not the most aesthetically appealing dish in the world to some, this Squid Ink Orzo may look like Orc food, but it certainly doesn’t taste like it.  Combining two of my favourite ingredients, orzo and squid ink, the result is a silky, bouncy grain engulfed in a slick of glossy, briny ink and subtle hints of the sea.

An intensely morish dish, I had to put my spoon down a few times and remind myself to savour the taste before wolfing it down. The sautéed squid really is secondary to this dish – of course it adds contrast in both texture and colour, but is by no means the star of the show.

Orzo is a type of pasta shaped like a grain of rice, also known as Risoni.  I use it as a substitute to arborio or carnaroli rice in risottos more and more these days.  The flavour is more delicate, and not heavy or creamy like risotto rice. It’s ideal for a dish like this where you want to show off a particular ingredient such as squid ink, and need something to ‘carry’ it and absorb the flavour without giving off too much creamy starch.

Squid ink is fairly easy to get hold of these days from good fishmongers or even online. I picked up 4 sachets from Borough Market for just 2 squid quid, so it’s pretty inexpensive too. It keeps in the fridge for months, so you don’t need to worry about having to use it within a few days should you come across it.

Ingredients
1 sachet squid ink
2 whole squid, or tubes (medium size)
250g Orzo
3 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50g unsalted butter
dash olive oil
1 glass of white wine
500ml light chicken or fish stock (approx – you may need to add more water during cooking)
black pepper
wedge of lemon
grated parmesan
 
Method

Score the squid (outer side) in a diagonal about half a cm width apart, then score on the other diagonal to give a criss cross.  Cut into strips and put to the side.

Heat up the stock in a separate saucepan so it’s ready to add to the Orzo as needed.

Add a little olive oil and half of the butter to a saucepan, add the shallots and fry on a medium heat for a few minutes to soften, without browning.  Add the garlic, and fry for a further minute or two.  Then add the Orzo grains, stirring for a couple of minutes to coat each grain.  Pour in the wine and stir until it has reduced, then add one ladle of the hot stock at a time.  Stir frequently as the orzo will stick to the bottom of the pan otherwise.  Continue adding and reducing the stock, adding a little water if you need to.

The Orzo will take about 12-15 minutes to cook – it should be soft but slightly al dente, as with any other type of pasta or risotto.  A few minutes before it’s done, stir in the squid ink straight from the sachet.

Meanwhile, season the squid with salt and pepper.  Then fry in a separate saucepan in a little butter and olive oil on a high heat for no longer than a minute. Turn off the heat and squeeze the lemon juice over the squid.  Add the last knob of butter and some grated parmesan to the Orzo and give a final whip to melt it in.

Serve immediately with the sautéed squid on top.