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

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

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.


Sea Bream with Chilli, Ginger & Spring Onions

Super simple supper that never goes wrong.  This is a very forgiving way to cook fish, and better on the bone than off. I prefer to ‘steam’ in the oven by making a parcel rather than steaming on the hob.  This way the fish juices mingle with the other ingredients instead of dripping away and being lost to a saucepan of simmering water. The result is a gloriously moist and succulent fish, and a delicious liquor for pouring over your fish and rice.

You’ll be able to tell that the fish is cooked enough when the skin lifts away easily and the flesh comes away from the bone cleanly.

Whole Sea Bream
5-6 Spring Onions
1 or 2 Red chillis, finely sliced
1 inch piece of Ginger
2-3 tbsp of Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 tbsp light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Sesame Oil
Rapeseed Oil (or other neutral oil)

Trim the tail and any fins from the whole sea bream (de-scale if not already done). Score the skin on each side of the fish several times about 1 cm deep to allow more of the marinade to permeate whilst cooking.

Take a large piece of foil or baking parchment, it needs to be large enough to make a parcel for the fish to steam in.  Place the fish on top, take 2 of the spring onions and place in the cavity of the fish along with a few thin slices of ginger.

Fold up the edges of the foil a little (to stop the marinade from pouring out), and pour the rice wine, soy and sesame over the fish. Create a sealed parcel by folding over the foil and crimping the edges – use 2 layers of foil if its a bit thin.  You want to leave enough room for the fish to ‘steam’ in the marinade and juices so don’t make the parcel too tight.  Bake at about 180ºC for 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.  You’ll know the fish is cooked through when it slides away from the central bone easily.

Whilst the fish is cooking, shred the chilli, ginger and spring onions. Remove the fish from the oven and allow to rest. Meanwhile heat a little oil in a frying pan on a moderate heat.  Add the ginger, fry for 30 seconds, then the chilli, fry for 30 seconds, then the spring onions and fry for 30 seconds.  You want the spring onions to soften a little but retain their vibrant green colour so careful not to overcook.  Open the fish parcel (breathe in the fragrant aromas!) and transfer the fish to a serving plate.  Pour over the cooking liquor, and top with the fried chilli, ginger and spring onions.

I like to eat this with plain steamed rice and a leafy chinese green such as Morning Glory or Kai Lan.


Holy Grail Chili Oil

Once upon a time, I was AFRAID of chili.

Like many kids, I used to bite my nails. Unlike many kids, my parents were sadomasochistic. Instead of popping down to the nearest chemist and buying some “Stop ‘n’ Grow”, mine would dunk my fingertips in cayenne pepper or hot chili powder. A rather crude and abusive way of getting me to kick the bad habit I think, and solely responsible for my aversion to anything even mildly hot or spicy until my mid teens. Years later, I’ve forgiven my parents for their ‘tough-love’ – my nails look normal, and more importantly my tastes buds have developed and I now love anything with a bit of a fiery kick.

I can’t remember what turned me or at which moment I became a chili fan, but it’s something I can’t get enough these days.  It’s not the pure heat I crave (although I have been known to challenge colleagues over Mad Dog 357), I prefer something with more depth, or flavour layers.

This addictive holy grail of condiments can be used on just about anything – it packs a lot of fire but also has an intense depth of flavour from the dried scallops, salted fried dace and black beans.  It’s really a hybrid between XO Sauce and a more traditional Chili Oil, and suits western food as well as the more obvious asian dishes, from dim sum, noodles and rice to pork chops and even poached eggs (hangover breakfast!).

It’s surprisingly quick to make and lasts a long time.  A typical XO sauce normally calls for dried shrimp, I didn’t have any so used 1/2 a tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Beans (Dau Si Laing Yiu) – you can get hold of this in any chinese supermarket.

Small handful of birds eye chili

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
Small handful of dried scallops
1/2 tin Dau Si Laing Yiu – Fried Salted Dace with Black Beans
Rapeseed oil – approx 150ml
Steam the dried scallops in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes then blitz in a food processor till you have fine shreds.
Blitz the birds eye chilis till you have a coarse mix.
Take 1/2 tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Bean and finely chop.
Add a couple of tablespoons of a neutral oil to a pan and set on a low heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, scallops and salted dace with black beans and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. The mix will turn a deep brown colour. 
Take off the heat and stir in the dried chili. Transfer to a sterilised jar. Heat approx 150ml of neutral oil in a pan till its hot but not smoking.  Then pour into the jar over the chili mix.  Give it a thorough stir, then seal and allow to mingle for at least a few days before using. 
Add a teaspoon or two during cooking or drizzle generously at the end.