Welcome Home Wontons
breaking in my Chinatown kitchen the best way I know how
It’s been a while since I’ve cooked. I mean, I’ve been feeding myself more or less sufficiently with toast, eggs, tinned fish and lots of takeout, but those days when I’d just casually cook a whole-ass dinner consisting of a main event and *several* sides feel like a thing of the past. Cooking during a move is simply not a thing (the other day I flipped an egg with a teaspoon because I couldn’t locate a spatula) and furthermore, I haven’t figured out how to cook for one just yet. A large part of my desire to cook comes from my desire to feed others, and when you’re just cooking for yourself, it feels a lot more like a task than an act of love.
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And then there’s the logistic aspect because genetically I’m incapable of cooking in small amounts. Case in point: I decided to make some chicken soup today because New York became an arctic tundra overnight. I got what I felt was a *normal* amount of bone-in chicken and made what I felt was a *normal* amount of soup. And while the definition of “normal” is subjective I now have about 2 gallons of soup and 2 quarts worth of shredded chicken to deal with. For someone who doesn’t even really like chicken, this is not ideal!
I’ve really missed the act of cooking, though. For me, it’s therapy: I get lost while chopping onions or kneading pasta dough. It’s one of the few times in my day I feel a release from the general anxiety that plagues me otherwise. My kitchen is nearing a workable state, and I couldn’t think of a better way to break in my new space than by paying homage to my new Chinatown neighborhood with some homemade dumplings inspired by the countless dumplings I’ve eaten here throughout the years. These wontons are juicy and herbaceous, slightly sweet and served in a tangy, spicy dressing. (A version of this recipe actually appears in my e-book dedicated to dumplings, so if you’re looking for more dumpling content, check it out).
You might think that folding 40 dumplings would start to feel monotonous at some point, but I find true joy in the repetition, calm in the structure. And yeah, there’s no way I could finish 40 dumplings by myself, but they freeze incredibly well, so that’s what I did: I froze some in a bag and brought them over to my friend Sarah’s place. She was incredibly grateful, and I was too.
Pork & scallion wontons in a tangy dressing
WHAT YOU NEED
For the dumplings:
1 package wonton wrappers
1 lb ground pork
1 cup scallions, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
For the sauce:
¼ cup black vinegar
⅓ cup mirin
1 tbsp + 1 tsp sesame oil
Chili oil to taste
Sesame seeds (optional)
WHAT YOU DO
Mix together all the dumpling ingredients (minus the wrappers, of course). I suggest using your hands - it’s easier. To check for seasoning, fry up a small patty of filling and taste. Adjust as needed.
Set up a workstation with a bowl of water, dumpling wrappers, a kitchen towel (or paper towel), a floured plate or sheet pan and your bowl of filling + a teaspoon.
Add 1-2 teaspoons of filling to the center of a wonton wrapper, making sure to keep the rest of the wrappers underneath a damp paper towel or kitchen towel so they don’t dry out. Use your index finger to line the inside edge half the wonton wrapper with water. Fold the wonton in half alongside the diagonal so it becomes a triangle, applying pressure to pinch it securely shut. Do your best to not trap any air alongside the filling. Add a dab of water to the left corner of the triangle and fold the right corner over the left to form a diamond-like shape.
Place the finished wonton on your floured plate/sheet pan and repeat until all the filling is done.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While that happens, make the dumpling sauce: combine all the listed ingredients in a bowl. I like to leave the chili oil out and add it over the top of the dumplings at the end - that way everyone you’re feeding has control over the spice factor.
Boil the dumplings for 3-5 minutes. I like to sacrifice a tester dumpling to make sure they’re cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transport the dumplings to your serving vessel of choice. Top with dumpling sauce, chili oil, and sesame seeds if you’d like.