This piece is brought to you by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Historically, the Northern Chinese called the meat-stuffed dumplings ‘hun dun,’ naming them after the ancient Hun invaders, symbolizing the consumption of their foes. While there are various regional wonton styles across China, the Cantonese version, typically accompanied by soup and sometimes noodles, might be the most recognized.
Step 1: Preparing the Skins
The wonton skins should be thin and nearly transparent. To accomplish this, allow the dough to rest multiple times while kneading, letting the gluten unwind, which makes it more flexible. Utilize cornstarch to dust the dough and surface instead of flour, since the addition of extra flour will result in tough skins.
Step 2: Creating the Filling
The authentic Cantonese filling combines pork and prawn and should feel firm and resilient. Achieve this texture by hand-dicing the pork instead of mincing, and opt for a fatty cut like pork belly. Mixing the meat adequately is vital — using a mixer, begin with dry seasonings and add oil at the end, until the mixture becomes tacky.
Step 3: Shaping the Wontons
There is a multitude of shaping techniques, such as folding the wrapper into a triangle and then crossing the bottom corners; or sealing with diagonal folding and pleating. Ensure you squeeze out any air by pinching the wrapper near the filling, and give the last pleat a firm squeeze, allowing the filling to almost stretch the skin.
Step 4: Cooking Process
Gently boil the wontons, as the thin skins can overcook quickly if the water is boiling too vigorously. When cooking frozen wontons, bring them to a boil, then add a small amount of cold water, equivalent to an espresso cup, to the pan. Repeat this process two more times.
Step 5: Serving the Dish
Cantonese wontons are traditionally served in a pork bone soup. Preparing this can be time-consuming, so a quicker alternative is chicken stock seasoned with white pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil. If pressed for time, substitute the soup with a dressing made of vinegar and chili oil. A sprinkle of chopped spring onions is the essential finishing touch.
Amy Poon, co-owner of Poon’s sauces and Poon’s Wontoneria, is a key contributor to this guide.
This article is part of Issue 20 (summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about wontons
What are wontons?
Wontons are meat-filled dumplings originally named ‘hun dun’ by the Northern Chinese, symbolizing the consumption of their historic Hun invaders.
How do you make thin wonton skins?
To achieve thin and near-translucent wonton skins, allow the dough to rest during kneading for increased pliability. Use cornstarch instead of flour to avoid tough skins.
What is the traditional Cantonese filling for wontons?
The traditional Cantonese filling consists of pork and prawn. For a firm and springy texture, hand dice the pork, and choose a fatty cut like pork belly.
How should wontons be shaped?
There are several ways to shape wontons, like folding the wrapper into a triangle and pleating to seal. Expel air by pinching close to the filling for a tight seal.
How should wontons be cooked?
Cook wontons in gently boiling water to avoid overcooking the thin skins. If using frozen wontons, boil and add cold water twice during cooking.
What are the serving options for Cantonese wontons?
Cantonese wontons are traditionally served in a soup made with pork bones. Alternatively, chicken stock with white pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil can be used, or a dressing of vinegar and chili oil for a quicker option. Garnish with chopped spring onions.