Che vey! That's Shanghainese for "eat rice" which is like saying "bon appetit" before you begin a meal. These words were most frequently uttered around my grandmother's dinner table. She is credited with this recipe and was the one responsible for creating the shanghai wonton loving monster that I am.
"Wontons" in general can be varied in their fillings, their folded-shape and wrappers themselves, depending on the region of China from whence they originated. Specifically, Shanghai wontons are filled with ground pork & bok choy (but I have also used ground chicken in place of pork). Sometimes when we are feeling decadent (not lazy) we also tuck a tiny morsel of raw white shrimp in with the filling (shrimp was always present in my grandmas, she was not lazy). The bok choy in the filling is what makes the preparation a little more involved, compared to other types of dumpling fillings, because you need to put effort into squeezing out most of the liquid before it is mixed with the meat and seasonings for the filling. That step is ESSENTIAL. That's the reason this recipe is a labor of love but SO very worth it.
Nothing at any restaurant I have ever tried (and we have a lot of quality ones here in Toronto) compares to these homemade dumplings - I promise! Put on some great music and make some asap.
MAKE IN ADVANCE: Wontons freeze well for up to a month. To do so, lay them in a single layer, not touching on a floured or parchment-lined sheetpan. Freeze them this way for at least a couple of hours or until they are quite firm. Once firm, you can toss them into a freezer-safe container or freezer-safe zip top bag with the air squeezed out. To cook from frozen, simply boil them directly from the freezer. Follow the cooking directions in the recipe.
Recipe makes 95-100 dumplings. Assuming 13-15 dumplings per person, this should serve 6 adults maybe with some leftovers to freeze.
For the Wontons:
1lb (450g) raw ground pork (or ground chicken)
3lb (1350g) baby bok choy (typically 3 bags)
2 tbsp tamari or light soy sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp raw cane sugar
2 dashes of white pepper powder
1 to 3 packages (650g to1200g) wonton wrappers*
*There is a myriad of wonton wrapper brands varying in thickness which means (a) I can't give you a specific number of packages or weight -- if you are making this recipe for the first time, buy extra wrappers because it sucks to run out in the middle of it (spoken from experience) and make a note how many packages you will need for next time and (b) cooking time will vary i.e. thinner wrappers cook a wee bit more quickly. Also, technically wonton wrappers are square but round wrappers also work for this recipe using a different folding technique. If circle is all you can find, you can simply fold a circle over into a half-moon shape. If you are feeling fancy, you can pleat one side as you fold the circle. Here is a youTube how-to video you can peep. It's more work but does give a nicer mouth-feel.
For the Dipping sauce (optional):
Equal parts tamari (or light soy sauce) and rice vinegar, plus chili oil to taste.
Optional for serving:
1/2L chicken stock, preferably homemade or low sodium
1 scallion, thinly sliced for garnish
1. Preheat a large wok or heavy-bottom pot over medium to medium-high heat.
2. Clean the bok choy thoroughly and give them a rough chop.
3. Put a tablespoon of neutral oil such as grapeseed and saute the bok choy about 10 minutes. This step beings the release of all the liquid in the vegetable. A dry filling is essential to a good wonton! The wilted bok choy is also easier to handle than raw, simply by reducing the volume since there is so much of it! Pre-cooking it also makes the final filling taste better - raw bok choy in the filling gives a slightly "grassy" flavor.
4. Drain the bok choy in a large colander for a few minutes. See all the water? We don't want that in the filling.
5. Put the drained bok choy into a food processor and give it about 8 or 9 pulses. You will need to do this in 2 to 3 batches. Alternatively you can hand chop with a sharp knife.
6. In batches, put the bok choy into a cheese cloth bag (or wrap securely into a cheese cloth) and squeeeeeze as much of the liquid out as possible. If you don't have cheesecloth, you can use both hands and/or press the bok choy against the colander to push out the liquid. Aim to get it about 80-85% dry.
7. Add to the squeezed bok choy: the raw ground meat, salt, tamari (or light soy sauce), sugar and white pepper powder in a large bowl. Mix it up. Get in there with your hands!
8. This next step my dad swears by: using a wooden spoon or several pairs of chopsticks held in a bunch together (my dad and grandma's old school way), mix the mixture with good *vigour for a bout 5 minutes or until your arm falls off. This step tenderizes the meat and pulls everything together to form a tighter, more "glue-y" (original culinary term) mass. The filling is done!
9. Fill each wonton wrapper with about 1 tsp of the filling. Resist the tendency to overfill. The ratio of filling-to-dough affects the overall mouth-feel and besides, an overstuffed wonton is sure to explode as soon as it hits the boiling water during cooking. Yes, wontons are serious business.
10. Folding technique: this is the skill that sets apart the novice and the expert! Use the step-by-step image for reference. Use the pictorial below (1) Place the filling in the center of the wonton wrapper (2) Fold halfway up, and very gently squeeze around the filling to secure it (3) Curl the wrapper horizontally halfway and (4) begin pulling the lower 2 corners towards each other (5) Dab a bit of cold water onto the corner parts that will touch (i.e. the bottom of the left corner + top of the right corner) and overlap them (6) Gently squeeze the overlapped corners to stick them together.
11. Voila! One down, 99 more to go.
12. At this point the wontons can be frozen for another day to enjoy. Place them in a single layer, not touching, on a baking sheet lined with parchment and put into the freezer for an hour or two. Transfer them into a freezer bag or container. It helps to label how many are inside the bag for future helpings.
12. To cook the fresh wontons, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season it with salt the way you would when cooking pasta. Once at a rolling boil, slide the wontons into the pot carefully so as not to scald yourself. Do not overcrowd the pot - you may need to cook in several batches. Boil until the wontons bob up to the top, about 1-2 minutes. Pour about a cup of cold tap water into the pot and wait for it to come to a boil again, about 45 seconds. Take them out with a long-handled strainer.
13. There are three ways we enjoy them (1) simply boiled like this, with a dipping sauce (see Dipping Sauce ingredients) or simply some chili oil (2) in homemade chicken broth or (3) pan fried a bit of neutral oil like grapeseed on a non-stick skillet until golden brown on the edges (tip: let them stand 10-15 minutes after boiling them to dry out a bit for crispier results). Soooooo good. Che vey!