Grandpa used to have a nickname for me when I was young, “Tian (or Tian Tian)” which from mandarin means sweet or sweetie he used to call me. Later in life, that nickname still stuck and dad would call me sweet, sweetie well into my adulthood, despite my protests with rolling of the eyes several times over!
Thirty years later, Grandpa has already gone, Dad still calls me sweet sometimes (ha ha). But more significantly, I have two, really sweet, little girls and I find myself doing the same thing, (re the pet names). Family heritage dishes usually take after sir names (i.e. Mak’s famous wanton noodles). My wantons aren’t famous by any measure however, I thought it be a nice touch to remember a sweet nickname over the generations.
This recipe I did last weekend on the last day of the Chinese New Year (15th day), since buying my block of Jinhua ham (as above) from Chinatown I had been looking for recipes to showcase the wonderful aromas of the ham.
I did a little internet research, I did find one or two cantonese style superior stock recipes, most use a combination of chicken and the prized Jinhua/chinese ham – however, this recipe is a little of a mish mash of all the soup techniques I have learnt over the years, with some plain experimentation thrown in.
Let’s break it down…deconstructing wantons and the superior broth
The broth – let’s start with that. Every good cook I know has several secret broth recipes. I have a few myself and my family has a few I can’t even share. Essentially, it starts with some bone or animal carcasses thrown in with pig trotters/pig skins and other seemingly weird or nasty looking animal parts boiled over a period of time. The broth also has several additions of other aromatics, sometimes it will be dried seaweed, dried seafood and/or even dried ham.
The Jinhua ham – This is probably an essential ingredient in preparing this broth, you can of course substitute it with parma ham to get a similar result. More importantly, this ham is what gives the umami flavour without the MSG.
The wantons – the key to a tasty wanton lies in the – “fat content” of the pork. There you have it, lean wanton meat produces dry mealy tasting wantons that belong in the bin.
Wanton skins – I didn’t make my own, I bought the ones that looked like there was a little egg in the mix. The square type is for wantons and the round type for shui gao. I think the HK wanton skins seem thinner and better quality and the ones I can get here in Singapore. I’m still on the lookout for a thin wanton skin – leave me a comment if you know where to buy one. Share the recipe too, if you have the know-how on making a thin wanton skin.
The not soggy, bite in your mouth crunchy prawns – My mother used to make these dumplings too, the prawns were not crunchy though, google is most wonderful for this, I found out that by soaking the prawns in a solution of salt and bicarbonate soda I could get that crunchy end result!
That’s most of the ingredients you will probably need for the aromatics, you can substitute the scallops for dried stockfish or even dried cuttlefish. The jinhua ham will need to be prepared beforehand by steaming in water with ginger slices for about 4omins, the ones in the picture have been steamed already.
You could skip that step and just throw the pieces in with the kampong chicken and pork trotters when scalding the carcasses to remove impurities.
Fresh kampong chicken is said to be reared in a manner where they are allowed to roam freely, which makes the flesh firmer and nicer to eat. If you are concerned about the chicken you buy being injected with antibiotics and hormones, it’s a safer bet to get Sakura chicken or organic chicken.
The pork trotters are fresh from the market and are from indonesia, for all the parts it’s easiest to get your butcher to cut them up into smaller parts so you don’t have to do it yourself. I’ve left all the skins on, and will skim off the fats towards the end. The soup gets much more full bodied and tastier this way.
I like my ginger slightly charred. So I do a prestep of frying it up with the Jinhua ham till they are both slightly caramelised.
Add the chicken and fry that up too with the ginger and jinhua ham till you get a little browning on the skin.
In your largest stockpot, this one takes up to 8 litres of water btw! Add your chicken pieces only, plus the pork trotters, leave out the ginger and jinhua ham. Top the water till it just covers the carcasses.
Bring the whole pot to a rolling boil, to scald and remove the impurities, on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
Clean your pot and chicken and pork trotters as throughly as you can washing two to three times to get rid of all the scum, blood and extra bits of small bones. It should be gleaming like the ones in the photo.
Add your ginger, jinhua ham, all your dried seafood. I’ve packed them into stock bags if you can see. Add your 3 litres of cool filtered water/tap water. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil and reduce to a low fire and a slow simmer for a clear broth.
Making the filling…
Wanton mince mix – season according to the recipe, I’ve mixed the mince together with the yellow chives and the prawns should be peeled and soaked in a mixture of salt and bicarbonate soda water the day before to alter the texture to a crunchy one. If you don’t have time just soak it for 15 mins before adding to the filling mixture.
If prepping the prawns the day before, the left over prawn heads and shells, can be made into a quick stock, just cover with water and boil on medium heat. Cool and reserve for the broth the next day.
If you are just preparing the prawns with the salt and bicarbonate soda mix for now, just add the remaining heads and shells to the broth.
I took some of the filling I made for the wantons and set it aside to make shui gao, which is a larger sized dumpling that looks like a crescent moon. To this mixture, I added some finely chopped water chesnut, fried stock fish that has been shredded and some fresh jews ears/black fungus.
You can try any other variation you may like! I’m considering a truffle mushroom combination sometime!
The dumpling wrapper is round, wet the sides with water, scoop your filling in the center and press down firmly.
Making gold nugget/tortellini shaped wantons – make the basic triangle and then fold down the sides and press in the extra dough. You will get a shape that looks somewhat like this!
The finished wantons and shui gao ready for cooking. This batch can feed 8 to 10 persons. I usually freeze some for later use.
You will want to cook your wantons and dumplings separately in another vat of boiling water for about 3 to 5mins till the skins turn slightly soft.
If you cook the wantons directly in the superior broth, your broth will become cloudy from the extra starches.
Last steps: your broth will be ready 3 to 4 hours after slowly simmering. Don’t forget to skim off all the fats and oils before serving!
That’s all folks, all that is left is slurping all that golden goodness from the broth and biting into meaty, tender, crunchy dumplings! If you make this tag your dish at #taystesg!
Tian’s wantons in superior broth
Makes approx 60 wantons and 20 shui gao/shrimp dumplings
Total time: 3 to 4 hours
Inactive time: Soaking the peeled prawns in salt and bicarbonate water the day before
Equipment: Steamer, wok and stockpot
Serves 8 to 10 persons
Filtered water 3 to 3.5 litres
8 pieces sliced ginger
1 napa cabbage (core removed, cut into 6 sections lengthwise and then into 3cm pieces)
1 bunch washed spring onions
300 g of dried seafood (prawns, scallop, stockfish, cuttlefish mixture)
Half to one block of Jinhua ham
8 pieces of kombu
1 kg chicken – 1 kg of kampong chicken plus extra feet and bones
500g pork trotters cut up (the more trotters the more gelatinous the soup)
2 tablespoons of neutral oil
Wanton skin – 100 square pieces & 30 round pieces
Small bowl with a little water for sealing wantons
350g mince pork with some fat
300g fresh prawn meat (soaked the day before with salt and bicarbonate)
1.5 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bunch of yellow chives – chopped into fine pieces
A few sprinkles of salt
A few dashes of ground white pepper
To make the shrimp dumpling mince;- add any or all of the below
Finely chopped water chesnut
Fresh jews ears finely sliced
Salt and ground white pepper
Fried stockfish, minced or shredded
Yellow chives and/ or spring onions
Pickled green chilli
Superior Broth – Part One
Prepare all the ingredients under the superior broth list, which includes the ginger, cabbage, spring onions amd packing the dried seafood and kombu into the little paper stock packets.
You may want to prepare the jinhua ham, by slicing up the block, and then steaming the pieces in a water bath with ginger for 40mins.
In a separate wok, with a little oil, fry the ginger and jinhua ham till slightly caramel and fragrant. Add the kampong chicken and fry till a little charred on the skin.
Transfer just the chicken pieces and also the pork trotters into your stockpot and fill it up with cool water. Bring to a boil to scald and remove impurities, boil on high for 5 to 10 mins.
Throw out the dirty water, rinse and wash your stockpot.
Wash the chicken and pork pieces very throughly a few times, till all the scum, impurities and extra little bone pieces are removed.
Return the chicken, pork trotters to the pot and fill with the 3 litres of water and add in all the other dry ingredients you prepared earlier for the superior broth.
Crank up the heat, when everything starts to boil, reduce to a simmer for a clear soup. Make sure your fire is kept low.
At the two hour mark, if you want to keep the chicken and eat it, you may choose to take out some pieces shred it and return the bones. You may also want to remove the napa cabbage and let it cool.
Cook for at least 3 hours to extract all the flavours.
Whilst the broth is cooking make your wantons and shrimp dumplings – Part two
You have got your peeled prawns from the day before soaked in the bicarbonate and salt water solution.
If your prawns are small in size, you probably don’t need to cut them, my prawns were medium sized so I cut them into 3 pieces per prawn.
Season your mince and prawn pieces with the ingredients in the seasoning mix.
If you are also making shrimp dumplings, (shui gao) you got to also prepare the other ingredients for the fillings. And you will need both square and round type dumpling wrappers.
The square type wrappers are for the wantons and the round dumplings are for the shui gao(shrimp dumplings).
On each piece of skin, place the mince in the middle and follow the pictures in the post for the end result.
After completing all the wrapping of the dumplings, store what you will eat for that day and freeze the rest.
In a pot filled with boiling water, cook your prepared dumplings for 3 to 5 minutes with a drizzle of oil so they don’t stick together when you take them out.
Your broth will be ready after 3 hours, pour out the liquid broth into a smaller pot, throwing away the tasteless aromatics used to flavour the broth. Skim the surface to remove any oil or scum.
Dish out the wantons/shrimp dumplings into bowls add the broth and garnish with yellow chives, spring onions and pickled green chillis.
Freeze any left over broth, for future use.
Seasoning the meat fillings for the wantons
(Variations – cooking for the elderly on a reduced salt diet – use alternatives like red or brown miso to flavour the meat)
Miso – typically considered to be a high sodium food, recent research has shown that in spite of its high sodium content miso does not appear to affect our cardiovascular system in the way that other high sodium foods sometimes can.
Gluten free options
If going completely gluten free, omit the wrappers and make into meatballs!