Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Firecracker Wontons with Chinese Pesto

Sometimes a recipe sounds good on paper, but execution is so-so. That's kind of how I've felt so far about the "Firecracker Dumplings" in Hugh Carpenter's "Chopstix" cookbook.

On the upside, the sauce looks good! It's a spinach + basil puree with Asian flavors & spices, and I like the bright green look of what Carpenter calls a "rich Chinese pesto sauce".

On the downside, the wontons themselves tasted pretty plain. So I added garlic, more salt. Also I substituted mirin for the dry sherry, as I think wonton filling was missing an element of sweetness (plus I didn't have sherry, and the combo of brandy + sav blanc didn't cut it). Not to mention the quantities are totally wrong: original filling was for more than 60 wontons, and only specified 30 skins! So here's the right way, I think 30 wontons is the right amount.

Firecracker Wontons
Makes 30 dumplings, serves 4 as meal or 6 as appetizer.

1 c. chopped carrots
2 green onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. (~225g) ground chicken
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (I like Spectrum Organics)
1/2 tsp Chinese hot bean paste
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 pinch red chili flakes powder
30 wonton skins (usually 1 small package)

Chinese Pesto Sauce (recipe follows)
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  1. In food processor, process carrots, onions, and garlic until finely minced.
  2. In a separate bowl, add ground chicken, carrot/onion mixture, and remaining spices. Stir with spoon or knead with fingers until well combined.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap & let rest at least 30 minutes.
  4. Fry up a little piece in a pan; adjust seasonings of filling.
  5. Make wontons: put about 1 tsp filling in center. Moisten 3 of 4 edges with water. Seal into triangle. Dimple the bottom of filling triangle in middle with thumb, then pinch widest 2 points together with some water to stick.
  6. Place on cookie sheet, covered with wax paper.
  7. DO AHEAD: freeze dumplings, or refrigerate up to 5 hours
  8. DO AHEAD: Make pesto sauce (recipe follows); can keep up to 2 days
  9. Cook wontons: boil a big pot of salted water. Add fresh or frozen dumplings to boiling water. When they float (about 3 minutes), skim with spider and remove.
  10. Toss dumplings with pesto sauce in large mixing bowl.
  11. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds
Chinese Pesto Sauce
Makes a little more than 1/2 cup

12 oz spinach leaves, washed and dried
8 basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp fresh orange peel, grated
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Sriracha or hot chili sauce (or hot bean paste)
  1. In a large pot, heat at least 8 cups water to a rolling boil.
  2. Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  3. Blanch basil & spinach leaves for 1-2 seconds, swirling quickly, then immediately into ice water to cool. Drain and dry.
  4. Squeeze out excess moisture of spinach and basil in paper towels.
  5. Add basil, spinach, and all remaining ingredients into blender. Puree until smooth.
  6. Strain thru fine-mesh strainer (chinois).
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Will keep for about 2 days in the fridge.

NOTES: prepared everything tonight 1/28 for dinner with Beckey.

Sauce is REALLY delicious and flavorful, but needs a few mods. Because the wontons taste so mild, the sauce tends to overwhelm their rather delicate flavors. Here are my recommended sauce mods:
  • Use only 1 garlic clove, not 2: garlic was overpowering
  • Blanching spinach worked well, bright green & should help preserve a bit.
  • Cilantro is beautiful here, Beckey didn't notice it at all, and it adds a freshness and a hidden floral note to the orange which is nice
  • Much less orange peel, it's very strong and overwhelmed other flavors (maybe 1/2 or 1/4 tsp only, a few grates on the zester, taste & adjust)
  • Mirin worked really well as a substitute for dry sherry (specified in Carpenter's original sauce)
  • Less sriracha (one tiny squeeze); taste & adjust, mine was a bit too spicy, again, not wanting to overwhelm and allow the delicate sweetness of the chicken, carrots & green onions through.
  • Only 2 oz of spinach leaves necessary, not 12! About 3 loose cups worth.
  • No need to strain thru chinois, it was very uniform after the blender.
OOPS! forgot the sesame seeds for sprinkling on top. Still it was delicious.

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