“Stay sealed, Wontons! That’s your purpose in life!”

COOKING ADVENTURE #20: Gyoza with dipping sauce

My interactions with Japanese cuisine has been rather limited. I’ve had sushi once in my life. I’m not sure it really even counts as sushi. I made it with my class in 8th grade. And even then, I didn’t really do much, other than watch other people strip seaweed pieces from wax paper and wrap up rice, fake crabmeat, and fish eggs in them. I don’t even remember how it tasted.  Since I started my Cooking Adventures, I’ve done something Greek (Pastitsio), Georgian (Shashlyk), Cajun (Crabcakes, Cajun Chicken Pasta), Spanish (Empanadas), Mediterranean (Lemon Almond Cake), and Chinese (Egg Drop Soup). I figured it was time to attempt another Far Eastern dish. Gyoza, a traditional recipe of wontons stuffed with cooked ground meat and vegetables, seemed like the perfect thing to start out with. This dish is also responsible for allowing me to prepare a couple different food items that I’ve had no experience cooking with before. It had an exciting… and daunting task ahead of me.

This particular recipe called for ground pork, onion, garlic, carrots, and cabbage. When I was shopping for these ingredients, I accidentally forgot to pick up the carrots. Carrots are a funny vegetable to me. I prefer them raw. I’m assuming that they were in this mixture to give it a tad of sweetness but I figured I could forgo it. I wasn’t exactly going to go back to the market and pick them up anyway.

The first thing I did was to take my cast iron skillet and heat some sesame oil in it. Then I crushed a couple garlic cloves with my dull santoku knife, sliced them up, and added them in. The recipe calls for fresh onion. Many of you know by now that I have a history with onion with my cooking adventures and it has not been a great one. So this time, I opted for an alternate. I have a container of dried onion slices that I got from a Menonite store in Upstate New York. I peeled that open and scooped a generous helping of them into the pan. I know. I know. You’re all looking at me with that “You’re so lazy” look. I think I’m entitled this one time, to use some dehydrated onion. Forgive me if I’ve broken a sacred cooking rule of some sort.

While those sizzled in the skillet, I turned my attention to the cabbage. I’ve never cooked cabbage before. So I was somewhat intimidated by this giant purple sphere sitting before me on the counter. I peeled pieces off, washed them and stacked them on a cutting board near by. Once I felt like I had enough, I took my santoku knife to them and started chopping. In the span of ten minutes, I had a pile of cabbage and very, very purple hands. I subcontiously knew that was what might happen, but was still unprepared for it. I spent the next few minutes scrubbing my hands with soap and hot water, trying to get rid of it.

I eventually gave up and dumped the pile of cabbage into the pan. I waited for the cabbage to wilt slightly from the heat and took time washing a couple dishes. When the cabbage hung limply from a fork, I ripped open a package of ground pork and added it to the skillet. Eventually, when the meat had browned, I took the pan off the burner, turned off the heat, and pulled out my package of wontons from the fridge.

Ah, wontons. The idea of them is fairly simple and yet oh so frustrating. You are supposed to be able to take a little bit of your cabbage pork mixture and place it in the center of each wonton. Then, you fold the wonton around it so that it remains closed and seal it with warm water and egg white. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Oh, and it would help if you had some idea of how to fold a wonton.

I’ve never been the best at wrapping anything. Anyone who has ever received a present from me knows this. I now just buy gift bags and tissue paper. The first method I tried with the wontons was to wrap them very similar to an envelope. This actually ended up being the best of the methods. After putting the food in the middle of the wonton, I folded it into a triangle shape. I attempted to use warm water to seal the sides but it was no good. I then folded the two corner pieces in as far as they would go and (again) tried to get them to stick with water. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. It was all very hit or miss and definitely depended on how much food was in the middle. Lastly, I folded the top corner up onto the wonton.

After a few of these didn’t stay closed, I resorted to just trying to mash them closed. Of course that didn’t work either. The title of this post is something I shouted at the wontons, at some point or another. I also uttered many threats. I was threatening the inanimate wontons, guys… After I’d made about 25 wontons and had fretted and stressed about the fact that none of them were sealed, I decided to move on. I pulled out my stainless steel pan and dribbled some oil into it, After it had heated up to about medium-low, I added in the wontons to cook for a minute on each side. Of course, when I went to flip them over, they stuck to the bottom of the pan and a few of them ripped open, exposing their inner delicious goods. I scraped at each one with a wooden spatula, uttering curses under my breath until each one was flipped.

Next, I was to add 1/4 a cup of water to the pan to allow the wontons to steam cook. Of course, I didn’t measure this out on the first batch because, you see, it was already about 9 o’clock that evening. I hadn’t really eaten yet. Therefore, I was in the mood to get this done as soon as possible, so I could snarf them down, and hit the sack. So, I added too much water. And the wontons languished in the water for much longer than they should have. The second batch I did better with.

In the end, collected on that plate all huddled together were these little pockets of translucent dough in which one can see all of the blood-red cabbage strands as if they were internal organs. I know… LOVELY sounding, isn’t it? I’m not joking, they really don’t look that appetizing through a photograph. It’s all in the smell, folks. If you could have smelled these things, you wouldn’t care how it looks. You’d have devoured every single one of them in a flash.

Of course, when all of that is said and done, there is still the dipping sauce to be considered. I mixed a 2:1 ratio of soy sauce with rice vinegar for the wontons. While the wontons tasted absolutely amazing, the dipping sauce was lackluster for me. I enjoy soy sauce but I’m not a fan of it cold. Don’t ask me why. I ate the second batch (and eventually my third and fourth) with just the rice vinegar. There was enough of this ground pork and cabbage mixture left over that I could make many more batches of it. These tasty treats also make a great appetizer, but are quite filling as an entree, too!

Next week, I’ll be delving into the family cooking archives for a traditional Silva family favorite, Chicken Divan! Stay tuned!

~KSilva

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