By STEVEN DESALVO
for Montclair Local

One of my favorite things to do when the weather is cold is to make a tray of any sort of warm and comforting dumpling. 

This time around I chose wontons. I love a wonton soup, but I have always wanted to experiment with making my own chili oil, so that I could put it on literally everything I cook for the next two to three months. 

I cannot recommend this wonton and chili oil combination more highly. I will warn you that this is a much more labor-intensive recipe than usual, but I very much believe that the cold months are well spent taking a few hours to make something satisfying and comforting. 

I have been making wontons for years, and I have just finally become appropriately satisfied with the recipe I am putting forth today. It is not entirely traditional, but the roots are based in tradition. I hope you enjoy and, most importantly, have fun!

Wonton ingredients (This recipe can easily be scaled up. These quantities will make approximately 30 wontons.)

  • 6 ounces ground pork
  • 2 ounces pork belly, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 package square wonton wrappers

Chili oil ingredients

  • 1 cup Szechuan chili flakes (different from the typical chili flakes in the supermarket and may require an order online or a trip to a specialty market)
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • Salt
  • 1½ cups neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable
  • 3 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns (also may require an internet order or a trip to a specialty store)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 4-5 slices fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic

Wonton instructions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the cornstarch and wonton wrappers in a large bowl. Stir everything until combined.
  2. Take a very small spoonful of the filling and form it into a small patty. Cook as if it is a hamburger in a pan; once it is cooked, taste it. This is how we adjust the seasoning of the filling. If the patty needs more salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar, etc., add it at this stage and stir it into the filling.
  3. Now that the filling is properly seasoned, add the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch into the filling vigorously in the same direction for 5 to 7 minutes. You can take breaks if your arm gets tired, but it is important to do this for the full time. You are looking for the filling to almost look batter-like and have streaks form on the side of the bowl. This helps the cornstarch tighten up the filling and make it more cohesive. 
  4. Let the filling rest in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes to one hour. This lets the filling cool down, which makes it easier to work with, and lets the flavors commingle.
  5. Once the filling is cool, prepare a tray for the folded wontons and a small bowl of water to seal the edges of the wrappers, and open the package of wrappers.
  6. Take a tablespoon measure and fill it with filling, scraping off the excess on the edge of the bowl.
  7. Place the tablespoon in the middle of the wonton wrapper and flatten it slightly with the back of the spoon. Wet the edges of the wrapper and fold the wrapper from corner to opposite corner so that the wrapper forms a triangle. Flatten and pinch the edges on either side together. Be sure to squeeze out all of the air in the wrapper, otherwise the wonton will split when it is boiled. Then wet one of the bottom edges of the triangle and fold the two bottom edges together and pinch them together to form a wonton. 
  8. Repeat until the filling is all gone, then line the finished wontons on the tray. When they are finished they can either be frozen or covered in the refrigerator until they need to be cooked.
  9. To cook the wontons, bring water to a boil and boil them for 6 to 7 minutes, until they feel firm to the touch.

Chili oil instructions

  1. In a large heat-proof bowl, combine the chili flakes, sesame seeds and a sprinkle of salt. Set it aside.
  2. Pour the oil into a small saucepan and add the Szechuan peppercorns, coriander, ginger and garlic. On the lowest heat setting on your stove slowly warm the oil. You want it to almost “steep” for 30 or so minutes. If the garlic or ginger gets too dark, remove it.
  3. After 30 minutes, turn off the heat, wait 2 minutes or so, then pour the oil through a strainer into the bowl with the chili flakes, sesame seeds and salt. The mixture should bubble.
  4. Let the oil cool, then transfer it all to a glass jar and store it in the fridge. If you use a clean spoon every time you use it, it will keep for three months in the fridge.

Assembly 

  1. Add equal parts soy sauce and chili oil to a bowl, add cooked wontons and stir. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
STEVEN DESALVO

In Recipe of the Month food writer Steven DeSalvo shares a recipe Montclairians might enjoy making. DeSalvo has a degree in hospitality business management from the University of Delaware and has worked extensively in restaurants and hotels. If there is something you want to know how to make, or if you’ve eaten a dish at a local restaurant that you are dying to make at home, drop us a note at culture@montclairlocal.news.

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