Tsim Chai Kee is just a few steps from Hong Kong’s Central Mid-levels escalator. Famous for Cantonese-style shrimp wontons with noodle soup, this joint has been designated by Michelin guide as “Bib Gourmand” — that is, “inspector’s favourite for good value.” Good value is an understatement. Of all the luxurious delicacies on offer across that aromatic isle, these wontons perpetually monopolize my affections. Last Sunday when Los Angeles was blanketed in rain and fog, I had to make them.
Since these wontons are accented with faint notes of ginger, white pepper, sesame and salt, the theme is 99% prawn — so get the freshest ones you can muster. Making wontons can be a chore. It’s customary to have helping hands on deck. As my mom and I folded (127, she counted, hers superior to mine), we recalled with laughter all the shapes and stories from wonton-making sessions over the years.
SHRIMP WONTON SOUP
recipe makes about 30 wontons, 4 servings:
350g medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
wonton wrappers (square)
8 cups Chinese chicken stock, below*
one bunch of watercress or bok choy
Dice the prawns, about 4-5 pieces per prawn. Add the white pepper, cornstarch, ginger, sugar, sesame oil, and salt. Use a wooden spoon to beat the shrimp mixture together. Cover the prawns and let them marinate in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. To assemble your wontons, prepare a wonton “station”: wonton wrappers, a small bowl of cold water, the shrimp mixture along with a teaspoon, and a baking sheet lined with parchment. To form each wonton, spoon a teaspoon of the prawn mixture onto one wrapper. Dip your finger in the cold water and apply it against the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half (see below), pressing the edges closed. With the seam facing down, take the top two corners and bring them together, using water to make them adhere. Repeat with all the wrappers/shrimp.
Meanwhile bring a pot of water to a boil. In a separate pot, bring your chicken broth to a simmer and ensure that it is seasoned with salt and white pepper. Quickly blanch your vegetables until tender (eg. watercress) and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place a few wontons in the boiling water for about 4 minutes. Transfer wontons to each bowl and add the blanched vegetables along with the hot chicken broth. Serve immediately.
*If you won’t be making Chinese chicken stock from scratch, simply bring canned chicken stock to a simmer with water, a few fresh ginger slices, green onions, and ground white pepper.
CHINESE CHICKEN STOCK
for about 2 liters of stock:
2-3 lbs chicken bones
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, diced
3 green onions
salt and white pepper to taste
Use a cleaver to chop the chicken bones into smaller pieces, about 2-3″ in size. Add the ginger and and green onions. Cover the bones with cold water, about 2 liters, and simmer for 2-3 hours. Strain several times to remove impurities. Cool and store for future use. Season with salt and white pepper as needed.