Tuesday 25 January 2011

Won Ton Soup

When I moved to the suburbs last year, after fifteen years in Shepherd’s Bush, I was kept awake at night worrying how I was going to survive without living bang in the middle of the melting pot.  I had been used to a Lebanese butcher, a fantastic Thai shop, Indian stores, a fabulous oriental supermarket and countless Caribbean stalls in the market, all within walking distance of my flat.  How could life in Wimbledon possibly compete?  But the great thing about London is no matter where you are, different cultures are too, and slowly I began to discover new worlds on my doorstep. 

It only took me a couple of weeks to discover Hoo Hing in Mitcham.  There are five Hoo Hings in London plus one in Essex and one in the West Midlands and apparently they also have an online store.  What I love about most about these supermarkets, is that they are in such bleak, unpromising surroundings and you are suddenly transported from an industrial estate straight into a mayhem of smells, tastes, sounds and colours of China. 

I still remember that first day that I walked from a semi-derelict car park in Mitcham into an overwhelming array of vegetables, herbs and spices, fresh noodles, live lobsters, crabs and eels, freezers full of dim sum, roast ducks, aisle after aisle of every jar, bottle and tin you could ever require in your oriental larder and finally something that can even match weird and wonderful food in absolute exhilaration – cooking utensils; woks galore, huge meat cleavers and vast collection of cooking paraphernalia.  It was a paradise in a wilderness.  The very thing to cheer me up in the depth of recession depression.

Oriental Supermarkets are just the place to stock up on store cupboard essentials.  And from a well stocked larder you can knock up an exciting meal in minutes any night of the week.  The best bit is that along with the breathtaking selection to inspire you, you will often find the prices are favourable too, especially on large bags of spices.  I stock up on Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, Chinese Cooking wine, Tamari (a slightly sweet, concentrated soy) and usually a bottle of Sake to drink whilst I’m cooking. Not strictly Chinese, in fact not Chinese at all, it is Japanese, but concessions can be made.  If you want to be more authentic, try a case of Tsingtao Beer.
Next make your way to the freezer cabinets.  There you can find fabulous frozen crab, squid and scallops for a fraction of the price of unfrozen. (Please avoid frozen farmed tiger-prawns and prawns from South-East Asia.  The farming methods is having a devastating effect on the environment and destroying the Mangroves.) 
There is also a vast selection of frozen Dim Sum but by-pass these as they are usually not that great and instead make your own.

You will need some wrappers.  There is a huge variety of fabulous fresh noodles, Won Ton and Dim Sum wrappers in the fridges.  (Make sure you choose Won Ton for the recipe below.) These freeze well too.  Fantastic for whipping up some Won Tons for a canapĂ© at a party.  Or why not pick up a Roast crispy duck, some pancakes, a jar of Hoi Sin Sauce, some spring onions and a cucumber.  You can have your own crispy duck pancakes at home for a fraction of the price of going out.  Don’t forget the jasmine tea.  You can even buy the teapot.  Check out the chopsticks and the pretty Chinese bowls. I love the ones with the blue Carp painted on them or pieces of translucent rice mixed in with the china.

The selection of rice and noodles is phenomenal and once again usually much cheaper than the supermarket.  Don’t forget some packets of instant noodles.  These are vastly superior to any western equivalent and fantastic for a cheap and instant lunch, although I wouldn’t look at the list of ingredients too closely.  Whilst talking about ingredients, please try not to buy anything with palm oil in it.  Many everyday foods list it as an ingredient.  Please think of the orang-utans. 
Finally some vegetables.  Apart from the obvious, great selection of peppers, chillies, mushrooms and bean sprouts my latest passion is for leafy vegetables of the bok choy family such as Choy Sum, distinguishable by its light green leaves and tiny yellow flowers.  This is such a versatile vegetable and can be steamed or stir-fried or even deep-fried but I like is best because the leaves wilt like spinach but the stalk retains its crunchy texture.  Also on my last visit I found beautiful flowing chives, fresh Tamarind, fresh Turmeric and fresh green peppercorns and they had live Turbot swimming in a tank.  But most beautiful was the branches of flowering peach blossom and pussy willow which I brought home and now, every time I look at them, I have a little glimmer of hope that spring will once again return.

My recipe is for Won Tons poached in a light spicy, chicken broth which is really easy to make.  I have added coriander to my mix which I know is not authentic but I think it gives these little dumplings a real lift.

Won Ton Soup
250 g raw prawns, (responsibility sourced), peeled and de-veined
250 g lean ground (minced) pork, outdoor bread
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 knob of finely grated fresh ginger
A little finely chopped fresh red chilli
A handful of finely chopped coriander
1 tablespoon cornflour
30 square won ton wrappers
1.5 litres good quality home-made chicken stock
2 spring onions, green part only, finely sliced or flowering chives
A few, very fine slithers of fresh red chilli
Place the prawns in a tea towel and squeeze out any moisture. Then mince the prawns using a sharp knife or a quick blitz in a food processor. Try and retain a little texture, not too smooth. In a large mixing bowl, place the minced prawns, ground pork, soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry, if not available), salt, sesame oil, black pepper, ginger, chilli, coriander and cornflour. Mix well, ensuring all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Set aside. Now take a teaspoon of the filling mixture and place in the centre of the won ton wrapper. Brush the edge of the wrapper with a little water, fold in half (not diagonally), ensuring all the air is pushed out. Now bring the two folded corners together over the top of the filling and press firmly. Place on a cornflour dusted tray. This recipe will make 25 - 30 won tons. 

Gently bring the chicken stock up to just below the boil (to a gentle simmer).  In a separate saucepan bring some very lightly salted water to the boil, reduce the heat a little and add the won tons. Cook for a minimum of 5 minutes. The won tons are cooked when they rise to the surface. Remove with a wire sieve and place in the bottom of the serving bowls. Immediately ladle the hot stock over the won tons, spring onions and chilli.

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