Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wonton Soup & Jewish "Traditions"

Every nice Jewish girl is, at the very the least, taught how to do two things before she leaves her home for good: how to make Matzo Ball Soup from scratch, and how to freeze everything. These two Jewish traditions form the basis for the majority of today's discussion and recipe.

Growing up, my dad almost exclusively did the cooking in this house, with the exception of my mom's baking and a few other items. One of these items included Matzo Ball Soup, which she learned to make from my grandmother. She'd gather chicken thighs and legs, carrots and celery, and get to simmering. The house would smell distinctly of soup on cold days, signaling the nearness of dinner. About thirty minutes prior, she'd boil some noodles and shape some matzo balls, completing the soup that would fill our tummies for a few days.

When I moved into my first post-dorm apartment, I learned how to make the soup. I'd trek up the block to the grocery store for ingredients when I was sick and during holidays. In law school, I'd tempt my friends over on cold days and feed certain males what they missed from home. The best part of the soup is that it freezes beautifully--even the veggies and chicken (but not the balls). I'd make a big batch and freeze it in two-meal sized containers, waiting to be defrosted when the desire hit. In fact, I learned from my grandmother and mother that you can freeze almost anything. Soup, bread, meatloaf, cooked turkey. As long as it doesn't require freshness, like steamed vegetables, it deserves to be cooked in large portions and frozen for quick meals later on.

What does all of this have to do with Won Ton Soup? A lot, actually. Both soups are based on a chicken broth/stock (I'm not getting into the difference, but whether you use bones and trimmings or actual meat, you produce a liquid that does pretty much the same thing). Many recipes out there call for canned broth, and while I do have some organic, non-fat and low-sodium broth from Costco in my pantry, I really prefer to make my own. If you haven't noticed, I really like to control what goes into my food. This is especially true with respect to sodium. And we all know that even the low-sodium stuff is laden with the stuff.

So, there are two ways we make stock/broth in my house. First, we do it the Matzo Ball Soup way, which I did today because we are only halfway to the goods for the second way. This option uses whole pieces of chicken, but really only makes sense if you plan to use the meat. The boiled meat is good in quesadillas, enchiladas, salads, and plain. You can also rip it up into some of the broth with veggies for actual soup. The leftover broth? If you want plain stock, strain and freeze it. Otherwise, freeze yourself some chicken soup with veggies.

The other way is cheaper and helps ensure that I don't have to use my backup stock often. If you make a turkey, save the bones and trimmings for a pot of stock. If you like roast whole chickens, save at least two sets of bones and trimmings for another pot of stock. You can freeze these nasties until you're ready to boil. When you're ready, dump the junk in a large stock pot, fill with water, carrots, onion, celery, a bay leaf or two, and let simmer. Skim some fat off the top now and again, taste to see if it needs anything like salt and pepper, and go about your business. When done, strain and freeze. And in case you are wondering, turkey stock is interchangeable with chicken stock when used for flavoring, and can be doctored up to make a nice turkey soup.

So, what have we learned today? Matzo Ball Soup is easy to make, and so is stock; Jews like to freeze everything they possibly can when it doesn't ruin the taste; and when you have half a packet of wonton skins leftover from other recipes, draw from a third Jewish tradition: Chinese food on Christmas.

8 cups chicken broth (see below for how I made mine today)
1 baby bok choy per person, broken into leaves
1 scallion, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
a few raw shrimp, if desired

Wontons (Makes 25)
1/2 lbs ground chicken, pork and/or beef
2 green onions, diced
1/4 cup finely grated carrot
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 clove of grated garlic
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
few turns of pepper
wonton wrappers

1. First, you need to assemble your wontons. Mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl. If you are going to make your broth from scratch using chicken thighs and legs, you can peel some of the cooked chicken off of the bones and chop it up finely. I did this because it seemed like a good use of the chicken, and it worked out well.

2. Fold your wontons. Get a bowl with water to dip your finger in, a sprayed cookie sheet, and a surface to work on. Take a wrapper and use your finger to lightly wet the edges. Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the middle and fold the wrapper so it is a large triangle. Press around the filling to get all of the air out, and seal edges. Then fold up the corner that is opposite of the longest side, using a little water if needed to seal. Place on the cookie sheet so they are not touching. You don't want them to stick together.

3. Start heating up your broth in a pot that leaves a little room for the veggies. Also, put on a pot of water to boil.

4. Place bok choy, scallions and soy sauce in your broth and let simmer.

5. While broth is leeching some delicious flavor from the greens, get ready to cook your shrimp and wontons. Place wontons carefully into simmering water. They will start to float when cooked--about 5 minutes if meat is raw, but approximately 2 minutes if you used the cooked chicken like I did. Use a slotted spoon and place on the cookie sheet. DO NOT LET THEM TOUCH. They're very sticky now, and will cling together. You can place them in everyone's soup bowls, if you'd like. If they happen to stick together, a little cold water goes far.

6. Take your shrimp and place them into the water after you ladle out the wontons. The shrimp will cook fast depending on size, so stand there and watch them. Mine took maybe 2 minutes.

7. Dole out your wontons and shrimp, or add to the broth, and serve. Delicious.

Chicken Broth/Stock
5 lbs chicken thighs and legs, with skin on
6 carrots, chopped
6 stalks of celery, chopped
3 onion
2 bay leaves (option)

1. Chop up your veggies into large pieces (about the size of a baby carrot) and throw into a large pot.

2. Rinse your chicken off and throw into the pot as well.

We have a very large pot.

3. The water is not an exact science in the Barrister's abode. You can always add more water if it is too strong, or let some simmer off if not strong enough. Given that, I would cover the chicken and veggies by at least 3 inches.

4, Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for three hours, covered. For the first hour, you will need to skim off the foamy gross stuff every fifteen minutes. After that, the gunk should taper off.

5. When done, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. Then strain the broth through a fine sieve. If you want to keep the vegetables for soup, go for it. You can use the broth right away for soup, but it may be a little fatty. In my house, we place the broth in the fridge overnight. In the morning, all of the fat will be congealed on top and easy to pick off. Then you can act like a Jew and freeze away.


Aunt Lynne said...

OK BB, lets talk freezing! Being a good Jew, I have an additional stand-alone freezer and a fridge with a small freezer in the basement. God forbid I should get caught without "something in the freezer" when friends drop by. I always have the Costco three-pack of pound cake frozen and wrapped in individual packs ready to go. Take an electric knife to the frozen cake and it is ready to go by the time the coffee is ready. Because I bought the flat of strawberries yesterday, we will now have a lovely strawberry topping for the cake. (Should I sugar the berries before freezing?) This brings me to buying in bulk.Bulk shopping, in my opinion is the true Jewish tradition; and if you throw a few coupons in the mix you may be considered orthodox. I sleep well knowing we will never run out of TP. paper towels, vitamin water and Milton crackers. Not to mention mustard, barbecue sauce, and minced garlic.
Note: Add a few ice cubes to the broth and skim away, then go get Chinese food.

islandeat said...

Hi, BB. It was nice to meet you via Food Buzz.

Funny, I was just about to make matzo ball soup tonight (with home-made stock but with the mix for the former - I live on a small island, oy gevalt, don't even ask...). However, we just received a dinner party invitation. So tomorrow it will be.

Nonetheless, I am pleased to have learned about BB!

Stay in touch,


Aunt Lynne said...

Love the idea of shrimp and matzo ball soup. A true fusion.

Baking Barrister said...

@islandeat - I wholeheartedly believe in using a box to make matzo balls. Matzo is expensive most of the year and I find it silly to buy a box in November when most of it will go stale before the next time I want soup. My grandmother made them from scratch, although we never got her recipes.

And I so want your Cayenne Chocolate Cupcakes. Gahh.

@Aunt Lynne - I like my shellfish, pork tenderloin and sometimes bacon. I also enjoy a cheeseburger now and again. The only wrath I have earned is that of my waistline.

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