Looking at the photo you may be asking where the wontons are. Before I answer this question you first have to undertand that texture is an important part of wonton noodle soup; the texture of the noodles, the texture of the wonton, and even the texture of the shrimp inside is critical to a really great bowl of wonton noodles.
Because youmian (lit. thin noodles) is so thin, if they sit in the broth too long, they get soggy. That's why wonton noodles are served in small bowls with the wontons underneath the noodles. This keeps the noodles afloat, insuring you have very al dente noodles that border on crunchy (in a good way)
If you've ever had shrimp in an authentic chinese restaurant, you've probably noticed that the shrimp are extremely supple. To say they're crunchy is a weird description but they've traded in the normally soft and stringy texture for a firm springy texture. In Chinese, there's even a phrase for this: shuǎng cuì (爽脆), which literally means "invigorating and crisp". Getting your shrimp shuǎng cuì is of utmost importance for most Chinese dishes and wontons are no exception.
Traditionally shrimp were soaked under cold running water for hours to achieve this texture. As it turns out, the texture has less to do with the temperature of the water and more to do with the fact that in some areas of China, the water is naturally alkali. You can replicate this at home, by adding something alkali to your water to raise its pH. While baking soda will work to some extent, using a strong base like potassium carbonate works better. In case you were wondering, this is also what gives ramen noodles their yellow color and firm bite.
In the photo above, the shrimp on left was soaked in a potassium carbonate solution for 24 hours, while the one on the right was not.
Because the shrimp needs to be soaked, and the stock takes a bit of time, this isn't a quick weeknight meal. But for your efforts, you'll be rewarded with wontons that rival some of the best shops in Hong Kong in a rich savory broth that will have you rue the day you ever have to eat wonton soup at a Chinese American restaurant.
While it does take some time, it's not difficult to prepare provided you can find a few items in the US. The traditional soup broth is made with dried flounder and shrimp, but I've found that dried pollock is a lot easier to find in the US and has a very similar flavor. It can be found in most Asian or Korean grocery stores as Bugeochae (북어채)
For the shrimp shells and heads, you can try asking your fish monger, but personally I just keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer which I add shells to every time I use shrimp. That way I always have a supply of shells and heads for making stock. Lastly the Potassium Carbonate is sold under the brand name Koon Chun in Asian grocery stores. You could also use food grade lye but you'll have to experiment to figure out how much to add.
Other Noodle Soup Recipes
- 2 teaspoons kansui (Potassium Carbonate & Sodium Bi-Carbonate)
- 300 grams medium shrimp (shelled)
- 250 grams shrimp shells (including heads)
- 15 grams dried pollock (or dried flounder)
- 5 cups water
- 3 scallions (green and white parts seperated)
- 1 tablespoon evaporated cane sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt (to taste)
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 + ½ teaspoons potato starch
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 1 + ½ teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
- ½ teaspoon ginger juice
- ground white pepper (to taste)
- ½ teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 280 grams thin Chinese wonton noodles
- 1 package wonton wrappers
- toasted sesame oil
- The day before you want to make your wonton soup, peel and devein your shrimp. If you want your shrimp to look whole, you devein them without slicing them open by using a toothpick inserted along one side of the vein, to dig the vein out. Once it's peaking out, you should be able to pull the vein out with your fingers.
- Put the cleaned shrimp in a bowl and cover with just enough cold water so that the shrimp is submerged. Add the potassium carbonate and stir. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- To make the stock, add the shrimp shells, dried pollock, water, sugar, salt, and soy sauce to a stock pot. Trim the green parts of the scallions and add them to the pot, reserving the white part for the wontons.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer continuing to remove any foam as it accumulates. Cook until the broth is very flavorful 30-40 minutes.
- For the wontons, drain and rinse the shrimp with water. Dry the shrimp off, and then slice off about ¾" of the thickest part of each shrimp. Add the thick pieces to a bowl.
- Use a knife to mince the tail ends of the shrimp into a chunky paste. Add this to a separate small bowl. Finely mince the white parts of the scallions and add 2 teaspoons to the minced shrimp, saving the rest for later.
- In the bowl with the minced shrimp, add 1 teaspoon of potato starch and 1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine, along with the oyster sauce, ginger juice, and a dash of white pepper. Mix well to combine.
- In the bowl with the thick shrimp pieces, add ½ teaspoon of potato starch and ½ teaspoon of Shaoxing wine, along with the sugar, salt, and a dash of white pepper. Mix well to combine. Let this marinate for 20 minutes.
- Prepare a small bowl of water. To make the wontons, put one wrapper in the palm of your left hand (or right hand if you're left handed). Add about 1 teaspoon of minced shrimp filling.
- Top with 1 large piece of shrimp, wet two edges of the wrapper and fold in half diagonally to make a triangle. Seal the top corner, then work your way down, sealing bowl sides making sure there is no trapped air inside your wonton. Repeat until you run out of shrimp.
- To finish your soup, soup through a large sieve, into a liquid measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract as much broth as possible. You should have about 3 cups of broth. If you have less, add water to make 3 cups. Strain this through a very fine mesh sieve (such as a tea strainer) into a clean pot to remove any fine particles. Adjust the salt to taste.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and boil your wontons in batches for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl with a slotted spoon and toss with a splash of sesame oil to keep them from sticking.
- Boil your noodles according to the package directions. If you want them al dente, you may want to reduce the cooking time by up to 30%.
- Divide the wontons between 3-4 bowls, then divide the noodles evenly. Top with the reserved minced scallions, then finally our the soup over each bowl of wonton noodles. Serve immediately.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Yogicfoodie, the yellow hue you're seeing in the photo above is from the noodles, the soup is actually more of a cloudy reddish tan. While you could clarify the stock, there's really no need to as it does not effect the flavor. Go check out this post https://norecipes.com/dueling-wontons/ where I have photos from some of the best wonton noodle shops in Hong Kong, the soup is a cloudy tan color. The reason the soups you're used to seeing in Chinatown are clear yellow is most likely because they're using powdered or canned chicken broth.
Thank you so much. We'll be making this again soon!
May I put the shrimp shells and dried pollack into a cheesecloth so I don't have to drain it later on?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Krys, you may still need to strain the soup even if you put the shells in a cheesecloth (because the juices from the shell tend to coagulate), but it's worth a try.
I read this with great interest - I have travelled a lot to Hong Kong and always eat as much wonton mein as I possibly can while there. On a recent trip to New York I had it in Chinatown and got my love for the dish renewed, so now I decided I need to try this out for myself.
It surprises me to read that the broth is made from dried flounder/fish. I always assumed it was a chickeny-pork like broth since I never noticed any fishy smell from it.
Thanks for taking your time to post this thorough and instructive recipe and including all the explanations. Will be looking for the needed ingredients next time I go to my local Asian grocery store here in OC, CA.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Lars, most of the wonton soups I've had in the NYC chinatown tasted like they were made with canned chicken broth. Definitely a different soup base than the good wonton spots in Hong Kong. This broth definitely has a fish flavor (though I wouldn't call it fishy). If that's not something you're into you may want to swap the broth out for something chicken or pork based.
I looked for youmian in a chinese shop and didn't find them... i don't know hoy they look like uncooked though, would you please post a picture of them? Thank you!
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Rafaela, they usually come in bags and are shaped in serving sized nests. I wasn't able to find any pictures of the noodles in packaging, but there's a picture of them in a a bowl here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youmian they are very thin and yellow in color.
Theresa Conarello says
Hi Tan I have seen little pinkish red dried shrimp sold in a shelf stable bag in Hispanic groceries. Is this the shrimp you mean?
Kathy Stroup says
Well of course, here's your recipe! Complex as I had imagined. Have to put this on the list to try. This is going to require a trip to L.A. for ingredients, but I love shopping there, and it's nice to have a list of things to look for. You site never disappoints! I could spend hours reading, but I'm in the middle of cooking; at least this time I actually started a recipe before getting lost in exploration!😅
Marc Matsumoto says
This is an oldie but I remember it being really good. The hardest part about this recipe here is that it's really difficult to find the thin chinese-style noodles here. Guess I'll have to make a trip to Chinatown in Yokohama if I want to make this again....🤔