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.
- 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 3/4" 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 1/2 teaspoon of potato starch and 1/2 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.