While my kids may believe that Santa only comes in white, when dried shiitake mushrooms are re-hydrating in a bowl on the counter and we're slicing logs of pink-rimmed fish cake, the offspring are most definitely aware that we're getting our Asian ON. Dad's traditions rule on New Year's Day and we do our best to honor the ancestors.
On Saturday, after my rousing date with Dick Clark, Chris started the process for making his grandmother's sushi (C's dad is Japanese-American) and his mother's wonton soup (C's mom is Chinese-American). My tasks were to occupy the children and to run to the store to pick up a key ingredient for the wontons. This ancient Chinese ingredient took me eleven years of marriage to pluck from my mother-in-law's repertoire, and it may surprise you. The foundation for her wontons is...dunt dunt dunt da: Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage!
Heard of it? Be thoughtful here as you plan your next Asian extravaganza. This delicacy may require a trip to your local Asian market or extra shipping for perishables purchased over the Internet. Also, if Chris' mom catches wind that I divulged this "marshmallow creme" of the Asian-American wonton world to you, I'll deny it. I will. Because I still need a few essential bits of information to make my Chinese BBQ short ribs even remotely resemble what Chris remembers from home.
On Wontonalooza (the first annual), we invited my dear friend, Amy, and her family. Amy is mostly Irish-American and also Caucasian, like me. Still, we like to believe that "we're Asian on the inside," and take every cooking opportunity to prove that point.
We're generally good with follow through, except that one time we got tired just reading the recipe for Vietnamese Pho and were too pissed off at Rachel Ray to try her "quick" version, principally because she called it a "Thai-inspired" soup. Get a research team already!
Anyhoo, I let my inner Asian out at the beginning of our food fest when I sat the group down to show them how to wrap the wonton skin around the pork filling. I placed a dollop of seasoned raw meat goodness in the middle of the wonton square, dipped my finger in water and lined the edges to create a "glue." Then I brought all the corners to the middle and sealed them together. When all I had left was the "twist," the pièce de résistance.... Chris came over, bamboo spider strainer in hand, and casually said:
"That's not right. Those are for fried wontons. We're going to boil these for soup."
Some sarcastic, omnipresent higher power somewhere was calling, "GET A RESEARCH TEAM ALREADY!"
I could feel my inner Asian shrinking into a tiny grain of rice drenched in butter and milk. Seasoned with cinnamon, of all things. My true colors were revealed. Like some honored religious code, in my father-in-law's world, rice and milk DO NOT MIX. I, however, grew up in a world where milk was in everything and those wontons that came from the food court at the mall were most definitely twisty and fried.
While I swallowed my pride, I moved over a bit at the table to give Chris center stage. He then proceeded to demonstrate the "package" technique where you glue and fold the wonton over itself in a tight little package all ready for the post office. There was a simple elegance to it. After all, these things were going under and they needed to be airtight.
Also, as he worked, a memory from a past visit with Chris' mother made its way to the forefront of my thick skull. This was how Chris' mom made the things. Now I remember. I made a note to pay closer attention during future cooking sessions.
After all, we're trying to save an inner Asian here....