Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Internet Recipe Test: Wonton Soup

You know how, a lot of times you see a photo of some food on the internet and it's just gorgeous? You think it looks so wonderful and appetizing that you just want to make it. So you read the recipe and feel it's fairly straightforward and you are pretty sure your family members will like it. 

But sometimes...actually often...your finished product doesn't look at all like the one on the website. And sometimes you find you really don't like the flavor, either. You'll never make that recipe again.

That happens with cookbooks and magazines, too. But on the internet, any dummy can put up a shot of some food and publish a recipe. There's no cost to them. There's no editor stopping their product from getting out into the world. So there are a lot of recipes out that that have no business being published in any way, shape or form. And there are a lot of good food ideas out there, but the recipe has flaws. 

I use a lot of recipes off the 'net. Some I return to again and again and others I'll never make again. And there are some that, I suspect, are not what they appear. I think there are lots of photos attached to recipes that aren't a true representation of what the final product is. 

So from time to time, I'm going to show the results of my internet recipe experiments. Some of them will be recipes I think seem true to the photo and advertising and are well-written, and some will be epic fails that I think should be taken off the www. 

So today I bring you Wonton Soup. And this one is a fantastic success!  I don't remember where I first saw this recipe. It could have popped up on Pinterest. I am a fan of Asian soups, particularly Wonton and Hot & Sour. This recipe looked like a good weeknight meal with minimal fuss. There are not too many ingredients, and it's a good candidate for a chilly night.

So here is Wonton Soup from a website called RasaMalaysia.com. The author is Bee Yinn Low. The website has been around since 2006, and this recipe was published in September, 2014. The author says she's a cookbook author and recipe developer. I didn't know that when I made this soup tonight.

I don't plan to post the entire recipe here. I think you should visit the website, look around, and make it from there. But here are my notes on the recipe:

First, my issues with the recipe:

1. I'm not a fan of bouillon, but I can understand why she uses it in the recipe. She doesn't mention where the chicken stock is going to come from, but the average home cook is probably going to buy it at the grocery, and the bouillon will plump up the chicken flavor. I make my own stock and freeze it, so I doubted I needed to add that. I didn't and I'm glad.
2. Salt. She has you put in bouillon and salt to the marinade seasonings. Don't do that. Leave the salt out of the marinade. You can adjust later in the soup and the marinade has a very nice flavor already from the fish sauce and sesame oil (and bouillon).
3. Cutting the shrimp. She tells you to use "big shrimp," and then to cut them into 3-4 pieces. I did that and it worked ok. But really they should be cut smaller so that you are able to more easily fold your wontons. With the larger pieces, my filling was much too lumpy and the wonton skins didn't want to fold around it well, and some broke open. Mind you, I was careful not to use too much filling, but it still was a bit difficult. After the first 4, I didn't curl them up into traditional wontons. I left them as triangles and that worked fine. 

My tweaks:

1. I added miso to the marinade. It added a nice depth of flavor to the shrimp. I used Awase miso, which is a blend of red and white miso. I found it on the shelf at Harris Teeter. I added maybe 1/4 teaspoon to the marinade and then 1 tablespoon to the chicken stock. It really made the soup pop with flavor. 
2. Next time I will finely chop, or even mince the shrimp. When you look closely at the photo of the original recipe, you can see a fairly uniform texture under the surface of the wonton wrapper. No bumps and edges like I had from the varying sizes of the pieces of shrimp. You've got to remember that wonton noodles are dumplings, and most often the stuffing is ground pork. GROUND pork. So next time I make this soup (and there will be MANY, many next times), I will just about mince the shrimp.

The final thing I will say about this recipe is...she has you finely chop yellow chives or scallions (Use scallions. You're not going to find yellow chives in a regular grocery), use half in the marinade, and then never tells you what to use the other half for. I lost my concentration for a split second and dropped the full amount into the marinade and then saw what I had done. I knew it would be too onion-y that way, so I scooped out half the scallions. drizzled in a little fish sauce and sesame oil, and called it a day. It came out fine. I read some of the comments and did find one where someone asked what they were supposed to do with the rest of the scallions...use as garnish? The author said "yes." So why didn't she go back into the recipe and add that line?

Oh. And a final, final thing. The author was absolutely correct in the time estimate she put on the recipe. It took about 15 minutes prep time. But that was active prep. There is an hour of waiting around for the shrimp to marinade. Alton Brown has taken to including those inactive times to his recipe time estimates and it's really helpful.

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