Sichuan Chili Oil Wontons (Hongyou Chaoshou, 红油抄手)
Published May 19, 2021, Updated Oct 22, 2023
A Taste of Childhood
These Sichuan Chili Oil Wontons (红油抄手, hóngyóu chāoshǒu) take us back to slurping down a bowl of chaoshou at our fave Chongzhou noodle shop. For authentic texture and hometown flavor, traditional technique is everything.
Whether you know them as everyday 馄饨 (húntún), Sichuan 抄手 (chāoshǒu), or Cantonese-derived wontons, these soup-friendly meat parcels are a hole-in-the-wall mainstay. Unlike 饺子 (jiǎozi) or 水饺 (shuǐjiǎo), aka boiled dumplings, chaoshou are served “wet” in bowls of broth or, in this case, hongyou dressing. Moreover, the delicate, crossed wrappers trap sauce by their very coattails. And the pared-down filling won’t weigh you down the way jiaozi can.
Right outside my grandparents’ apartment in Chongzhou—Ma’s hometown, just west of Chengdu—my favorite breakfast stall slung noodles and chaoshou left and right. The aunties who ran the shop knew every time I showed up, I’d come craving their 清汤 (qīngtāng) chaoshou. Unlike their hongyou counterpart, qingtang or “clear broth” chaoshou are served in a light, simmered stock. Nine times out of 10, I’d still choose the qingtang… but eight of those nine times, I haven’t prepared said stock in advance. So at home, hongyou chaoshou reigns.
The best part about making Sichuan chili oil wontons at home is getting a clear and spicy soup 2-for-1. Down the chili oil dressing with the huntun first, then cleanse your palate with a couple ladlefuls of the boiled broth after.
Usually we reserve pot water from cooked dumplings/noodles for cleaning dishes (Asian auntie kitchen tip: “You don’t even need soap!” — the leftover starches whisk away oily residue, no scientific citations here), but when I’m making chaoshou, you’ll catch me drinking most of the leftovers. I don’t know what it is about huntun broth that makes it so drinkable, but it may have to do with the fact that everything cooks so quickly, leaving behind a relatively clear soup.
Traditional techniques you need to know
One major difference in how wisened Sichuan aunties prepare chaoshou is their use of 葱姜水 (cōngjiāngshuǐ), “scallion ginger water.” Instead of mincing raw ginger and scallion, we smash them and soak in cold water. Hot water volatilizes the aroma, but cold-soaked congjiangshui produces a concentrated scallion-ginger solution that melds to the filling mixture.
Similar to the scallion ginger water, any hongyou chaoshou dressing worth its salt uses 蒜水 (suànshuǐ), “garlic water.” This time, we do want the minced garlic pieces in the bowl, so the purpose of cold-soaking is to create a garlic solution that elevates your dressing from hongyou + garlic to hongyou garlic. I smash each clove anyway (helps with peeling, for one thing) and mince from there. Add it and just enough water to a dipping bowl to cover, then set aside for later.
VIDEO: Mincing your own ground pork from whole pork meat in one minute
While your congjiangshui and suanshui soak, now’s the time to mince your pork shoulder. If you’re using store-bought ground pork, skip this step and read ahead. But if you love dumplings, wontons and other “bao” (包子, bāozi) where ground pork carries the filling, we encourage you to try making these recipes with freshly ground meat whenever possible. You can taste the difference! (Speaking as someone who made a lot of wontons through college with store-ground stuff). All you need is a cleaver and a couple minutes (one if you’re a pro, see above video).
Then, you’re going to work that filling like an old-time granite millstone: vigorously, continuously and in one direction only. Doing so whips the muscle fibers and proteins into the best shape of their lives—that is, a tacky, gluey paste. In Chinese we call this 上劲 (shàng jìn), very roughly translated as something like “taking up strength.” This is not a task for the faint of heart! Halfway through, you may think you’re done, but what you’re really at is halfway through. Go for broke. A full 10 minutes, minimum—it takes me up to 15 minutes sometimes. One does not wishy-washily develop paste from pork.
More tips for real-deal Sichuan wontons
- Your reserved congjiangshui must never be added all at once. The meat filling will not hydrate this way successfully, but instead it will 吐水 (tǔ shuǐ) or “spit out the water.” Add one tablespoon at a time, go stir-crazy for a couple minutes, then add another tablespoon and repeat.
- Old-school aunties don’t bother adding rice wine. You may be familiar with adding rice wine to meat in Chinese cooking to 去味 (qù wèi), remove any number of gamey odors. This is especially true for fishy (腥味, xīngwèi) dishes. Generally, the alcohol cooks off when wine hits a hot wok, leaving behind only a subtle, fragrant aroma (why Shaoxing wine is so desirable). But with this kind of cold, raw meat filling, wine doesn’t evaporate when added. It gets folded into a wrapper before ever being cooked, which can produce an undesirable flavor down the line. However, if you’re sensitive to raw meat odors, adding a little rice wine will still help.
- Marinate filling briefly, covered, once glued up and gummy. Let that meat rest before folding.
Steps for folding chaoshou (hover over above gallery)
Have a baking sheet or cutting board and a small dipping bowl of water ready within reach.
- Position your wrapper like a diamond in the open palm of your non-dominant hand. Add about ½ teaspoon of filling, dip your finger or chopstick in the water and wet the top corner.
- Fold top corner down to meet bottom corner in an even triangle. Press together and seal.
- Wet one wing tip of the triangle. I’m right-handed and I wet the left corner.
- Using the thumb and index finger of each hand, squeeze both wings on either side of the meat filling and twist together toward center.
- Overlap the wing tips, crossing in the center with your dominant thumb on top.
- Pinch together, press tightly and seal. Set aside on baking sheet.
Every family has their own way of folding huntun, but Sichuan chaoshou variations all feature the “crossed hands” they’re named after. Actually, my dad’s Nanchong style is slightly more complex than the kind shown above from Ma’s Chongzhou version. But since I’m always thinking about the huntun I’ve eaten in Chongzhou, that’s how we’re making them today.
TIP: You don’t want to pack huntun with meat like you would a dumpling. Since huntun wrappers are much thinner than jiaozi, they aren’t meant to hold much meat, and their twisted shape might leak filling if stuffed. In the same vein, resist the urge to wet every side of the wrapper and seal the entire shape. When you boil those huntun, they’ll puff up and float to the surface before they’re ready. The slightly “open” shape helps chaoshou cook evenly.
Serving authentic Sichuan chili oil wontons
Finally, the hongyou chaoshou lifeblood you’ve been waiting for! This recipe makes individual 二两 (èr liǎng) serving size bowls (一两 = 50 grams, 二两 = 100 grams; in Chengdu, this average adult portion means 10 chaoshou).
- As covered above, suanshui is the key technique you need to know for assembling the dressing! Now’s the time for your cold-soaked garlic water to shine.
- Leave the vinegar in your pantry. This chaoshou is not the hot and sour 酸辣 (suānlà) version.
- Use a proper Chinese soy sauce, not salty, two-dimensional Kikkoman. Sichuan Zhongba soy sauce was made for dressings like this, and its proprietary recipe and secret ingredient give it depth no other soy sauce can match.
- Lard. L-a-r-d. I, too, was raised hating the sound and implicit ~unhealthiness~ of this word. But now I know better (and I eat better too). Self-rendered pork fat gives hongyou chaoshou the taste and mouthfeel Chengdu cooks swear by.
- You know caiziyou is the soul of Sichuan kitchens. You also know every local noodle house smells deliciously of the stuff, and it’s generally cooked before use. Short of taking out a pan to heat up a drizzle of oil every time you want big flavor in your homecooked noodles or chaoshou, what can you do? Answer: make real-deal Sichuan chili oil with it! Then add liberally to your hongyou dressing as God intended.
- Smart cooks skim the red oil from the top of the chili oil jar first, then dredge up solid flakes from the bottom.
- Lastly, when cooking any huntun, let boil briefly upfront, then immediately add a cup of cold water. This crucial step stops the thin wrapper from overcooking into a flimsy mess before the raw meat cooks through. You know the difference between al dente and soggy pasta. Treat your chaoshou (and especially jiaozi, which need three additions of cold water due to the meat:skin ratio) right!
If you love these Sichuan Chili Oil Wontons, try Taylor’s Zhongshuijiao next! They’re Sichuan’s famed dumpling equivalent to hongyou chaoshou. Or for the secret to making your own super-umami chicken broth for qingtang chaoshou, refer to Mala Mama’s Clarified Old Hen Soup (Dunjitang, 炖鸡汤).
Sichuan Chili Oil Wontons (Hongyou Chaoshou, 红油抄手)
Congjiangshui (Scallion Ginger Water)
- 1 thumbs rinsed, unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed
- 2 large scallions, smashed
- ¼ cup cold water
Suanshui (Garlic Water)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, roughly minced
- water just enough to cover
- 250 grams ground pork shoulder (approx. 9 ounces) see note
- ½ teaspoon salt more or less to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper optional
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons scallion-ginger water, divided
- 1 package wrappers (we use Twin Marquis Shanghai style) comes in 16-ounce package
- 1 small bowl reserved water for sealing dough
Hongyou Chaoshou for one
- leafy greens of choice (pea shoots/wandoujian if available), washed and drained
- 1 teaspoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 2 pinches salt
- 2 pinches sugar
- dash ground huajiao (Sichuan pepper) to taste, see note
- pinch MSG optional
- 2 teaspoons oil from chili oil
- 1 teaspoon flakes from chili oil
- ½ tablespoon garlic water
- ½ teaspoon pork lard
- 1 scallion, finely chopped on diagonal
- 10 chaoshou
- ½ cup reserved cold water for cooking, more if larger pot
- splash hot broth
Congjiangshui (Scallion Ginger Water)
- Smash the ginger and scallion against a cutting board with the flat side of a cleaver. Chop the scallions in half and slice them lengthwise into long slivers. Place in shallow bowl and cover with ¼ cup of cold water for 30 minutes.
- After soaking, strain the ginger and scallion from the water, squeezing out as much extra juice as possible. Set aside for filling.
Suanshui (Garlic Water)
- Smash garlic to peel and mince roughly. Place in small dipping bowl and add just enough water to cover. Set aside for dressing.
- Mince pork if starting from whole pork shoulder (see note). Otherwise, in a medium mixing bowl, add (in order) ground pork, salt, ground white pepper, egg and sesame oil.Start mixing vigorously in one direction. Once egg is entirely incorporated, add 1 tablespoon of the reserved scallion-ginger water. Resume power-stirring, until visible moisture is entirely absorbed, before adding 1 more tablespoon of the water at a time. Repeat as needed. Continue mixing in this way for 10-15 minutes total, all in one direction. At this point, the mixture should look and feel sticky, lighter in color and gummy. Cover and rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
- Set aside a baking sheet or cutting board and a dipping bowl of clean water. Retrieve the meat filling from the fridge. Laying a wrapper in the palm of your nondominant hand like a diamond, add about a ½ teaspoon of filling. Wet the top corner and fold the diamond down into a triangle with the tip pointing toward you. Wet the corner of the side opposite your dominant hand. Squeeze both wings of the triangle between your index and thumb on each hand, then twist them toward the center until the two tips "cross" or overlap. Press and seal. Set aside and repeat until all the filling and wrappers are used up.
Serving Hongyou Chaoshou For One
- In a wok or large, wide pot, add water two-thirds full and bring to a boil. While waiting for the pot to boil, wash and drain your leafy greens of choice.
- In an individual serving bowl, add light soy sauce, salt, sugar, ground huajiao, MSG, chili oil*, lard, garlic water and chopped scallion. Resist the urge to pour more soy sauce, as it easily overpowers the rest of the hongyou flavor. *Skim the red oil from the top of the chili oil jar first, then dredge up solid flakes from the bottom.
- When the pot has reached a rolling boil, add chaoshou (10 = average adult serving). Stir immediately after adding chaoshou to avoid sticking. When the pot comes back to boiling, wait about 40 seconds, then add the reserved cold water. Spoon a small ladleful of broth into the assembled dressing bowls (best described as a "splash" — less is more! Beware that turning this soupy dilutes the hongyou flavor you just created). When the pot returns to a boil and the chaoshou are "rolling" around at the surface, add the drained greens. While they cook briefly, check the chaoshou skin. Remove with a slotted spoon once white edges are cooked through and add to serving bowl. Once bowl is assembled, top with veggies and extra scallions for garnish. Serve immediately and enjoy.
- Reserve the broth for a clear soup and for washing dishes, soap-free!
Tried this recipe?