Mushroom-Ginger Wontons in Iriko Dashi Broth
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Most of the recipes I have invented this past year have been attempts to replicate favorite restaurant dishes. This has not been entirely driven by Covid. The older I get, the more I dislike going to restaurants. Waiting for a table is one reason (I won't go anywhere that won't take reservations) but I have come to dislike the whole experience of being served. With the demise of formal dining rooms in the past 20 years, bothering with any remaining ceremony makes less and less sense. At this stage, I think I could be made happy with a cafeteria, or by the return of the automat. Maybe now they will come back into fashion.
Years ago we went to a fancy restaurant in Chicago called Grace, where there wasn't anyone recognizable as waitstaff, just besuited men who would stop by the table to "discuss" the food with you. Of course, everything about that place was extra. One course required us to find and extract tiny hors d'oeuvres from inside a fake hollow log, like we were woodland weasels scratching for tasty grubs. If you are looking for some free entertainment, photos here show other foodlike items diners scavenged from the surfaces of gourds, rowboat oars, Christmas wreaths, and wax drippings. The parade of decontextualized twigs, foams, nuggets, and pastes that constituted this meal, not to mention the bill (what we spent on that dinner could have fed a village in Chad for a month) made me largely swear off restaurant-going as a destination activity. My husband told me recently that he carried around the bill in his wallet for years afterward, to remind himself of his foolishness.
Which somehow brings us back to broth.
This is a recipe I came up with when I was jonesing for some udon broth. Most people are familiar with miso soup, that staple of sushi joints, but I really love dashi broth, the base of Japanese noodle soups. You can use those ramen and udon soup mixes, but really well-made dashi is the foundation of the truly great soups you can only get in restaurants with hours-long waits for a table. Or insanely expensive. I was once invited to Inagiku in the old Waldorf Astoria hotel, which had a special fall seasonal mushroom soup. I sometimes taste this soup in my dreams.
Most of the recipes in heavy rotation at our house are not only easy to make but feature easy- to-find ingredients. Dashi requires items not typically available at chain supermarkets: bonito flakes (the pink shavings usually found dancing on top of okonomiyaki), iriko (dried baby sardines), and dried kombu (kelp). These ingredients are not expensive, but are only available in Asian supermarkets. Unfortunately, they cannot be substituted. I am fortunate enough to live near a Japanese grocery. If you cannot find them in a store near you, they are available from dreaded Amazon, or via mail order. Once you have these ingredients, the rest is easy.
Iriko dashi (broth):
2 1.6 ounce/45 gram packages of dried sardines (iriko)
handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 or 2 3" x 6" pieces of kombu (dried seaweed) or more to taste
3 0.15-ounce/4.5 gram packages of dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
1/3 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce (worth it to use high grade Japanese shoyu)
sliced scallions to taste
Put sardines, mushrooms, kombu, and 8 cups water into a medium pot.
Set pot over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer.
When small bubbles form along sides of pot, but before it actually begins to boil, remove sardines, mushrooms, and kombu. (You don't want it to boil because kombu can get bitter).
You can save the little sardines for another purpose - pan fry them and toss with some soy sauce and sesame seeds to eat as a snack!
Bring to a boil and add bonito flakes, pressing down into the water to submerge, and return to a boil; then immediately turn off heat.
Let flakes settle and steep for about 15 minutes.
Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth into a bowl.
Rinse pot, pour in strained broth, and heat over medium-high heat.
Add mirin, soy sauce, and scallions; simmer 5 minutes.
For this recipe, I made mushroom-ginger wontons, but you can use any udon or ramen noodle, and add scallions, fish, vegetables, whatever you like. I love wontons, and was looking for a vegetarian alternative to the typical pork-filled versions. I wondered if mushrooms would work here as a meat substitute. With rare exceptions, mushrooms are usually a disappointing replacement for meat, but they worked here because the broth has such a deep and satisfying flavor. The resulting wontons have a strong ginger kickback. If you are easily overwhelmed by ginger, I suggest halving the amount. You could also play up the garlic if you were so inclined.
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8-10 ounces cremini mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
2-3 finely diced scallions, plus more for serving
¼ cup mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
~12 square wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
Add mushrooms, ginger and garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely diced.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add mushroom mixure and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated and starting to brown, about 5-10 minutes.
Add scallions, mirin, and soy sauce, and cook until liquid evaporates, ~1 minute. Let cool.
Place 1 teaspoon cooled mushroom mixture in center of a wonton wrapper.
Brush edges with a bit of egg.
Fold 1 corner of wonton over filling to meet opposite corner and repeat with opposite corners so that wonton forms a point.
Press to seal edges.
Repeat with remaining wrappers and mushroom mixture, keeping formed wontons covered with a damp cloth.
Bring dashi broth to a simmer and add wontons. Simmer ~5 minutes until wonton wrappers soften and are cooked through.