Oshogatsu. Literally meaning New Year or new month. It is plainly the most important celebration of the year in the Japanese heritage. People in Japan celebrate this wonderful day for all three days you are supposed to celebrate it, but my family only celebrates New Year’s on the actual New Year’s Day, January 1st. We start the early morning with helping my grandma cook the Ozoni, or good luck soup and we continue the day with rigorous cooking for an exotic, family style dinner. Ozoni is an important part of this celebration, but it is not my favorite dish of them all. By the time dinner comes around, so many dishes are prepared that every year it seems impossible to get done. But we always find a way.
As we wash, rinse and dry the expensive china soup bowls from our delicious morning Ozoni, the tension and stress starts to build from the amount of cooking that is ahead for all of us. Even though there are mainly three people, my Grandma, Mom and I, there are still family members around to help us out throughout the day. First thing is first, we all put our hair up and wash our hands thoroughly, otherwise we get a scolding from Grandma. With the Rose Bowl Parade on in the background, we start to prepare the many delicious dishes. At the sink, Grandma starts to peel the smelly, slimy shrimp so it can be seasoned and boiled. At the kitchen table, my Uncle starts to cut the fat off of the raw chicken wings and legs for my Grandma’s homemade Japanese style fried chicken wings. With the sun shining through the window at the counter, my mom has started to cut and peel the Gobo, a family favorite and there are never any leftovers of that.
My favorite dish that I get to make every year is my family’s fried Wonton recipe. I learned how to make this dish when I was about 13; of course I had help back then. But after a couple of years I was able to handle doing it all on my own. I love to make this dish, not only because it is fun and easy to make but also because it is everyone’s’ favorite thing to eat. My family’s Wontons are like the warm, fresh out of the oven bread to everyone’s meal. It is a necessity.
Wontons are a dish that is shared among the Asian communities; there are all types of wontons that can be made by the Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and all the other kinds of Asian out there. Although I cannot say that I have tried all that are out there, but I can say that the ones that my family prepares is better than any other wonton any restaurant can make. They could be made into all sorts of different shapes and sizes. They could be made with all meat, meat and vegetables, or just vegetables. They could be eaten plain or they could be dipped in a sauce. The kind that my family makes for New Year’s is chicken fried wontons, they have vegetables in them also and they are the shape of a triangle, but no matter what it looks like, it is the most delicious dish you could eat all night long.
As I start to prepare the ingredients for the wontons, I guess I should tell you what the ingredients are:
For the filling:
-2 lbs of ground chicken
-I can of sliced water chestnuts (drained & chopped)
-1/4 cup chopped green onions
-1/2 cup chopped shitake mushrooms
-1 Tbs sugar
-1/4 cup of soy sauce
-1 tsp cornstarch
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1/4 tsp Chinese seven spice
For the making of the wonton:
-1 package of wonton skins
-Beaten egg with a little milk mixed in
First, I start cooking the ground chicken in a large skillet (since chicken takes a while to cook). I pour some cooking oil in the medium-hot pan and plop the raw chicken in and start separating it and pounding it up into little ground bits. As the chicken is cooking, I can start chopping up the water chestnuts, green onions and shitake mushrooms. I chop all that up into tiny bits and pieces. The worst thing to cut up is the green onions, once you start chopping them up you get that sting in your eyes with that onion smell and there is no way that you or anyone else could hold back a tear. Once all that is chopped up you mix it in with the cooked chicken and sauté it until everything else is cooked just about the same. Then you add in the sugar, soy sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and Chinese seven spice to bring the most fabulous flavor to pep up the filling of the wonton.
Making the Wonton. Photo Credits: userealbutter.com
After the filling has cooled down a bit, you can get your stack of powdered wonton skins that are shaped like squares, a cookie sheet with a sheet of wax paper laying on top, and your egg and milk mixture and sit down at the table with a spoon and some major patience. This part is the most difficult part, putting it together and actually making the wonton. First you lay out the wonton skins a couple at a time and take about one spoonful (depending on how big the wonton skins are) and you put it in the middle of the square. Then you dip your finger into the raw egg mixture and lightly coat the edges of the square and meet the edges together to make a triangle. Once you make the triangle, don’t seal it closed yet. You must get all the air out of the inside, otherwise when you fry it there will be air bubbles and it will pop and there will be no more wontons. Just sad, empty fried wonton skins. (How to fold a Wonton). Once you make them all, you can start frying them and it takes about 2 minutes on each side, or when one side turns a golden brown. When they are finished I get to plate them on one of our exotic serving dishes. And once dinnertime comes around, I get to take them out of the oven (for heating purposes) and put them on the table for everyone to eat.
Watching everyone take that bite into the crispy wonton makes me so happy inside, and it makes me truly realize what family gatherings are all about, it is not all about the food. But it is the food that brings us together to share the special celebration of New Year’s Day. Without this holiday I don’t think I would appreciate my family as much as I do. And for that, I thank my Grandma for always working so hard every year to make this day possible for the entire family. Without her, the kitchen would be a chaotic mess. But with her, our family comes together as one to realize how lucky we are to have each other as a whole.