Wrap up the tast of Asia Far East: It's easy to prepare egg rolls, won tons and pot stickers when you start with ready-made dough.

April 24, 1996|By Janet Hazen | Janet Hazen,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Here's the secret to creating a variety of the most scrumptious cross-cultural appetizers and dishes: Asian wrappers. Won ton, "sue gow," "su my" and egg roll skins, along with rice paper, are versatile, easy to work with and very inexpensive.

Square-shaped won ton skins filled with interesting mixtures of meat, poultry and vegetables and deep-fried are a favorite snack both here and in Asia. Delicate and tender ultra-thin su my wrappers formed around seafood fillings and served in a flavorful broth are typical Chinese fare, as are popular pot stickers with their crispy-brown bottoms that contrast so nicely with the succulent steamed bodies. Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and Burmese cooks use the large square egg roll wrappers for a multitude of dishes, and many Thai and Vietnamese appetizers couldn't exist without those fine gossamer rice papers.

Standard Chinese wrappers like won ton, sue gow, su my, pot sticker and egg roll skins are used in a variety of ways. Rice paper is a favored wrapper used primarily in Southeast Asian cooking and is most evident in the traditional Vietnamese imperial rolls and cold noodle rolls. Crepe, bean-curd skin, yeasted dough, doughs made from roots and even banana leaves are also used to wrap around exotic concoctions, but we will focus on five wrappers that are very easy to work with and can be found in Asian grocery stores and specialty supermarkets.

Asian wrappers come from humble beginnings: flour, water, eggs and salt. There are a few variations like sugar, malted barley, and wheat or rice flour, but for the most part these wrappers are a simple combination of four core ingredients.

In order of thickness, we have pot sticker skins, which come 30 to 35 to a 16-ounce pack. These round skins are used almost exclusively for pot stickers since they are thick enough to stand up to pan-frying and then steaming. They are a bit thick for stuffing and simply steaming or frying, but make decent ravioli.

Round sue gow come 55 to 60 to a 16-ounce package and are traditionally used in soup. They are thick enough to withstand longer periods in hot broth, but are still a little too thick to be served steamed or fried.

Won ton skins are always square but come in three different thicknesses: ultra-thin (90 per 16 ounces); medium (65 to 70 per 16 ounces); and thick (40 per 16 ounces). The thin ones are used for soups and broth, the medium size can be used for either, and the thick won ton skins are best for frying.

Su my are round and very thin and are sold in 14-ounce packages with approximately 90 to 95 skins per package. Su my are best for steaming and are frequently used for dim sum. Rice paper, made from rice flour, water and salt, is extremely brittle, unlike the other wrappers. It comes in varying sizes and triangular shapes, and each has a pattern of the bamboo mat on which it is dried.

Rice papers are the only wrappers that can be used and eaten uncooked as well as cooked. These wrappers must be brushed with cold water to make them pliable, but the other wrappers only require cornstarch slurry to help the edges and seams stick together.

Once you get the hang of these wonderful wrappers you will no doubt find many ways to use them in both savory and sweet

dishes. The following guidelines will help you get started, but there really aren't any tricks or secrets to working with them.

Won ton, sue gow, su my and egg roll skins must be stored cold. They will keep for several weeks refrigerated and several months in the freezer. Remove the refrigerated skins about half an hour before you plan to use them.

Rice paper can be stored in a tightly sealed plastic bag at cool, dry room temperature for many months.

Won tons, dumplings and ravioli freeze well. First lay the dumplings in a single layer on baking sheets; freeze until hard. Transfer to a thick plastic bag, seal tightly and place inside another plastic bag. Freeze for up to six months.

All skins (except the rice papers) must be sealed with a mixture of cornstarch mixed with cold water. The slurry is brushed just on the edges or on the entire surface of the skin to encourage the two sides to adhere to one another. A slurry is made by combining 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 5 tablespoons cold water. Use a pastry brush to smooth the slurry onto the skin.

When you work with all wrappers, keep the stack covered with a damp towel. Work with only four or five at a time so that they don't dry out before you finish rolling or folding. Rice papers are particularly susceptible to drying and curling when exposed to the air, so pay attention when working with these wrappers.

When you make ravioli or dumplings, it's important to squeeze out air that may be trapped between the two layers of skins. Often trapped air will cause the dumplings to explode while cooking, spoiling your hard work and leaving you with a bunch of empty wrappers floating in boiling water or broth, or even worse, ruining a large pot of vegetable oil used for deep-frying.

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