I can’t believe that I spent most of my life oblivious to the charms of crab rangoon. Well, I did grow up occasionally eating cheese-filled won ton skins at American-Chinese restaurants. They came with combo platters that might also contain fried shrimp (which would always make me sick—there’s something about battered, fried seafood that’s hard to stomach—though it hasn’t put me off soft shell crabs), stir fries laden with corn starch and celery and those little dishes of ketchup, blobbed with a hot mustard streak and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. But we just called those golden, cheesy things won tons.
I’ve since discovered that in New York City parlance won ton, at least at the one-per-block chop suey joints, means those uninspired, thin strips of fried dough that come in greasy little transparent bags. Crispies, as I call them, aren’t good for much more than floating in hot and sour soup. Crab rangoon, as it turns out, is akin to my childhood notion of what a won ton is: a creation where the presence of crab is usually undetectable, though a wisp of scallion might make it into the filling.
To allay some confusion The Food Lover’s Companion defines won tons as “bite-size dumplings consisting of paper-thin dough pillows filled with a minced mixture of meat, seafood and/or vegetables” So really, rangoons are more won ton (though of course cream cheese was not part of that definition) than NYC crispies are (which isn’t surprising, the city tends to mangle foodstuffs. I’ll never get used to hearing gyro pronounced “jai ro”).
Ubiquitous on local take out menus, I was swayed by the description of cheese won tons one lonely evening in my Greenwood Heights basement apartment, an abysmal culinary no-man’s land (good food wasn’t the only thing lacking—banks, drug stores and Laundromats were all in short supply while copious strip clubs, adult bookstores and a federal prison dotted the next block). Creamy, crunchy, caloric…the three Cs seemed like the perfect greasy antidote to my glum surroundings (the only bright beacon being the White Castle mere steps away from Twin Lin, said Chinese storefront). It was a good decision, and only set me back $4.50 for ten rangoons with sweet and sour sauce (some restaurants just include packets of duck sauce).
And where the Rangoon descriptor comes in is anyone’s guess, there’s nothing remotely Burmese about the golden treats. It reeks of Polynesian invention, pu pu platters, mai tais, exotica. This line of reasoning was bolstered by a feature on Trader Vic’s in the December 2004 Saveur, “Crab Rangoon & Bongo Bongo Soup.” It included a delectable sounding rangoon recipe where the crustacean plays prominently in taste and texture—Trader Vic was no slouch. I have a couple of Trader Vic’s cookbooks in storage, unfortunately, on the opposite side of the country, I’d be curious to see crab rangoon is mentioned. I know the restaurant has had its heyday, but a visit to the granddad of tiki chic would be fun, nonetheless. Unfortunately, the nearest location is in Chicago, and that’s a bit of a haul.
On my recent maiden voyage to Stew Leonard’s I was most impressed by the big boxes of frozen crab Rangoon (the animatronic singing cows placed a close second). This was a score, and also a comfort during yet another despondent lull in my life. Despite currently dwelling in a nicer apartment and neighborhood, I still get bummed over my annual Christmas alone in NYC predicament. Crab rangoon to the rescue. I ended up eating the whole box over the course of that holiday week (and out of desperation turned to frozen jalepeno poppers when the rangoons ran dry) with sweet Thai chile sauce, the ultimate pairing if you ask me. But don’t get the impression that crab Rangoon is only meant to be enjoyed while sad and alone just because I turn to the fatty treat in times of need. Heavens no, what’s more social than warm cheese and fried dough? A plate of rangoons, a bottle of chile sauce, and thou.
Roll Your Own: Crab Rangoon Recipes
Gorton’s No, I wouldn’t trust food from a company that combines goldfish crackers and frozen fish sticks to make Fish on a Log, either.
Ming Tsai goes haute with cranberry chutney and a $50 Chardonnay pairing
Low carb (barf)