Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘crab rangoon’

Wanton Wontons

Rangoon_1 Crab rangoon is something I seem to indulge in when no one else is around. I think it's because I'll eat an entire $3.25 order of ten in one sitting and that's not the sort of thing to brag about. I just can't help it, rangoons are that good. Jalapeño poppers are second.

I needed roast pork on Christmas for a recipe and thought it would be the perfect excuse to have crab rangoon delivered. But I must admit Wing Hua's version were way too thick and chewy. It's not like I expect subtlety or perfection from a corner take out joint, but a rangoon should be at least a little crispy.

I survived, and for me rangoons are really a vehicle for sweet chile sauce. I picked up a few bottles of Maggi chile sauce in Singapore and I put it on everything I can. Versions of this sauce come in little plastic packets at fast food chains all over S.E. Asia. I had it at Burger King in Thailand and A&W and KFC in Malaysia. Great for dipping fries.

Cheesecake Factory Edison

Sure, the light bulb was one of the worlds great inventions, but can glass encased filaments hold a candle to the Cheesecake Factory? These sprawling suburban chains are few and far between in the NYC area, so its only fitting that such a culinary innovator (fried macaroni and cheese, anyone?) would be in Edison, NJ. While seeking out the first American Uniqlo, we were ecstatic to discover Menlo Park Mall also housed a bustling Cheesecake Factory.


Cfrangoon I’m still not quite clear what its raison d’etre is, other than cheesecake, of course. Red Lobster is seafood, Olive Garden is Italian, Outback Steakhouse is about as Australian as P.F. Changs is Chinese, but they have focus. Only one page of the menu and a glass case near the front of the restaurant are devoted to their namesake dessert. The rest of the ten-plus-page menu is a hodgepodge. And the Atlantic City casino meets ’90s Adam Tihany décor only complicates matters further.


It’s best to put such matters out of your head, suspend belief and live in the CF moment. Order a passion fruit ice tea, share a crispy crab wonton appetizer and then order monstrous barbecue ranch chicken salad (that looked like ais kacang if you squinted your eyes), and pretend it resembles something healthy. But save room for white chocolate chunk macadamia cheesecake. This was my lovely meal. Next time Ill try a glass of “The Cheesecake Factory,” a merlot specially bottled by Robert Mondavi. Pure class.

CfsaladAn aside: It’s odd how quickly we become sensitized to new rules. Smoking in bars feels like a tiny luxury, but seeing smoking in restaurants seems almost archaic. It wasnt that long ago that the smoking/non smoking section was perfectly acceptable. And I don’t have a problem with cigarettes (though it was strange to be blowing hundreds of dollars in Hong Kong, seated in the nonsmoking section millimeters from Germans exhaling smoke all over our overpriced beef) but it always seems weird that New Jersey chain diners dont care. Maybe Ive been living in over privileged, raising-a-stink over everything Carroll Gardens for too long. I mean, what about the children?

I should’ve thought twice about ordering a salad since I knew I’d only eat half in order to justify ordering cheesecake too. Salads dont exactly travel well. And I’m not one of those picky put sauces on the side folks, but CF goes overboard with their dressing. It was like I’d ordered soup and salad. But being the cheapskate that I am, I attempted to rescue and revive my leftover “salad” which was really more like coleslaw with corn, beans, avocado and chicken, by straining it in a colander for a second lunch. Yes, I am gross and desperate.


Before: s.w. coleslaw slush


After: slightly less slushy

Cheesecake Factory * 455 Menlo Park Dr., Edison, NJ

Rangoon Run

Ok, I just went outside for the first time today (well, technically I was in the hall earlier for about 15 min. barefooted and wet-haired answering census bureau questions about crime) to get Chinese take out (I’m too cheap to have it delivered. I’ve always had a thrifty streak but I fear it’s getting worse. The other day at work they had all these pastries and fresh fruit set up in a common area as a reward for everyone moving offices [my office wasn’t moving] so of course I had to get some. But the truly miserly librarian-ish behavior came out after the food was all gone. I actually went out and saw all the plastic cutlery that hadn’t been used, grabbed a bunch and stashed it in my drawer. Jesus. And when I recently visited the swanky bathroom at Yumcha for my birthday dinner I was completely wowed by the almost cotton towel quality of their nicely folded paper towels and crammed a handful in my purse because I figured they’d make better subway sweat mops than the Kleenex I’d been using that sticks to my face and that I’m unaware of until hours later when I look in a mirror).

I don’t do the ubiquitous NYC hole-in-the-wall Chinese thing very often, but when I do I’m always shocked at the insane amount of food. Even as a penny-pincher and glutton, I’m a little appalled. No wonder they’re so popular. All I really wanted were crab rangoon, a mild guilty pleasure that I only seem to eat when I’m alone. But I figured I’d get one of those combos too to not look like a total freak (that’s the other reason I didn’t do delivery—the 10 for $3.25 rangoons don’t meet the minimum).

String beans and pork seemed mildly healthy, at least there would be some vegetables and nothing else breaded and/or fried. I picked the $7 dinner for one, which ended up also including a shitload of fried rice (the default, I was fine with plain white), fried wontons, wonton soup, sweet and sour spareribs and “chicken fingers.” Oh, and a can of soda, which I turned down because I’m not pop person. But they were all “it’s free,” which I realized, and then felt bad for saying no and got a ginger ale. Easily dinner for three, or two hungry people. I don’t know whether I should be impressed with how much food I got for around ten bucks or disturbed. Self-imposed portion control, I guess (for the record, I only ate half the rangoons and all the spareribs). So, I might be a pathetic Sat. night Chinese take out food orderer, but I draw the line at watching Ghost Dad on the PAX Network. Who knew it was directed by Sidney Poitier?

I think rangoons are best enjoyed with Thai sweet chile sauce, but dammit if I wasn’t out. I improvised using rooster sauce mixed with one of those orange duck sauce plastic packets. Nice emergency substitution.


Crab Rangoon (half-assed & trashy version)

Purists (as if there could be such a thing) will cringe at my tinkering with a classic. Maybe I’ve just been skimming too many whack mom-ish food publications like Weight Watchers and Kraft Food & Family. I ended up using reduced fat cream cheese (though I’d never advocate fat free for any purpose, except maybe spackling) so I wouldn’t feel guilty (no, I’m not one of those types who drinks Diet Coke with candy) and fake crab because I’m cheap and actually like the taste. If I were making a smaller batch or trying to impress strangers outside of a Super Bowl party, I’d certainly use real crab meat. At least I didn’t use garlic powder.

More musings on this unlikely delicacy can be found here.

8 ounces crab meat
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 green onion, chopped (optional)
48 square wonton wrappers
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Mix cream cheese, crab meat (if using the fake stuff, it won’t flake nicely, so chop it instead), garlic, Worcestershire and onion, if using, until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto wonton wrapper. The edges can be wet and folded simply in half for a diamond shape or continued by pinching the two corners and adhering to the center with another dab of water.

Heat oil to 375 degrees, deep-fry rangoons in batches (don’t overcrowd) for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with hot mustard and/or sweet chile sauce. I highly recommend this Thai version.

Makes 48 crab rangoons, about five per person (unless you are feeding freaks, they will seriously all get eaten)

Peking Duck Forest

1/2 I tried to kill three birds with one stone: buy a wok, pick up Asian groceries and eat peking duck, all while bypassing Manhattan's Chinese New Year crowds. I succeeded on two counts in Queens. Unfortunately, the kitchen supply store was closed for the holiday (though I did recently read that buying a new wok is considered a New Year's tradition, so I had the right spirit).

I was a little nervous about peking duck not in a proper Chinatown, particularly peking duck off of Forest Hills main drag–Austin Street is a weird semi-suburban scene, very Long Island in look and feel. But heck, the restaurant did have the words peking and duck in their name, you'd hope they could deliver the goods.

And they pretty much did, though I was more enamored by the ambience and clientele. The restaurant isn't huge, and at 6:45 pm on a Saturday (which I thought was early) there was a surprisingly long wait for tables. I figured out why after being seated. Minus the side-by-side row of three middle aged couples who all looked exactly the same (chunky balding guys with sporty leather jackets and white tennis shoes and their female counterparts), much of the room was filled with solo dining elderly women, reading the New York Post, nursing what looked like whiskey cocktails, very very slowly picking at their food (we'd eaten half of our large meal before one of the women even decided to order. By that point she was on her second drink and probably bored with The Post) and generally giving the staff a hard time.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I want teriyaki. Where's the teriyaki?

Accommodating Older Waiter: [Can't actually hear initial reply, though I doubt he bothered trying to explain that teriyaki isn't Chinese] Maybe you'd like the beef with oyster sauce. It's called oyster sauce but doesn't taste like oysters. It's very good.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I don't like fish!

I've seen my future and its not pretty. I might become (ha, become) a loner alcoholic crank, but at least I'd hope to be culinarily bright. Maybe I should start going to Spanish restaurants and demand tacos, just to get the practice.

It was mildly worrisome that no one around us appeared to be eating the peking duck, despite its prominence on the menu. The restaurant tries to be a little ambitious, its a notch above typical NYC Chinese take out, though its hardly the kind of joint that Asians or purists would frequent (which could partly be blamed on the neighborhood rather than the food, though it was impossible to ignore the staff dining next to us on Chinese food that had been delivered, not cooked in house). Dishes like veal with apples and cashews reek of aspiration. And they have a full bar, the wines by the bottle werent completely hideous, though glasses and carafes only came in Chardonnay, merlot and white zinfandel. Gross, but like a good future loner alcoholic (I forgot to mention penny pinching) I ordered the house Chardonnay anyway. My two $4 glasses were filled to the brim, and I got much tipsier than anticipated. Maybe the evening was viewed through rosé colored glasses because I had a really good time.

The appetizers were old school. I freaked when I saw crab rangoon on the menu, this was so my kind of place. $17.50 per person might sound sort of steep for this kind of thing, but the whole shebang includes beef skewers, shrimp toast, egg rolls, steamed dumplings, soup (we chose one with duck, tofu and spinach) and an additional entre–we picked salt and pepper squid. The service is of the ingratiating, almost too helpful persuasion. While not the most ghetto neighborhood, I feared the waiters getting regularly pushed around and beaten into submission by demanding customers who only want sweet and sour pork and chicken fried rice and to be treated like kings. Class is white tablecloths and the absence of plastic backlit food photos.

The peking duck was presented with great fanfare (so was the soup, each item was said aloud as parceled into individual bowls from the steaming serving dish), a spectacle is made of spreading, stuffing and rolling of the pancake-wrapped packages. The waiter has it down to an art, he managed to use all the scallion, cucumber and duck to create six equal sized Chinese burritos. The extra four go into a domed metal container to keep warm while you eat. James was very disappointed that the duck wasn't carved in front of us, they bring the meat pre-sliced and fanned on a platter. I was ok with it, the taste hadn't suffered, but it tainted the meal for him. Consequently, when we get our next peking duck craving its likely well head to Peking Duck House in Manhattan. But I swear if I'm ever hungry in Forest Hills I totally know where I'm going.

Peking Duck Forest * 10712 70th Rd., Forest Hills, New York

Crab Rangoon

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)

Singing Cows & Cheese Logs

It wouldn't seem that a dairy farm turned regional grocery store with animatronic singing livestock would have much in common with a Swedish cheap furniture conglomerate, but Stew Leonard's is more Ikea than you'd think. They both have a loyal following. Despite sitting just beyond city limits and difficult to reach on public transportation, they are both thick with aisle blocking shoppers on weekends. And most importantly, both are laid out in that follow the path style where you are swept along with the tide of crowds and carts (god forbid you forget something and have to disrupt the traffic flow'at least Ikea has those sporadically placed shortcuts). Granted, Ikea is better known, and there are far more of them (there are only three S.L.s), but if people were better acquainted with Stew they would agree with my assessment.

In essence, Stew's is no more than a campy cavernous grocery store with a petting zoo and outdoor seasonal selections. The prices seemed a little high, the stock was oddball–for instance they didn't have basics like pecans, but there was plenty of seven-layer dip and cheese logs. A good portion of the store is devoted to prepared food, which I tend to shy away from. In fact, there is hardly a core to the place, there's a deli section, bakery, meat and fish counters, then rows of refrigerated Stew Leonard's brand things like soup, dips, sauces, sushi. And lots of steam tables filled with hot salad bar things you'd find in midtown delis during lunchtime: corned beef, kung pao chicken, macaroni and cheese, the whole hodgepodge gamut. I totally don't go for this stuff, it seems excessive.

My theory is that in the suburbs take out and delivery isn't as ubiquitous (I'm not sure about Westchester, but in Portland where I'm from, pizza is really the only thing you can get delivered to your home. My mom freaked when I told her you can get McDonald's delivery Manhattan) so hitting a grocery store on the way home from work for ready-made food is their equivalent.

I do like the idea of roaming people in animal costumes, and their bags around the world photos are funny (and pre-gnome hype) but I wasn't totally bowled over by the bovine shrine. But if I were ever in Yonkers I wouldn't hesitate to stop in, pet a goat, grab a cone of soft serve and maybe pick up a box of frozen crab Rangoon.

Stew Leonard's * Stew Leonard Dr., Yonkers, NY

Cheesecake Factory Wayne

Lord knows why, but this is a chain I've always wanted to try. Maybe because there arent any in the city…yet. Now that NYC has Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster, it takes more effort to get unique suburban style kicks.

I love cheesecake, but something about their name is grotesque. Do you really want to eat food food in factory churning out cheesecakes? Not that its really a factory, of course. Maybe to compensate for this disparity, theyve really turned up the volume on their non-dessert items. The dishes are out of control. Case in point: theyve concocted something called an avocado egg roll described as “Chunks of Fresh Avocado, Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Onion and Cilantro Deep Fried in a Crisp Chinese Wrapper. Served with a Tamarind-Cashew Dipping Sauce.” Enough already.

This location is in a small, weirdo mall (it doesnt have any lowbrow stores, just shops like Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bebe, Bloomingdales, oh and Chicos which I don't know what to make of, up until this point I'd only heard of them via TV ads. It's like tacky, semi-bohemian crap that a drama teacher with a private school salary might buy.)

Arriving at only 5pm, the wait wasn't insane (I'm used to the 60 minute minimum), but it allowed enough time to take in the Las Vegas oversized stylings. This is the actual Hackensack faade. I don't know what to call that architectural style that seems grounded in the ‘90s but on some level is probably harkening to something Venetian or Tuscan or whatever overwrought Italian style it is that bourgeois folks think looks rich (though I do note that neo-baroque is all the rage in design now, and admittedly I like it. But thats not really the same…is it? ) It's new with a colorful yet dusty palette that feels like Disney World or some such theme park. I was bothered that James didnt think it was over-the-top, he worries me sometimes.

We discovered that we both over order and eat too slowly to cater to chain restaurant staging. They always end up having to bring the entree while were still eating our appetizers because were not following their pacing, which is very calculated. Once at Applebees they tried to get us to order dessert when we were still eating our mains, and after saying wed wait till we were done to decide, the waitress informed us it would take some precise number like 5.5 minutes for our dessert to arrive so maybe wed like to order it now so it could be ready when we finished. A well oiled (and highly greasy) machine. No matter where we go everyone who is seated after us, leaves before we do. I do know that when I eat at places like Olive Garden with my family, were easily in and out under an hour. It's the American way.

I took my sweet time eating my southern fried chicken salad: “Pieces of Lightly Fried Chicken Breast Tossed with Fresh Corn, Glazed Pecans, Red Onion, Cucumber, Shredded Romaine and Our Own Ranch Dressing,” and could only make a dent in about 1/4 of the behemoth. Thats the other thing with chain dining, leftovers are practically built into the eating process. You order knowing there will be food left over. That doesnt bother me, its an extra meal, but I suspect thats a low class notion. Somehow the concept of large portions and leftovers came up in a food writing class I took some time ago, and everyone in the room was disgusted by taking food home and never ever did it (of course these are all NYC women). I was the only one who didnt think there was anything wrong with it, and practiced it routinely. I was also the largest person in the class, so there's quite possibly a correlation between eating leftovers and heft. I'm just too thrifty to throw out one-third to half my meal.

The reason I had little room for my southern fried chicken salad is that we bulked up on hot spinach and cheese dip: “Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, Shallots, Garlic and a Mixture of Cheeses Served Bubbly Hot with Tortilla Chips and Salsa. Enough for Two” (I like how theyre recommending portion here, like all the other voluminous appetizers arent enough to share) and crispy crab wontons: “Our Version of Crab Rangoon. Fresh Crabmeat Blended with Cream Cheese, Green Onion, Water Chestnuts and Sweet Chili Sauce Fried Crisp in Wonton Wrappers.” They certainly know how to write a lengthy description. I think its because chain diners are terribly scared of surprises, if every single freaking ingredient isnt listed they would lose control.

If you split a dessert like we did, the Turtle cheesecake, it comes sliced perfectly in half on two separate plates and garnished with its own whipped cream. I kind of liked this in a sterile non-sharing way. James thought it took the fun out of splitting halvsies, which is odd because hes way more fussy and particular than I am.

No one ever need go out of their way for the Cheesecake Factory, but there are worse ways to waste an early Saturday evening in New Jersey.

Cheesecake Factory * 197 Riverside Square, Hackensack, NJ