Christmas Eve is one of my favorite food holidays. While all my celebrating friends are stuck eating a second Thanksgiving dinner, my family and I join the hordes of other people who don’t celebrate the holiday and head out to a Chinese buffet, where we eat ourselves silly before taking in a holiday flick.
I look forward to the Christmas Day Chinese buffet every year—but it’s the inevitable post-indulgence crash that I regret. My family now goes to the movie before dinner, otherwise we’re too deep in an MSG trance to focus on the film.
But hitting up a Chinese buffet isn’t your only option this December. For one, there are some non-Chinese restaurants around town that are serving up special menus that riff on the Chinese-restaurant-on-Christmas tradition. Chef Michael Leviton’s Newton restaurant Lumiére is expanding on its usual French menu and serving up dishes inspired by his adolescence, during which his family observed this familiar tradition every December. On the menu this year is a mix of Jewish and Chinese classics, including Leviton’s take on chow fun and potato latkes. And China Pearl in Chinatown is also getting in on the fun, hosting the Moo Shu Jew Show with the New Center for Arts and Culture, a stand-up comedy show based around the experience of being a Jew on Christmas.
The other option, which may not occur to you after years of going out, is cooking at home. This is my preference, but my family is a hard sell after years of hitting the buffet. I’m slowly working on changing the tradition. Last year, I made these pan-fried wontons—from a recipe of a close family friend who spent some of her childhood in China—as a little taste of what we can do in our own kitchens.
But some traditions are hard to break, and the Chinese-food-on-Christmas is one I’m not complaining about continuing.
Makes about 50 wontons
These wontons freeze very well. Just assemble them, place them in one layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until they are firm but not fully frozen, about 20 minutes. Transfer them to a zipper-lock bag. (Freezing them individually first will prevent them from sticking to each other.)
1 package wonton wrappers
½ pound ground chicken breast
½ pound ground chicken thighs
4 ounces drained water chestnuts, finely chopped
4 stalks green onions, white parts finely chopped
4 ounces drained bamboo shoots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1. Mix all ingredients together in medium bowl.
2. Place 1 teaspoon filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Moisten two edges, fold corner to corner, and press fingers around pocket of filling to remove any air pockets. Bring left corner and right corner together and press to seal.
3. Heat 1½ tablespoons canola oil over medium-high heat in nonstick 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add eight wontons and let cook until brown on bottom, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add ¼ cup water, and cook, covered, until water has evaporated. Remove cover from pan and cook 1 minute longer. Repeat with remaining wontons, adding more oil as needed. Serve immediately alongside hoisin or soy sauce.