Queen of the Pupu Platter
This August is Tiki Month here on Kitchen Riffs! All the food and drinks will be Tiki-themed. First up? Crab Rangoon — crisply fried dumplings filled with a savory mix of cream cheese and crab. You won’t be able to eat just one!
Crab Rangoon is a staple of the Pupu Platter (the appetizer assortment that’s ubiquitous in Tiki- and Polynesian-themed restaurants around the world). In the US, you’ll also find this dish at more than a few Chinese-American restaurants.
And by the way, have you ever wanted to make your own Pupu Platter? Well, you’re in luck! All our food posts this month will feature recipes that are platter-appropriate.
So dust off your Tiki torches and flower leis, and start planning your next backyard party. The guests will go wild over your Pupu Platter — especially its star, Crab Rangoon.
Recipe: Crab Rangoon
Most of us haven’t tasted Crab Rangoon outside of a restaurant, but it’s really easy to make. The biggest hurdle? It requires deep frying — something most of us rarely (or never) do. But it’s not hard, and I’ll provide a lot of tips in the Notes. If you fry properly (which means at the right temperature for the correct amount of time), the food absorbs very little oil. Which means it’s much healthier than you might think. And if the idea of frying still turns you off, no problem. In the Notes I link to a recipe that allows you to bake, not fry, Crab Rangoon.
Crab Rangoon is usually served with a dipping sauce. Chinese mustard is a common one, and quite easy to make. (I provide a recipe for it in the Notes.) Less traditional but equally tasty is Sriracha sauce (serve it straight from the bottle or thin with a bit of water if you want a less spicy sauce; you can even use ketchup if you want to add a bit of additional sweetness). Other traditional favorites for dipping include duck sauce, sweet plum sauce, and sweet-and-sour sauce. Check the Asian aisle at your grocery store — most will stock at least one of these. Crab Rangoon would also pair well with our Plum Salsa.
Prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes, with additional cooking time for each batch about 3 minutes. You’ll be frying several batches, but 30 minutes total should be more than enough time.
This recipe yields about 2 dozen Crab Rangoons, but it’s easy to double or triple if you need more.
Leftovers? There probably won’t be any. But if there are, you can refrigerate them and microwave to reheat. They won’t taste nearly as good as freshly fried, but they’ll be OK.
- 4 ounces cream cheese (remove from refrigerator 30 minutes ahead)
- 3 ounces imitation crab or canned crabmeat (or more to taste; see Notes)
- 2 scallions (use all of the white part and half of the green part, reserving the rest of the green for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- oil for frying (1 - 3 quarts, depending on cooking vessel, enough to fill with oil to a depth of about 2 inches; see Notes)
- ½ package wonton wrappers (about 2 dozen)
- Half an hour before you want to prepare the Crab Rangoon, remove cream cheese from the refrigerator to warm (you can use it straight from the fridge, but it’s easier to mix with other ingredients if it’s warm). Place the cream cheese in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Finely dice the crab, and add to the mixing bowl. With a sturdy spoon, combine cream cheese and crab (if you double or triple the recipe, it’s easier to do this in a stand mixer).
- Wash, dry, and clean the scallions. Slice thinly, and reserve about half the green part for garnish. Add to mixing bowl.
- Add soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (if using) to bowl, and mix together.
- Place oil in a wok, a deep electric skillet, a Dutch oven, or another heavy bottomed-pot with high sides (or use a free-standing electric fryer if you have one). Make sure the oil doesn’t reach more than halfway up the side of the pot (see Notes). Heat the cooking container over medium high heat until the oil reaches 350 - 375 degrees F. (Use a thermometer! See Notes for more about thermometers.) While you’re filling the wonton wrappers in Step 6, check the oil temperature from time to time – you don’t want it any higher than 375, nor lower than 350 F. Once it reaches that temperature, adjust the stovetop element to keep it at 350 to 375 F. Optional: Preheat oven to 200 degrees F if you need to hold the cooked Crab Rangoon pieces until you’re finished frying (see Step 8).
- While the oil heats, assemble the Crab Rangoon pieces. Lay a wonton wrapper out on the kitchen countertop or other flat surface, with one edge pointing towards you (as you look at the wonton, it’ll form a diamond). Place a heaping teaspoon of cream-cheese-and-crab mixture in the middle of the wonton skin. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper, and fold the top corner down to meet the bottom corner, forming a triangle. Be sure to press all the air out of the filled wonton, and firmly seal the edges. Place on a large plate or tray, and cover with a damp cloth towel or paper towels. Repeat until you’ve used all the cream-cheese-and-crab mixture (this recipe will make about 24 Crab Rangoon pieces, depending on how full you fill the wonton skins).
- By now, the temperature of the oil should be at 350 to 375 degrees F. You’ll probably be frying the Crab Rangoon in batches, depending on the size of your wok or pot (I usually do about 6 at a time). Don’t put too many in at one time — if you crowd the pot, whatever you’re frying won’t brown well. Turn on your exhaust fan — frying does create some odors, so you want to get rid of them. Gently lower the first batch of Crab Rangoon pieces into the hot oil, being careful not to splash oil on yourself. Fry for about 2 minutes until golden brown, then turn over and fry for about 1 minute more. The first side will usually be a bit more golden than the second. Time is a little imprecise here — it depends on how brown you want the Crab Rangoon to be. I usually come in at about 2½ minutes total time per batch.
- Remove the fried pieces (i usually use a slotted spoon something similar so the oil drains out), place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain (or if you have a wire cooling rack that fits on your baking sheet, use that) and serve immediately. These are best hot from the oil, so I always serve them as I fry them. If you need to hold the first batch(es) until you’re finished frying them all, you can slide the baking sheet into a 200 degree F oven.
- Sprinkle the Crab Rangoon pieces with some chopped green scallions for garnish, and serve with your choice of dipping sauces (see Notes).
- What kind of oil should you use for frying? You need something relatively inexpensive that can get hot without smoking or breaking down. I like peanut oil or canola oil.
- How much oil will you need? Enough to fill your cooking container to at least 2 inches. Never fill the container more than halfway with oil — otherwise you risk having the oil bubble over. I use an electric wok for deep frying, and a quart of oil works fine (it leaves plenty of room so the oil won’t overflow). But some cooking pots will require more — as much as 2 or even 3 quarts. If you don’t know how much to buy, just fill the container to the appropriate level with water, then pour the water into a measuring container (such as one of those big 2-quart measuring cups) to see what would be appropriate.
- For proper browning, you should heat the oil to at least 350 degrees F, and not more than 375 F. If you have an electric wok or deep electric skillet with a thermostat, that’s ideal. But even then, you should always use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct.
- Many people recommend attaching a candy thermometer to the frying pot, and leaving it there while you fry (and it’s an excellent idea).
- I’m a fan of the Thermapen instant-read thermometer (which gives you a highly accurate reading within 3 seconds), so I just use that. But the Thermapen is an expensive thermometer, and you can easily get by with something less costly. The other downside of using an instant-read thermometer is that you have to keep dipping the probe into the hot oil, because you do need to know what the oil is doing temperature-wise when frying. With a candy thermometer, you can just glance at the dial.
- Why the emphasis on oil temperature? Because it really does affect quality. If the oil temperature drops too low, the food absorbs oil instead of cooking in it, turning everything greasy and soggy. If the oil temperature gets too high, the food may burn. So keep the oil between 350 F and 375 F.
- Note that when you add a batch of filled wontons to the frying container, the oil temperature will drop — though it should quickly come back to the proper level. Just don’t add too many pieces to the pot at one time, otherwise the oil won’t recover its heat quickly enough. Limiting the number of pieces you add at one time also helps prevent the oil from spattering.
- Frying is safe, but there is always the possibility that something could go wrong. So I always keep out a lid as large as (or larger than) the top diameter of the pot. That way, in the unlikely event there’s a fire, I can plop the lid on the frying pot, starving it of oxygen and putting out the fire.
- I also keep a fire extinguisher in my kitchen — and recommend that you do the same. Get one that’s rated ABC (the US rating; ratings vary by country). That means it will work on ordinary solid combustibles, flammable liquids and gases, and electrical fires. If you fry a lot, you might want to get a Class K fire extinguisher, which is made specifically for cooking-oils and fats.
- Whatever you do, don’t throw water on a grease fire! It won’t extinguish the flames, and will probably make things worse.
- What to do with the leftover cooking oil? You can generally reuse it a time or two, until it begins to break down (when this happens, it will begin smoking, and may give food an “off” taste). To store, I let the oil cool, then pour it into a bottle (usually the now-empty bottle that the frying oil came in). I generally line a large funnel with a coffee filter, place the funnel in the bottle, and begin pouring in the cooled oil. Because of the filter, this can take a while. You can speed things up by not using a filter, but make sure not to pour in any of the browned bits of food that will have gathered on the bottom of your frying pot (just discard those bits, along with the small amount of oil that will remain in the pot). Tightly cap the used oil, and store in a dark place.
- If the idea of frying doesn’t appeal to you, the Kraft foods website has a recipe for Baked Crab Rangoon. I haven’t tried it, but it looks decent enough.
- You can also make Crab Rangoon using the traditional preparation, but instead of frying it, bake it in a 450 degree F oven. I haven't tried this, but I’ve seen recipes for it that look good. I’d bake for 15 minutes or so if you’re going to try this — but you’ll have to experiment, because I haven’t.
- Imitation crab is the traditional “crab” ingredient for Crab Rangoon (yes, really). It is usually sold in sticks or big flakes, and has a mild “crabby” taste. You’ll find it in the seafood department at your grocery store. It typically contains Alaska Pollock as the main ingredient (along with other ingredients). Some brands include a tiny bit of real crab.
- Alternatively, some recipes use canned crab. I’ve not tried that, but I understand that it works.
- Of course, you can also use real crab! (Though again, I haven’t tried that.) Some cooks say the real stuff actually doesn’t taste as good in this dish as imitation crab. And of course, real crab will be much more expensive than imitation.
- I suggest 3 ounces of crab to 4 ounces of cream cheese, but some recipes recommend equal quantities of each, or even a bit more crab than cream cheese. So you may want to experiment.
- To make Chinese mustard, mix equal parts of dried mustard powder (like Colman’s) with cold water. Stir, and if you want a thicker consistency, stir in a bit more mustard powder. Let sit for about 10 to 15 minutes and then use immediately — that’s when it reaches its peak flavor. If it sits longer, the flavor and pungency diminish.
- For more on Tiki culture, see our posts on the Mai Tai, Planter's Punch, The Zombie, and Fog Cutter Cocktail.
“Gosh, these are good,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she bit into a Crab Rangoon piece. “I love these hot and crisp from the fryer.”
“Nothing better,” I agreed, reaching for another piece. “And I love dipping them in sauce. Both the Chinese mustard and the Sriracha are great, though now I’m wishing I had made some duck sauce too.”
“Next time,” said Mrs K R, forking herself some more Crab Rangoon. “So, what drink will we be having to kick off Tiki Month?”
“One of the classics,” I said. “The Volcano Bowl. I’ll be posting about it later this week.”
“You mean the one that kinda sorta looks like a fiery volcano?” she asked.
“That’s the one!” I said excitedly. “It’s big enough for two or more people. And it’s usually served with the ‘volcano’ actually flaming.”
Wiping my chin, I added, “I just love Tiki Month!”
“I bet Kidde does too,” said Mrs K R.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“They’re the guys who make our fire extinguisher.”
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