When I was a teenager, my father would occasionally take me to lunch at a Thai restaurant in Rockland, Maine. I can’t quite remember what it was called, or even exactly where it was. But it’s not there anymore, so it hardly matters.
These lunches meant a lot to me. Not because the food was particularly fantastic (though I had no real reference points, since I had yet to go through the profound “Massaman Curry” phase that every college Freshman explores as soon as he figures out that access to food at any time of the day or night is just a phone call and a student-issued Discover card away), though it wasn’t as terrible as the current limited options for Thai food in that small seaside town.
A one-on-one lunch with my father was special for other reasons. My dad’s disdain for teenagers was legendary, and if you happened to be one, your best option was to stay completely out of his way. By the time I was 17, we’d learned to avoid each other almost completely, he content to wait out my teenaged years until I became interesting again, and me happy to oblige. We got the chance to spend a ton of time together, much later, as grownups, but that is, as they say, another story for another day.
Sometimes, fate or a trip to Home Depot would force us together, though, and on those afternoons, we’d stop for Thai food. I’d order a beer at lunch, which made me feel profoundly grown-up, even though I looked like a thirteen year old until I was well into my thirties. We’d share an order of crispy, mouth-blistering crab rangoon, and I remember that he’d look (really look) at me as we forced our way through awkward conversation, half-listening to my uncomfortable babbling, instead searching my eyes for some hint or suggestion of what kind of man I would eventually become. I hope that he found it, somehow, and that he liked what he saw.
So! Hey! Crab Rangoon! The dish dates back to the 1950s, where it appeared on the menu of every Trader Vic’s tiki bar knockoff that was popping up along the sides of highways nationwide. Though it’s almost certain that the dish has origins absolutely nowhere near Southeast Asia (it’s stuffed with cream cheese, for goodness’ sake), it has become a staple of trashy Americanized Chinese takeout. And there’s really not much to dislike.
Wonton wrappers are stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese and crab, folded in half or into a flower shape, and then deep-fried to golden, crispy perfection and served with a plum or a sweet and sour sauce. You’re welcome to use fresh crab meat, but for true seedy takeout authenticity, use the imitation stuff. It looks super sketchy, but it’s just pollock, stained red with tomato dye to look more like crab. Because I assure you, if you think you’re getting freshly-picked crab in the fried appetizer you’re blackout-eating at three in the morning on the Lower East Side, you’re only fooling yourself. Enjoy.
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 2 sticks imitation crab meat, minced (or 2 ounces fresh crab meat)
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 20 wonton wrappers
- Peanut oil, for deep frying
- In a bowl, combine cream cheese, crab meat, powdered sugar, and salt. Stir well to combine.
- For each piece, place a teaspoon of the filling onto the center of a wonton wrapper. Moisten all four edges (a small bowl of water next to your work area is great for dipping a finger), then fold in half diagonally.
- Fold the other two corners up to the center, then pinch the intersection of all corners (and the seams) to form a tight seal.
- In a saucepan or deep fryer, heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry a few at a time until golden brown, and drain on paper towels. Let cool for a few minutes before diving in, or you risk third-degree cream cheese burns which are both painful and humiliating.