Food You Can Eat: Crab Rangoon

Image via The Redhead Baker

A selection from my “‘Asian’ food you wouldn’t find in Asia” repertoire, Crab Rangoon was invented by Victor Bergeron, “Trader Vic” himself. He was a genius. He invented this whole cuisine that nodded toward Asian food but appealed to a postwar American palate. He called it “Polynesian” (Rangoon is actually in Myanmar, formerly Burma, which was a theater of action in World War II) and Americans couldn’t get enough. The tiki drinks he invented alone, including the mai tai, would fill a good-sized bar guide. Julia Child may have popularized French cuisine but she didn’t invent it. Ironically Crab Rangoon now shows up in “Chinese” restaurants all over the country. When I visit friends and relatives across this great land of ours, Crab Rangoon is my barometer if a Chinese restaurant is proposed. If it serves Crab Rangoon I insist that we do not go. I am a complete hypocrite but if I’m going to a Chinese restaurant I would prefer to eat something I might find in Shanghai, not Sheboygan, no offense to the good citizens out there.

Crab Rangoon is a fried dumpling. I don’t know of any cuisine on earth that doesn’t have a version of dumplings in one form or another. I think they might even be mentioned in the Old Testament but I can’t remember the name of what Biblical scholars believe them to have been.


8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature

10 oz. crab meat, drained. Fresh is best but canned is good enough. You want to flake it really well, though; you don’t want clumps. Most recipes will tell you to use a 1:1 ratio of cream cheese to crab meat but this filling is pretty bland as it is.

A little garlic powder, maybe 1 tsp. if you’re measuring

A little Worcestershire sauce, again maybe 1 tsp. if you’re measuring, but I bet I use a bit more. Trader Vic used A1 steak sauce, of course he did!*

A little soy sauce, optional, but I like to throw it in. About 1 tsp.

Some chopped scallions, diced really small. 1/4–12 cup.

1 beaten egg, kind of optional

Won ton wrappers. These usually come in large packages. For this amount of filling you’ll need about 40 to 50. Why am I making so many? Because they freeze really well and it’s not every day you’re going to be deep-frying in oil, unless, like the late Florence Henderson, you have “Wessonality.” Plus, if you make this as a main course, you can easily polish off at least 10, more like 15, at a go, if you like them. Remember, if you eat half of them you’re only eating 4 oz. of cream cheese and 5 oz. of crab. It’s the won ton wrappers that really fill you up.

Cooking oil for frying, preferably peanut oil**

*The cream cheese aside, one giveaway that you wouldn’t have seen this being served in a food stall in 1930s Rangoon is the A1 sauce. The British, who controlled prewar Burma, no doubt shipped in Worcestershire sauce by the barrel, but not A1 steak sauce.

**If you’re squeamish about deep frying, there’s a slightly inferior way to do this in an oven, which I’ll tell you at the end.

In a bowl, gently combine the crab, cream cheese, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and the chives.

Lay out the won ton wrappers. Put a dollop of the mixture in the center of each. Not too much, because the wrapper has to contain it all. Brush the sides with beaten egg and bring the opposite corners together. Imagine they’re in a diamond shape showing directions on a map. Bring N and S together, then E and W. Alternately you can just wet your fingertips to make the opposite corners stick.

Pour enough oil into a deep skillet to cover the won tons. This is usually about 3 or 4 inches, but you can just hold one next to skillet to show you the level you’ll need. Get the oil good and hot over medium high heat. If you have a thermometer for this, so much the better. The temperature should be at least 350 degrees but no hotter than 400. A little error on either side doesn’t make much of a difference, I find.

USING YOUR TONGS, and working in batches, carefully place your won tons comfortably in the oil. Don’t plop them all in together. Turn them once or twice over the course of 3 to 5 minutes. If your won tons burn really quickly your oil is too hot. If they’re not nice and brown and a little crispy after 5 minutes your oil is not hot enough, and your won tons will be unappetizing and oil soaked.

Take out the first batch and put on a paper-lined plate to cool a little and dry. Keep doing this until all the won tons are done.

If the prospect of third degree burns doesn’t excite you (and you can use oven mitts if you want, you should have enough dexterity to handle the tongs) do this:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Make the won tons as described on the sheet and spray them lightly with unflavored cooking spray. This prevents the tops from burning, but you don’t want to taste it in the finished product. Put these in an oven set to 400 or 425 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven. I say this is slightly inferior because the won tons probably won’t be as crispy but will be very tasty just the same.

The won tons are meant be dipped. Maybe you’ve been ordering in a lot of pandemic Asian takeout food and have amassed a horde of extra soy sauce and Chinese mustard packets. You can mix that in a bowl. You can get Chinese mustard in supermarkets and our wholesale club. If you can’t, you want a spicy mustard, and the ubiquitous Dijon is good for this. You will also want a sweet and sour sauce. You can buy this, or, combine 3/4 cups spicy ketchup, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of rice vinegar, 2 to 3 tbs. brown sugar, and two to three tablespoons of hot sauce or red pepper flakes. This is pretty spicy indeed, so do this a little at a time and taste once or twice as you go and adjust if necessary. If you do the mustard and the sweet and the sour sauce you might have leftovers and this can be refrigerated.

Serve with mai tais and toast Victor Bergeron’s sainted memory.



  1. Mmmmmm nice. We have an excellent Asian grocery store nearby that sells all the various wrappers (egg roll, dumpling, won ton) and various noodles, all homemade and frozen. You are inspiring, if not at all heart-healthy!

          • I have to say – I don’t really get the frozen custard thing. It’s good, obviously, but I don’t think it’s substantially different from a good quality ice cream. 

            • Um…then you have not had fresh frozen custard.  If you ever find yourself in Milwaukee, go to Leon’s Frozen Custard on Oklahoma and 27th.  When you order your frozen custard, ask them for “fresh pack”.  This is the custard that has just been made and has not yet fully frozen.  It is a mystical experience.

              • Quite possible. I did get it once from a friend’s restaurant in Portland, who was insisting that their frozen custard was the best thing ever, but I have no idea if it was just made. Of course I told him it was amazing, and I wasn’t lying – it was great, but so is good quality ice cream. 

                • I hate to be That Snob, but getting frozen custard in Portland is like getting New Mexican food in Boston.  The difference between authentic frozen custard and good quality ice cream is like the difference between cream and milk.  Silky smooth and super rich versus pretty tasty.

                  • Haha you are That Snob, but I’ll allow it. 😉
                    Maybe someday. I’ve been to the Midwest exactly three times in my life (one of which was Chicago, if that counts), so I’m not sure I’ll ever be in Milwaukee. We might well take another trip to Iowa if it ever feels safe to travel again, because we have friends there. So if you have recommendations near the Quad Cities, I’m happy to take them. 

                    • I’ve got nothing for Iowa, but I’m betting their frozen custard is quite good as well.  Wouldn’t hurt to ask for fresh pack their either–especially if you’re getting it at a custard stand.

    • I don’t know how inspiring I am, maybe more like “eccentric to the point of distraction.” But I have oodles of time on my hands, have had for the last decade, even before My Great Confinement, and this is my hobby, food that people have probably never made for themselves, and may never have encountered because it is 2021, not 1951 or 1971. 
      I should mention that I’m never going to publish a cookbook called something like, “Easy Weeknight Dinners,” although that’s what I make mostly. Oh no. What you’re all reading is “Cousin Matthew is easily bored and used to have people over all the time and didn’t want to bore them.” Now it’s just the two of us (and The Ravenous Hound) so twice a week I spin the culinary roulette wheel that is my mind and flash back to 1997, or 2003, or 2019, and drag out something to see if I can still do it. 

  2. Crab Rangoon was often a part of my family’s Chinese takeout order, but I never tried it. One of these days I plan to try my hand at making some dumplings. Probably gyoza or potstickers.
    Sometimes I want more authentic Chinese food (there was an amazing Sichuan place near my old house), but sometimes I crave American Chinese food. It’s its own cuisine, and it has its place. 

    • I agree.  Despite being Asian, I like North American Style Chinese food as a once in a while treat.  My mom enjoys going to the local buffet for her birthday because she doesn’t need to cook and we don’t mind. 
      If I want real Chinese food then I avoid those places.  I enjoy most Dim Sum (chicken feet, no way) and was really upset when the local restaurant closed.

    • Re: the dumplings. You definitely should try your own. You find a version everywhere. Pierogis. Samosas. Empanadas. Ravioli. Gyoza. Knödl.
      This is advice I would give to everybody: Do you see something around that’s seemingly ubiquitous and often not very expensive? If you have the time and the inclination you might want to go online and see if you can make your own. It might not be cheaper because you aren’t making industrial quantities of it, and it’s certainly more time-consuming. 
      This little light bulb went off in my head maybe 30 years ago. We were at brunch, all “SATC”-like, and someone said, “God I love eggs Benedict. I could eat it every morning.” “Well, you could, but your doctor might have an opinion.” “I couldn’t afford to go go out every morning.” “Why don’t you just make your own?” “I…make…my own?” I had the whole table’s attention. “Sure. Look at what you’re eating. That’s an English muffin. I think here they butter it slightly. That’s a slice of Canadian bacon, you can find that easy enough. On top of that is a poached egg. Then it’s topped with hollandaise sauce, which takes a couple of attempts but you then get the hang of it pretty easily.” “You make your own eggs Benedict?” “Of course I do. Who do you think is in this diner’s kitchen making it for us? A graduate of the School of Culinary Arts? No, it’s probably some teenager who six months ago didn’t know how to use a can opener.”

      • We were just having a conversation last night about empanadas. I might give those a go at some point, because it’s been a while since we’ve eaten any. I don’t think there’s even anywhere near here that sells them. The ones we eat when we visit his family in Argentina are sooooo good. Drooling thinking about them… (Cheese and onion are the best kind, despite their seeming simplicity.) Claire and Gaby (formerly of the Bon Appétit test kitchen) recently put out a video on empanadas, though they’re fried ones and I’d probably look for a baked version which apparently uses a different type of dough. 
        I don’t think I’d ever bother making a hollandaise though. Too fussy, too much room for failure. My husband does love eggs florentine though, but it’s not really my thing. 

        • I bake empanadas and I cheat and use frozen pie crusts instead of making my own dough (the kind in rolls, not the kind already shaped like pie crusts and pre-baked).

          Just make sure to do an egg wash on the top and it bakes up lovely. 

          Is it authentic? Not a chance in hell. But it’s tasty and convenient!

  3. In the summer we have a glut of Dungeness crab from all my beer buddies w/ boats so I taught my daughters how to make crab Rangoon w/ leftover crab.  One of my best life decisions!!! 

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