Spring Rolls

Chunjuan

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: UniqueMeal: Almost in Advance, FriedMeal: One-Dish

    What a travesty most American egg rolls are! They have the drab, sour taste of overcooked celery; any other ingredients are anonymous, flavorless, and mushy. Authentic Chinese spring rolls like Mrs. Chiang’s, with their crisp skins and savory filling, seem like a completely different order of food.

    Most spring rolls made in America are wrapped in skins made from a relatively heavy egg noodle dough; the Chinese variety uses real spring roll skins, delicate, paper-thin pancakes. Chinese spring roll wrappers are made from the skin that forms when a ball of dough is touched to a hot pan. When they are filled and deep-fried, they become crisp and shiny. Because making spring roll skins is such a delicate business, most Chinese cooks, including Mrs. Chiang, prefer to buy them. This presents a problem for although genuine spring roll skins, sometimes called “Shanghai spring roll skins,” are produced commercially in America, they are not always available even in Chinese markets. They usually come in plastic bags containing about 30 skins. Since they are so hard to find, we usually buy several bags at a time; they freeze well. If all else fails, use egg roll skins; they are much easier to find.

    The filling is equally important. Mrs. Chiang’s spring roll filling includes roughly equal amounts of shredded pork, eggs, and cabbage, with some tree ears thrown in for contrast. It resembles that all American Chinese favorite, Moo Shu Pork, although, since it is Szechwanese rather than Pekingese, it is richer and more fragrant.

    If you can’t locate the right kind of spring roll skins, make the filling separately and serve it as if it were Moo Shu Pork with some Pancakes, or baobing. But don’t give up the search for the skins; this recipe makes the best spring rolls in the world. Eaten in the Szechwanese fashion, with a dip sauce redolent with raw garlic and hot peppers, they are a gourmet’s delight.

    Because it involves so many separate steps, making spring rolls is a time-consuming, though not very difficult, process. Although spring rolls lose their crispness if they are not eaten immediately after they are fried, all the other steps in their preparation can be taken ahead of time. It is not, however, advisable to freeze them; the cabbage in the filling gets limp.

    Spring rolls are snacks in China; they are rarely included in a regular meal, except as the final starchy course in a large banquet. And they are marvelous party food, since the final stage of frying them is easy and they can be eaten with the fingers. This recipe will produce about 15 or 16 spring rolls.

    Method

    Preparation (Filling)

    ½ cup dried tree ears

    1 cup boiling water

    Put the dried tree ears in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes.
    4 medium pork chops (for a yield of 1 pound meat, approximately) Cut the bones and fat away from the pork chops, then slice the lean meat into very thin slivers, about 2 inches long and ⅛ inch wide, the size and shape of a wooden matchstick. (It is always easier to slice meat into very thin shreds if you first put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes, until it becomes slightly stiff but not frozen.) Put the pork in a bowl.
    8 scallions Clean the scallions, then cut them, both the white part and most of the green, into 2-inch lengths. Slice these lengthwise into shreds, about the same width as the pork shreds.

    2 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 teaspoon sesame oil

    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    Add one-third of the scallions to the pork, along with the soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
    ½ head cabbage (for a yield of 2 cups shreds, approximately) Cut the cabbage into very fine shreds, approximately the same size as the meat shreds.
    (tree ears) Drain the tree ears and rinse them under cold water, carefully picking them over to make sure they don’t contain any impurities, such as little pieces of wood, that might still be embedded in them. Chop the tree ears into shreds the same size as all the other shreds.
    3 eggs Beat the eggs in a small bowl.

    Cooking (Filling)

    1 teaspoon peanut oil Heat a regular flat frying pan over a moderate flame and pour in the peanut oil.
    (eggs)

    When the oil is hot, pour in the beaten eggs. Let them cook, without stirring, until they are almost firm, then turn them over and cook for about 10 seconds on the other side. (You don’t have to be fastidious about turning the eggs over) since you are going to chop the omelet into shreds as soon as it is cooked.)

    Remove the omelet from the frying pan to the chopping block and slice it into shreds just like the meat and cabbage.

    ½ cup peanut oil Now heat the pan you usually use for Chinese cooking over a high flame for about 15 seconds, then add the oil. It will be ready to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
    (meat mixture) When the oil is ready, add the meat shreds. Stir-fry them for 10 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to scoop the pork shreds off the sides of the pan and then stir them around in the middle. Remove the meat from the pan after about 10 seconds of frying, even though it will still be pink.

    (cabbage)

    (tree ears and remaining scallions)

    Now add the shredded cabbage to the pan and stir-fry for 15 seconds before adding the shredded tree ears and the rest of the scallions. Cook these vegetables together for another minute, stirring occasionally to make sure that all of the cabbage gets cooked.

    (meat shreds)

    (egg shreds)

    Return the meat shreds to the pan and stir-fry for about 15 seconds. Then add the egg shreds and cook everything together for 1 minute more, stirring several times.

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 tablespoon soy sauce

    ½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

    ½ teaspoon sesame oil

    Finally add the salt, soy sauce, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, and sesame oil. Stir-fry the mixture for 1 more minute, then remove it from the pan. Let it cool for a few minutes before you try to stuff the spring roll skins with it.

    Preparation (Spring Rolls)

    1 egg

    15 or 16 spring roll skins

    (meat, cabbage and egg mixture)

    Beat the egg. Separate the spring roll skins and lay one of them on a flat surface. Take about 2-½ tablespoons of the cooked meat mixture and put it at one end of the spring roll skin. Roll it up as tightly as you can, folding the sides over to make sure the filling doesn’t spill out. Paint the top edge of the spring roll skin with the beaten egg and seal shut. A perfectly rolled spring roll bears a strong resemblance to a blintz.

    Before you begin to fry the spring rolls, prepare the dip sauce for serving with them. (This sauce is quite hot and permeated by the powerful taste of raw garlic, so be forewarned.)

    Cooking (Spring Rolls)

    2 cups peanut or any other cooking oil, approximately

    You can use either a wok or a regular frying pan for frying spring rolls. (A wok will require about 2 cups of oil; a flat frying pan, about 2 inches worth.) Pour the oil into the pan and heat it over a moderate flame; there is so much oil in the pan that it will take quite a while for it to get hot enough to cook with.

    You will probably have to fry the spring rolls in several batches because a wok can efficiently fry only about 7 or 8 at one time. When the oil is hot (test it by frying a trial roll), put a batch of 7 or 8 spring rolls into the pan. Turn them occasionally while they are frying to make sure that every side is cooked.

    After the spring rolls have cooked for about 3 or 4 minutes and have turned a rich golden brown, remove them from the pan. Drain them on some paper toweling for a few seconds and then serve, along with the peppery hot garlic sauce.

    Dip Sauce

    4 cloves garlic

    ½ teaspoon salt

    Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver; then peel. Put the garlic in a small, steep-sided bowl or mortar with the salt; then, using the wooden handle of your cleaver, or a wooden spoon or pestle, mash the garlic and salt together into a thick paste.

    1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

    1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes in oil

    ½ teaspoon sesame oil

    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    Now add the vinegar, hot pepper flakes in oil, sesame oil, and soy sauce to the garlic paste. Stir the resulting sauce well, then pour it into individual small bowls.