Spring Rolls

 

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It feels, on occasion, that we are about to be engulfed in an avalanche of spring rolls. These small, classic fried fingers of dough, a symbolic food of the Chinese Lunar New Year, have become a culinary obsession of nearly every Chinese chef, who readily packs them with his or her current fancy. There is no food, no flavoring, no garnish that doesn‛t find its way into a spring roll. Nor has this iconic food traveled well over the years. In its migration to and translation by the West, this petite, delicate food has become the thick, cumbersome log known as the egg roll.

It is time to rescue the Cantonese chun geun (or chun juan, as it is known elsewhere in China), “the roll of spring.” This symbolic food—its shape, reminiscent of a gold bar, is a harbinger of good fortune—is synonymous with New Year‛s Day and is enjoyed throughout the ensuing half-month celebration of the beginning of spring. The wrappers are the product of a special dough, and you can make your own to continue your understanding of core Chinese cooking. Or, you can buy good ready-made spring roll wrappers (see recipe) in Chinatown markets. You will need 12 wrappers, each 6 inches in diameter. What follows is the spring roll of tradition.

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Ingredients

 Dough

  • 3 cups Pillsbury Best All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • cups water

Filling

  • 4 ounces shrimp, Cleaver discussion)
  • 3 ounces pork butt, shredded (see Cleaver discussion)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 3 scallions, cut into -inch lengths and white portions shredded
  • tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 pound mung bean sprouts, ends removed
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 cups peanut oil
  • Chili-mustard condiment (see Dumpling Sauces)

Method

To make the dough: In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt and make a well in the center. Gradually add the water to the well and use your fingers to combine it with the flour until it is absorbed and a loose dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water. Knead the dough in the bowl for about 20 minutes, or until it becomes elastic. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 3 to 4 hours.

Wash and dry a griddle, making certain it is completely free of any vestiges of grease. Heat the griddle over low heat. When it is hot, grasp a large handful of dough from the bowl, hold it up, and rotate your wrist in a constant, slow motion. Keep the dough upward, working it with your fingers and palm. Then quickly press the dough onto the center of the hot griddle, using a circular motion, and then just as quickly pull back, leaving a thin, rough layer of dough about 6 inches in diameter on the griddle.

The dough will begin to dry at its edges in 10 to 12 seconds, which means the wrapper is ready. Carefully peel the wrapper from the griddle and remove it to a large plate.

Repeat until you have made 6 wrappers, stacking them as they are made, then wrap them in a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out. Repeat to make 6 more wrappers, so you have 12 wrappers total, in two batches. Leave each batch wrapped in its damp cloth, slide the batches into separate plastic bags, seal, and refrigerate for at least overnight or up to 4 days. (They can also be frozen for up to 2 months.) Allow to come to room temperature before using. The wrappers must be made at least a day in advance of use because they are too dry and brittle to work with when freshly made. Storing them in the refrigerator makes them pliable.

To make the filling: Place the shrimp and pork in separate small bowls. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon soy sauce to each bowl, mix well, and allow to marinate for 30 minutes next to the work surface where you will be forming the rolls. Place the scallions in a small bowl nearby. Heat a wok over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the peanut oil and, using a spatula, coat the wok with the oil. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add the bean sprouts and Stir-fry for 1½ minutes, or until they are wilted. Turn off the heat, remove the bean sprouts with a Chinese strainer, and drain them well over a bowl. Pat dry with paper towels and place in a small bowl near the other filling ingredients. Wash and dry the wok and reserve.

Place the wrappers and beaten eggs near the filling ingredients. Lay a wrapper on a large, flat plate. Add together, one at a time, 1½ to 2 tablespoons bean sprouts, large pinches each of the marinated shrimp and pork, and some scallions, arranging the ingredients in a line 3 to 3¼ inches long and equal distance from the sides of the wrapper and about 2 inches from the edge nearest you. Dip your fingers into the beaten egg, rub the egg all along the edge of the wrapper, and begin rolling from the edge nearest you. As you roll, fold in the sides of the wrapper. Keep lightly dampening the edges of the wrapper with the beaten egg as you roll and fold to ensure a secure closing. Once the roll is done, dampen the seam with more beaten egg and press to seal. The spring roll should be packed, rolled, and folded tightly and should be about 4 inches long. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers. (If you are using store-bought square wrappers, position the wrapper so a corner is facing you, position the line of filling ingredients across the wrapper about inches from the corner nearest you, and then roll the same way.)

Heat the wok over high heat for 1 minute. Add the peanut oil and heat to 350°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Cook 4 rolls at a time, quickly sliding them into the oil one at a time. Deep-fry for 1 minute, then turn the rolls over and continue to cook, moving the rolls back and forth and turning them, for about 3 minutes longer, or until they are an even light brown. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning. Using the Chinese strainer, remove the rolls from the oil and drain them well over a bowl. Repeat with the remaining 8 rolls in 2 batches. When the last batch is the same light brown as the first 2 batches, return the first 8 rolls to the wok and deep-fry, adjusting the heat as needed and moving the rolls about in the oil, for 1½ to 2 minutes, or until all of the rolls are golden brown.

Turn off the heat, remove the spring rolls with the strainer, and drain them briefly over a bowl. Then transfer them to a heated plate and serve. Accompany with the chili-mustard condiment.

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