I used to stay up very late in Taiwan studying, and one of my favorite after-midnight occupations was to walk into the center of town to the stall of the springroll man, who set up shop at about 9 and stayed open till about 3 for late-night, hungry souls like me. The stall was cozy, the springrolls were crunchy, and they tasted much like these.
Soak the mushrooms in cold or hot water to cover until fully soft and spongy, 20 minutes to an hour. Drain, snip off the stems with scissors, then rinse the caps under cold water to dislodge any sand trapped in the gills. Squeeze gently to remove excess water, and cut the caps into slivers a scant ⅛ inch wide.
Slice the pork against the grain into slices a scant ¼ inch thick, then cut the slices against the grain into slivers a scant ¼ inch thin. If the slivers are very long, cut them crosswise into 1½-inch lengths. In a bowl big enough to hold the pork, blend the soy, wine, sesame oil, water, cornstarch, sugar, and pepper until smooth. Add the pork, toss well with your fingers to coat and separate the slivers, then seal the mixture airtight and put aside to marinate for 1–3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
If you are using bean sprouts, blanch them in plain boiling water to cover for 30 seconds, drain, and refresh under cold running water until chilled. Leave covered with cold water, refrigerated overnight if you wish. Just before using, drain and spread on a dry kitchen towel to blot up excess water. If you are using Chinese cabbage, toss with ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt. Let stand 15 minutes, then drain and press it gently between your palms to remove excess water. Use at once. Combine the bean sprouts or cabbage with the mushrooms.
Have the pork, vegetables, stir-frying ingredients, several damp paper towels, and a large plate or tray on which to spread the filling all within easy reach of your stovetop. Stir the pork to loosen the slivers.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2½ tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one shred of carrot, add the carrots and snow peas or broccoli, and toss briskly to glaze with oil, 10–15 seconds, adjusting the heat to maintain a merry sizzle without scorching the vegetable. Add the mushrooms and bean sprouts or cabbage, then toss briskly to combine, dribbling in a bit more oil from the side of the pan if the mixture is sticking. Sprinkle with salt and sugar, toss briskly to mix, then splash with the wine and toss several times to combine. Raise the heat several seconds to evaporate any liquid left in the pan, then scrape the vegetables onto the waiting plate. Work quickly so the green vegetable remains crispy and undercooked.
Wipe the pan clean with the damp towels, then return it to high heat. When hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact, add 3 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, and reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a single sliver of pork, add the meat to the pan and stir-fry briskly until 90 percent gray, adjusting the heat to maintain a merry sizzle. Return the vegetables to the pan, toss briskly to combine, then add the soy, sesame oil, and pepper. Toss to blend, reduce the heat to low, then quickly taste the mixture, and adjust if required. It should be flavorful and pleasantly peppery. Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine, add it to the pan, then raise the heat to medium. Stir until the mixture becomes glossy and slightly thick, about 15 seconds, then scrape the filling onto the plate.
Spread the filling out so it cools quickly and the juices do not gather. If you are in a hurry, put the plate in the freezer. The filling must be completely cool before you proceed to shape the springrolls.
The cold filling may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight. Toss lightly before using to redistribute the seasonings.
If you are using square wrappers that have brittle or torn edges, cut an even border from each side, so that you wind up with a 6-inch square. (Use a ruler to help you, as the wrapper must be perfectly square to fold correctly.) If you are using round wrappers, there is no need to cut them.
Have the wrappers, the beaten egg, an inch-wide pastry brush, the cold filling, the coriander, and a baking sheet lined up on your work surface. Stir the filling to redistribute the seasonings.
Gently pull the first wrapper free. If you are using square wrappers, place the wrapper pointed side toward you to make a diamond, as illustrated. Put 3 tablespoons filling in the lower third of the wrapper, then prod it into a rectangular shape with your fingers or chopsticks, leaving an inch of the wrapper showing at either end. (If you are using a wrapper that is larger than 6 inches square, you can use somewhat more filling.) Place a sprig or two of coriander on top of the filling. It will show through the wrapper and look very pretty when fried.
Dip the brush in the egg, then paint an inch-wide film of egg around the border of the wrapper. Bring the bottom of the wrapper up and over the filling, then roll the filling a single turn away from you, enclosing it in the wrapper. Do not roll too tightly or too loosely; the wrapper should hug the filling gently.
Paint a film of egg across the tubular roll, then bring the sides of the wrapper up and over the roll at right angles, so that it now resembles an open envelope. Be sure that the sides are at true right angles and not tilted outward, or the wrapper may open when fried.
Paint the “flap” of the envelope with a film of egg, then roll another turn or turn and a half away from you to complete the springroll shape. Place the springroll flap down on the baking sheet to insure the seal.
Once all the springrolls are made, proceed quickly to fry them, lest the wrappers get soggy. At most, refrigerate them for 1 hour, uncovered.
Have the springrolls, a large Chinese mesh spoon, and a jelly-roll pan or baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels all within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm, and ready the sauce in a small bowl.
Heat a wok or a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add oil to a depth of at least 1½ inches, and heat to the light-haze stage, 350° on a deep-fry thermometer, when the end of a springroll bubbles immediately when dipped in the oil. Slip the springrolls one by one into the oil, adjusting the heat to maintain a steady temperature so that each springroll comes to the surface within several seconds surrounded by a crown of white bubbles. Add as many springrolls as can float in one layer on the surface, frying in 2 batches if necessary. Fry until the springrolls turn golden and float high on the surface of the oil, turning them once or twice to insure even coloring, about 3–4 minutes in all. Remove immediately to the paper-towel drain, then shake the tray gently to blot up excess oil. Do not let the springrolls brown too darkly in the oil, as they will turn a shade darker from their own heat once they are on the tray.
For a second batch, allow sufficient time for the oil to regain its original temperature, and retest with an uncooked springroll. While the second batch fries, the first batch can be kept in a 250° oven on the paper towel drain. Do not hold them for more than 10 minutes, or they lose their fresh-fried taste.
Arrange the springrolls attractively on the platter, coriander side up. (The Chinese habit is to stack them like gold bars, in alternating layers.) Serve with the mustard sauce, inviting the guests to pick up a springroll with their fingers and dip it in the sauce. Bite down slowly; the springrolls are blazing hot.
If you are not a mustard fan, you may also serve the springrolls with the typical northern dipping sauce, a mixture of 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy, 1½ teaspoons white or rice vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon sesame oil or sesame-based hot chili oil.
Leftover springrolls grow greasy with reheating, so eat them while they’re fresh.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.