- Course: Appetizer, Hors D'oeuvre
- Skill Level: Challenging
- Cost: Inexpensive
- Favorited: 5 Times
If you are lucky in your wanderings in the markets of southern China, you might, in the right season, come across a street vendor making and selling spring roll wrappers. She will be seated on a stool beside a small coal-fueled stove topped by a modest griddle, with a bowl filled with a runny white dough. Every once in a while she will scoop up a handful of this dough, so fluid and mobile it will run between her fingers if she doesn’t keep them moving, and throw it gently onto the griddle in a swift circular motion. A thin round of batter will adhere to the hot iron surface, where it quickly cooks and pops up around the edge, so she can lift it off, flip it over for a few seconds, and then add it to the pile. These delicate pancakes can be stuffed with shredded vegetables and eaten just like that, or wrapped around a stuffing and deep-fried like the spring rolls familiar in the West. The most memorable spring rolls I’ve eaten in Hunan were of the latter variety, and stuffed with a delicious mixture of bamboo shoots, smoked bacon, and Chinese chives. They were served as part of a selection of ‘small eats’ (xiao chi) in the famous Changsha snack restaurant, Hyogongdian. The recipe below is my attempt to re-create them.
Spring roll wrappers can be bought frozen in many Asian supermarkets, but they don’t have the delicate crispness of the homemade variety. I’ve therefore included instructions below for making your own wrappers. Be warned this is a tricky business, and the first time you attempt it you might end up with something resembling Frankenstein in your kitchen. So try it when you have time to mess around and have fun, and make a double quantity of the dough. You can put some of it down to experience, and with a bit of luck end up with a number of usable wrappers by the end of the session.
- 12 spring roll wrappers, bought or homemade
- Peanut oil for frying
To make your own spring roll wrappers:
- ¾ cup cold water
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 1/3 cups all purpose or bread flour, sifted
For the filling:
- 5 oz. bamboo shoots (brined or canned)
- ¼ lb. smoked bacon slices with rinds
- 2 ½ oz. Chinese chives
- light soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
To make your own spring roll wrappers:
1. Put the water in a large bowl, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Tip in the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until a thick, smooth, wet dough forms. Gently smooth the surface of the dough, cover with a thin layer of water (perhaps a little less than ½ cup) and leave to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
2. Heat a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over a gentle flame. Rub it with a little oil – you do not want the surface to be actually oily, so rub hard with a cloth or paper towels to remove all but the merest smear.
3. Tip away the surface water from the bowl, and use your hand to stir the dough: it should be very soft, moist and almost runny, so it slowly runs off your hand.
4. Take a handful of dough, keeping your hand mobile to contain it. Sweep the dough across the hot pan surface – allowing a thin, circular layer to stick. The rest of the dough should cling to the dough in your hand when you move it away. Keep moving your hand to stop the dough slipping away, and use your other hand gently to pick up the edge of the wrapper, which should be just cooked, but still entirely pale – you don’t want to brown it. Turn it over and cook the other side for a few seconds, before transferring it to a plate.
5. Repeat with the rest of the dough. If it starts to stick, scrape off any fragments so the surface of the pan is completely clean again, and rub with a very slightly oiled but of cloth or paper towels. If the dough becomes a little too stiff, simply mix in a few drops of cold water.
6. Persevere – the wrappers will get better, and it’s very satisfying work when you get the hang of it!
To make the filling:
1. Cut the bamboo shoots into thin slices and then into very fine slivers. Blanch them in lightly salted boiling water, and then shake dry; set aside.
2. Cut the rinds off the bacon and set them aside. Cut the bacon into thin slivers. Trim the chives, discarding the thicker stalky bits, and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces.
3. Dry-fry the bamboo shoots in the wok over a medium heat so they lose some of their water content; set aside. Over a high flame, dry-fry the bacon rinds until they yield up their oil, then discard them, leaving the oil in the wok. Add the bacon and stir-fry until the strands have separated and smell delicious.
4. Tip in the bamboo shoots and continue to stir fry until they are sizzly and fragrant, seasoning with a little soy sauce to taste. Off the heat, stir in the sesame oil and chives.
5. Lay a spring roll wrapper on a clean plate with the stickier side facing upward. Use chopsticks to place 2-3 tablespoons filling in a line on the wrapper. (If you are using bought, square wrappers, you should lay them out with one corner facing you.) Fold the near edge (or corner) away from you and start to roll up the wrapper, turning in the sides as you go. Moisten the far edge of the wrapper with a dab of water just before you seal it against the roll. Repeat to fill all the wrappers.
6. Heat the peanut oil for deep-frying in the wok over a high flame until it reaches 350°F. Add the spring rolls in batches and deep-fry for a few minutes, until pale golden; remove and set aside on paper towels to drain.
7. Return the oil to 350°F and fry the rolls again until crisp and deeply golden. Serve immediately. (The first frying can be done early, and the spring rolls can also be froze at that stage).
Vegetarians might substitute slivers of soaked dried shiitake mushrooms for the bacon, and add them to the bamboo shoots with a little peanut oil. One other version I’ve encountered on the streets of Changsha with a stuffing of Chinese chives that had been very briefly stir-fried with some ground chiles and salt – simple but rather very good.
© 2006 Fuchsia Dunlop
Nutritional information is based on a serving size of 1 spring roll and includes 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce drizzled on the filling.