Where Have All The Egg Rolls Gone?

Jackie Gordon Singing Chef - Where Have All The Egg Rolls Gone?

Growing up in New York City, my first dining out experience was going to Chinatown with my family. My mom always said it was the only place she knew where we would not embarrass her. In those days, we always started dinner with egg rolls and moved on to one brother wanting snails with black bean sauce, the other brother wanting chicken egg foo young and nothing else and my insisting I must have lobster Cantonese.

In the dark days of my Boreum Hill, Brooklyn neighborhood, good restaurants or really any restaurants were practically nonexistent.

Yes, what is now Smith street’s “restaurant row” was a ghost town, unless you count the odd Latino greasy spoon or the bulletproof Chinese take-out joints.

Chinese take-out joints were plentiful and identical. Basically, it was hole-in-wall with disposable furniture of a table or two and some folding chairs. The paper menu was slapped on the wall next to the ordering fortress. Where you put in your order there was bullet proof glass strategically placed in layers with just enough room to pass a bag of food through. The concept was you couldn’t point a gun straight in and rob the place. The staff was securely locked behind a metal gate. You’d order and pass your money between the bullet proof glass layers and they’d pass back your change. When your food was done, they’d slide it back between the glass. There are a few remnants of these places on Smith Street, but the glass barrier has long disappeared since the neighborhood got fancy.

The standard order in my hood was fried chicken with fried rice or French fries. The Chinese definitely played by the give-the-people-what-they-want rule. They sold pork egg rolls two for a dollar. They were predominately cabbage with flecks of carrots and an inkling of actual pork sprinkled in. But they were hot, crunchy and delicious with the duck sauce packet squeezed on them. These days, we know it was just rusty colored corn syrup, but then, it totally worked.

I have not “dined” at a Chinese take-out joint or even gotten take-out in many years because they are kinda gross (they lost me when they started using pre-fabricated chicken morsels), so I don’t even know if you can get an egg roll there, but I imagine you could. Egg rolls are really hard to find in most authentic Chinese restaurants because they are a Chinese-American creation from the 1930’s. Spring rolls, are made with the thinner wheat pastry and have their roots in Asia, so they are easier to find. Egg rolls just have their roots in my memories. The bite the corners of my mind. I want that puckered pastry you only find on a egg roll. That is not easy to find either. If you can’t find egg roll pastry, you can use spring roll pastry.

I decided to make egg rolls for Thanksgiving appetizers and again for Chinese New Year appetizers. I made traditional Roast Pork and 10 Veggie Egg Rolls. A lot of my guests grew up in New York City too, so they were very happy to see their old friend the egg roll again.

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Roast Pork Egg Rolls

Appetizers, Potluck
Egg rolls used to be the staple appetizer in the New York Chinese restaurants of my youth. Now they are like hen’s teeth so I had to make them myself.
Roast Pork Egg Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 6 ounces carrots, shredded or grated
  • 6 ounces water chestnuts, drained and julienned (I used jicama)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut, safflower or equivalent high flash point oil for frying
  • 4 ounces yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon preserved vegetable, minced (optional)
  • 2 ounces sliced bamboo shoots, drained, chopped
  • 1/2 pound red roast pork aka char siu (I brought it in Chinatown), julienned
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg white, scrambled
  • 12 egg roll wrappers (you can substitute spring roll wrappers)
  • peanut, canola, safflower or equivalent high flash point oil for deep frying
  • sweet chili sauce
  • duck sauce
  • Chinese mustard

Directions

  1. Mix together cabbage, carrots, jicama and 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt in a colander nested in a large bowl. Allow mixture to sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze veggies to release any excess water.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Stir-fry until just translucent, then add the cabbage mixture and the soy sauce. Cook, stirring constantly until the veggies are just cooked, about 5 minutes. They should still be a bit crisp.
  3. Add the preserved vegetable, bamboo shoots and pork. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cool completely.
  4. Place wrapper on a plate so one of the four corners is directly in front of you. Place 1/2 cup of the filling on the wrapper so it’s like a cylinder that starts 2’” from the corner and ends halfway across the wrapper. Lightly brush the egg white around an 1” edge of the wrapper. Starting with the bottom edge closest to you, roll the wrapper over the filling and tuck it around the filling so the tip is under the filling and you still have your cylindrical shape (see diagram). Pinch the edge of the wrapper on both sides of the filling, then brush the top of that edge with a little more egg white. Bring the left corner over like your creating an envelope, then do the right. Lightly brush the top edges of the wrapper and roll the egg roll closed. Set on a dry plate, seam side down.
  5. For deep frying, have ready a fry basket or a kitchen spider/skimmer or tongs for fishing fried foods out of the hot fryer and a platter lined with paper towels for draining excess oil from your fried foods. A thermometer comes in handy for controlling the temperature of the oil.
  6. Heat oil in a deep fryer, according to unit’s instructions or pour 3 inches of oil in a saucepan or wok over medium-hot heat until the oil temperature is 325 °.
  7. Carefully lower the egg rolls into the pan and fry until just golden.  Do not overcrowd the pan.The egg roll will continue to cook even after you remove it from the deep fryer, so be careful not to overcook them. Maintain an oil temperature between 250 and 325 degrees before you add each subsequent batch of egg rolls. Cool slightly and serve.
  8. You can brown all the egg rolls ahead of time and reheat them on a rack over a sheet pan in a 400 ° oven for 10 minutes.
  9. Serve with sweet chili sauce, duck sauce and Chinese mustard.
Total time:
Yield: one dozen

Notes

Roast Pork Egg Rolls

You can put whatever variety of meat and vegetables you have on hand or love in these. You can use as little or as much variety as you like. Just make sure you wind up with the six cups of cooked filling needed to make 12 egg rolls. I measured 1/2 cup of filling per egg roll so you can use that formula to make more of less of them.

10 Veggie Egg Rolls

Appetizers, Side Dishes, Vegetarian
The words healthy and fried do not always go together, but delicious and fried usually do. These healthier-than-meat 10 Veggie Egg Rolls nail fried and delicious! Use any combo of veggies you like that combine to make six cups of filling.
10 Veggie Egg Rolls

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 2 ounces red cabbage, sliced thin
  • 4 ounces carrots, peeled, shredded or grated
  • 3 ounces jicama, peeled, shredded or grated (substitute water chestnuts
  • 4 ounces greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard, etc.) washed and sliced thin
  • 4 ounces yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 ounces snow peas, sliced thin
  • 6 dry Chinese mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
  • 4 ounces enoki mushrooms chopped into 1/2” lengths
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin into rounds
  • 2 ounces sliced bamboo shoots, drained, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon preserved vegetable, minced (optional)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 egg roll wrappers
  • sweet chili sauce
  • duck sauce
  • Chinese mustard

Directions

  1. Mix together cabbage, carrots,  jicama and greens with 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt in a colander nested in a large bowl. Allow mixture to sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze veggies to release any excess water.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Stir-fry until just translucent, then add the cabbage mixture and the soy sauce. Cook, stirring constantly for three minutes, then add the snow peas and mushrooms. Continue cooking until the veggies are just cooked, about 5 minutes total. They should still be a bit crisp.
  3. Add the bamboo shoots, scallions and the preserved vegetable if using. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cool completely.
  4. Place wrapper on a plate so one of the four corners is directly in front of you. Place 1/2 cup of the filling on the wrapper so it’s like a cylinder that starts 2’” from the corner and ends halfway across the wrapper. Lightly brush the egg white around an 1” edge of the wrapper. Starting with the bottom edge closest to you, roll the wrapper over the filling and tuck it around the filling so the tip is under the filling and you still have your cylindrical shape (see diagram). Pinch the edge of the wrapper on both sides of the filling, then brush the top of that edge with a little more egg white. Bring the left corner over like your creating an envelope, then do the right. Lightly brush the top edges of the wrapper and roll the egg roll closed. Set on a dry plate, seam side down.
  5. For deep frying, have ready a fry basket or a kitchen spider/skimmer or tongs for fishing fried foods out of the hot fryer and a platter lined with paper towels for draining excess oil from your fried foods. A thermometer comes in handy for controlling the temperature of the oil.
  6. Heat oil in a deep fryer, according to unit’s instructions or pour 3 inches of oil in a saucepan or wok over medium-hot heat until the oil temperature is 325 °.
  7. Carefully lower the egg rolls into the pan and fry until just golden.  Do not overcrowd the pan.The egg roll will continue to cook even after you remove it from the deep fryer, so be careful not to overcook them. Maintain an oil temperature between 250 and 325 degrees before you add each subsequent batch of egg rolls. Cool slightly and serve.
  8. You can brown all the egg rolls ahead of time and reheat them on a rack over a sheet pan in a 400 ° oven for 10 minutes.
  9. Serve with sweet chili sauce, duck sauce and Chinese mustard.
Total time:
Yield: 1 dozen egg rolls

Notes

10 Veggie Egg Rolls

I know there are more than ten vegetables in these egg rolls, but that’s the beauty of them. You can put whatever variety of vegetables you have on hand or love in these. You can use as little or as much variety as you like. Just make sure you wind up with the six cups of cooked filling needed to make 12 egg rolls. I measured 1/2 cup of filling per egg roll so you can use that formula to make more of less of them.