For my recent recipe assignment I knew I had my work cut out for me. Not only did I have to create an egg roll recipe that would be tasty, but also easy for any home cook to replicate. Additionally, I had to make sure that the ingredients called for in this recipe were conveniently available at the supermarket—that meant replacing black vinegar with white vinegar and so on. To see how I achieved a recipe for simple, crispy, savory, homemade fried egg rolls, keep on reading.
CRUNCHY, PIPING-HOT CHINESE restaurant egg rolls, with dipping sauces at the ready, check off a bunch of the boxes that trigger the pleasure sensors in our brains: crispy, salty, sweet, savory, spicy, and meaty. But home versions seldom satisfy in a similar way. If I'm going to do the work of cooking the filling, wrapping the rolls, and frying them, I want the egg rolls to be great. And in making my own egg rolls, I also wanted to minimize the prep and mess and avoid hard-to-find ingredients.
After preparing and tasting five seemingly promising recipes, I realized I had my work cut out for me. To prep the filling alone, I had to mince fresh pork, thinly slice a mound of cabbage, and laboriously cut carrots and mushrooms into matchsticks. I also had to find dark soy sauce, black vinegar, and Chinese rice wine. (Read “Getting to Know: Vinegars” to learn more about how to save a dish from blandness.) And that's just the start. I still had to cook and chill the filling ingredients, wrap and seal the rolls, and do the deep frying. I wanted tasty results with a lot less work.
In an effort to reduce the amount of prep work, I tried using bagged coleslaw mix—shredded cabbage and carrots—in place of the hand-chopped cabbage and carrot, and it worked great. Chopped shiitake mushrooms added a deep savory flavor to the vegetable mix. For the meat, I opted for ground pork, letting the supermarket grinder do the work for me. As for seasoning the filling, I knew from stir-fry recipes I'd developed in the past that I could create a delicious, savory, and balanced sauce without hard-to-find ingredients. I started with a mix of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sugar. Using a measured ⅓ cup of filling per egg roll ensured that the rolls weren't overstuffed and wouldn't rupture in the oil (See below how we roll up the egg rolls in just four easy steps.)
Step 1: Place and shape filling
Step 2: Moisten wrapper edge
Step 3: Fold up bottom, then fold in sides
Step 4: Roll into cylinder
Already, these egg rolls were better than takeout versions . . . but did they have to be deep-fried? I tried a move I hadn't seen in any other recipes: shallow-frying the egg rolls in just ½ inch (or so) of 325-degree oil in a skillet (not a big Dutch oven). Using less oil made the cooking easier and the cleanup faster. With a single flip halfway through the roughly 6-minute cooking time, the egg rolls came out nicely crispy and perfectly cooked.
But the filling still needed something. My tasters remarked that it tasted a little too “flat” and “heavy.” So in my next test I cooked the vegetables a little less (until just wilted), preserving their fresh flavor and crunch, and added a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar to brighten it all up. I also stirred in a bit of potent toasted sesame oil for depth and a hint of nutty sweetness. (Read “Sesame Oil: Plain vs. Toasted” to learn plain and toasted sesame oil can be used interchangeably.)
Feeling confident while I waited for this batch of egg rolls to cool, I filled a couple of small serving bowls with duck sauce and Chinese hot mustard and set them out for my tasters. I knew I had landed on a good recipe when one of my colleagues stopped eating just long enough to exclaim that this was the best egg roll she'd ever had. The rest of them, still chowing down, nodded in agreement.
What other takeout staples do you like to make at home? Let us know in the comments below!