Crunchy Spring Rolls (Zha Chun Juan)

By • January 14, 2016 11 Comments

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Author Notes: Chinese New Year is a time for serious feasting. But that does not mean the cook has to spend every minute in the kitchen. In fact, part of the genius of China’s holiday foods is that they are meant to be prepared ahead of time so that only a little last-minute work is required. This is the biggest celebration on the Chinese calendar, so everyone is supposed to take a break and join in the fun, even the family cook.

The following recipe has a few simple steps that allow you to put these together whenever you want. Wrapping the spring rolls then becomes so fun and easy that you can conscript the kids into helping, and I’ve seen few things give children as much pride as being able to say they had a hand in making a holiday dish. Since the filling is cooked, you can even make these ahead of time and freeze them.

The Chinese name actually does mean “fried spring rolls,” and one of their many charms is the way in which the deeply crunchy outsides contrast with the soft, savory filling. They also look like firecrackers, and that makes them lovely symbols of the New Year celebrations. By the way, if you don’t eat meat, feel free to substitute some fresh mushrooms in place of the pork or chicken and use vegetarian oyster sauce as your seasoning.
Madame Huang

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Makes 20

  • 5 dried black mushrooms, like Chinese mushrooms (xianggu), “flower” mushrooms (huagu), or shiitake
  • Water, as needed for soaking mushrooms
  • Around 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) boneless lean pork or chicken thigh meat
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 4 tablespoons oyster sauce, divided (Lee Kum Kee brand recommended)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine (Shaoxing, Taiwanese Mijiu, etc.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 cups (200 to 300 grams) peanut or vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine julienne
  • 8 ounces (226 grams) mung bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup (60 grams) toasted chopped almonds
  • 12 frozen spring roll wrappers
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  1. Start this the day before you wrap the spring rolls by first placing the dried mushrooms in a work bowl and covering them with cool water. Allow them to plump up overnight in the refrigerator, which will give them the best texture. The next day, drain and reserve the soaking liquid for something else (I like to add them to the accompanying recipe for Roast Duck Soup with Radishes), cut off and discard the stems, and then slice the caps into thin shreds. Prepare the meat at the same time you soak the mushrooms by cutting it against the grain into thin slices, and then crosswise into a fine julienne. Transfer the meat to a plastic container and toss it with the ginger, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice wine, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and as much ground black pepper as you like. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours and preferably overnight so that the meat can become thoroughly marinated.
  2. To make the filling, set a wok over high heat, and when the iron is hot, swirl in about 1/4 cup of oil. Sprinkle the marinated meat and marinade into the wok, breaking it up so that you don’t have large clumps. Allow the meat to sear on one side before shaking the wok and tossing the meat around. When the meat no longer shows any pink, transfer it to a medium heatproof work bowl. Drain all of the oil from the meat back into the wok and return it to the stove over high heat.
  3. When the wok is hot once again, sprinkle in the julienned mushroom caps and carrot. Toss them quickly until the carrots have lost a bit of their rawness but are still crisp, and then add them to the meat in the work bowl. Wipe out the wok with a paper towel and return it to the high heat. When it is very hot, add the bean sprouts to the dry wok and quickly toss them until they are crisp but no longer raw—frying them this way without any oil will give them a fresher taste. Add them to the work bowl along with the remaining 3 tablespoons oyster sauce and the almonds, toss these around lightly to mix, and then taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Let the filling cool down to room temperature. (If you want to prepare this a day or two ahead of time, stir-fry the bean sprouts just before you wrap the spring rolls.)
  4. An hour or so before serving, make a dip by mixing the Worcestershire sauce and the balsamic with the garlic, as this will give the flavors a chance to mellow out a bit. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Before you wrap the spring rolls, mix the 1 teaspoon cornstarch with just a bit of water to form a creamy paste.
  5. Before you open up the bag of spring roll wrappers, let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to defrost slightly. Remove 12 wrappers, freeze the rest, and immediately cover these 12 sheets with either a sheet of plastic or a damp tea towel to prevent the exquisitely thin wrappers from drying out and cracking. Divide the filling into 12 equal portions (about 5 to 6 tablespoons each). Have a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap ready, as well as an extra sheet of plastic to cover the filled spring rolls.
  6. Working on one spring roll at a time, set one wrapper in front of you on a clean work surface so that one of the corners is pointing at you. Arrange a portion of the filling (about 5 to 6 tablespoons) in a 4-inch long cigar shape close to the corner nearest you. Fold that corner over the filling. Then, bend both the left and right corners over the filling to form a package about 4 inches wide before rolling it up toward the top corner. You should end up with a tight cylinder. Dab a bit of the cornstarch paste on the top corner and use this to seal the spring roll. Set the filled spring roll on the lined baking sheet with the seal on the bottom and cover it with the extra sheet of plastic. Repeat this step with the rest of the wrappers and filling until you have 12 spring rolls. These may be frozen at this point and stored in a freezer bag.
  7. Set a paper towel-covered plate covered next to the stove. Pour the remaining oil in a clean wok and set it over high heat. When the surface starts to shimmer, test the heat by inserting a wooden chopstick in the center: It should immediately be covered with bubbles, but not so hot that the oil is smoking, about 325 to 350° F (165 to 175° C). Carefully slide 4 or more of the spring into the hot oil, but don’t crowd the pan. Quickly fry the spring rolls and turn them over until they are golden brown, and then let them drain off any excess oil onto the paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the spring rolls until all are fried. These can be cut in half with kitchen shears on an angle, if you wish, or served whole. Serve piping hot and offer the dip on the side.

More Great Recipes:
Chicken|Pork|Appetizers|Snacks|Chicken Thighs

Topics: Chinese Cooking, Frying, Snacks, Holidays, Appetizers