A New York egg roll is not really Chinese food. It is a regionalized version of an Americanized version of Chinese food. A genuine experience of eating a New York egg roll should first burn the roof of your mouth just enough to be sensitive (as opposed to the molten lava/cheese burn of a genuine New York slice of pizza that ought to leave a piece of skin hanging from the roof of your mouth) and cause the crispy egg roll exterior to be a painful irritation with every bite all while at the same time a single drop of hot oil meanders down your lip to your chin leaving a 2nd-degree burn trail. But, this foodie version of self-flagellation should be overwhelmed by the crunchy explosion of the shell, followed by the natural crunch of cabbage, the savory flavors of tiny shrimp (possibly sea monkeys) and bits of discarded roast pork, all melded together with cloyingly sweet duck sauce as the Chinese mustard also seers your sinuses to the point of tears.
I needed this experience to stave off zombie-apocalypse depression. So, I set out to make them and share the relatively simple recipe here with you.
Pondering the Ingredients
First, you need egg roll wrappers. They are basically just an egg pasta dough rolled super thin. There is no merit to making these from scratch if you can find egg roll wrappers (not wonton wrappers) in the store. If not, you will need a pasta roller to get a consistent thin sheet. (if you need to make these, check out this recipe)
In my memory, a lot of the texture and flavor came from cabbage. My childhood walkable Chinese Restaurant (Joy Island in the Bay Terrace Shopping Center just across from Peter Pan arcade) had a lot of the same cabbage my grandmother cooked with, which was just the whitish-green stuff. But, on my adventures to Flushing, Queens, or Manhattan, I noticed that sometimes the egg rolls had regular cabbage and fancy purple cabbage. Also, there was usually some orange, which I think was carrots.
The proteins I recall in all egg rolls (this was before vegetarians mingled freely with normal folk) were pork and shrimp. The pork was sliced-thin pieces of BBQ pork. You could tell it was the same stuff served as an appetizer because it had the iconic red marinade along the edges.
And, who can forget the shrimp? The shrimpiest of shrimp from a family of tiny shrimp. The kind that were picked on by other shrimp. They usually appeared whole about once per egg roll if you took small enough bites and searched for it. I am fairly certain they grew these shrimp in the back room from sea monkey packets.
The only other distinct memory I have of the egg rolls is an oily slickness to the interior ingredients and a slight sesame odor that you could only get a hint of before slathering on duck sauce and mustard.
After doing a lot of internet research, I ended up with a combination of several recipes. My goal was to make the egg rolls I remember, so your mileage may vary on using this recipe.
1 head of purple cabbage, 1 head of plain green cabbage, 2 large carrots, 2 scallions, about 2 cups of BBQ pork (purchased from a nearby restaurant) diced, 8 large cooked and peeled shrimp diced, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of five-spice powder (purchased at the supermarket), and eggroll wrappers. You also need some all-purpose flour and one egg, but these do not go in the egg rolls.
It is worth noting that this recipe ended up using slightly less than half the egg roll wrappers I bought. So, you may want to double it and freeze the extra, which I wish I had done.
The cabbage must be shredded and diced fine. (Although, as I recall it, the cabbage was shredded and then put into the wrappers lengthwise, but I am not OCD enough to bother) Put the cabbage into boiling water for about a minute and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking. You want to keep it crisp.
Shred the carrots coarsely. Put the carrots and the cabbage into a kitchen towel and squeeze it like you are some kid’s Aunt Agatha, and you want to smother the life out of him/her. When you are done, most of the water should be out of the mixture. Put it in another towel to dry it off, then put it into a large bowl.
Finely chop the scallions and put them in the bowl with the cabbage. Add the remainder of the ingredients and mix it like you are Sir Mix A Lot.
You want the grated carrots to be fully incorporated. They tend to clump, so I used them as a guide for mixing overall. When the carrots were fully distributed, then the mixing was done.
Once you have the mixture all ready, it is time to start making some egg rolls. Lay a wrapper on a floured surface. Have the egg beaten and in a bowl near you. Use an ice cream scoop or whatever you have handy to put the filling into the center of the wrapper. Spread it out so it will fill the egg roll into a cylindrical shape.
Dip your finger into the egg and use it to wet one edge of the wrapper liberally. This will be the glue that holds it all together. Now, and I am terrible at this, it is time to roll the whole rigamarole as neatly as possible. I tried a variety of different techniques and never got a neat egg roll like you would in a restaurant. The method that ended up working best was to roll it as tightly as I could and then fold in the ends. I used extra egg to make sure everything was sealed tightly.
Place the rolled egg roll onto a lightly floured pan and keep going.
Frying can be fun or the worst hazard in your kitchen. Use a decent size pot and put in enough oil to cover the egg rolls, which should be less than a half-full pot. If the oil is over the halfway point in your pot, use a different pot!
I used peanut oil, but really any neutral-flavored oil will do. Heat the oil to about 350. CAREFULLY lower the egg rolls into the oil. The oil temperature will drop, which is okay. Just try to keep the temp around 325 degrees. Keep the egg rolls moving so that they fry all the way around. When they are a dark golden brown, remove them from the oil to a paper towel.
I burned my lip. I burned my mouth. Ella burned her mouth. Although we lacked spicy Chinese mustard and our sinuses remained unharmed, overall, the taste and experience were pretty darned close to right. I could almost imagine myself sitting on the curb outside Joy Island in the Bay Terrace shopping center flush with quarters stolen from the busted Zaxxon machine, eating egg rolls and fried rice with friends. Ah, memories.
Oh, hey, please subscribe to this blog AND check my new YouTube channel (yes it is lame now but will get better). Subscribe to it too please.