Fried spring rolls are filled with juicy shredded pork, cabbage, carrots, and mushrooms to create slender, smooth, and delicate packages. I fry them until golden and the wrappers are shatteringly crispy at first bite.
The filling is a moist mixture of pork, marinated with cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and Shaoxing wine. It is lightly sautéed with sweet napa cabbage and carrots, earthy and meaty dried mushrooms, fresh ginger and scallions for brightness, and savory and slightly sweet oyster sauce to tie it all together.
A Chinese Lunar New Year Delight
Celebrations like the Lunar New Year are often filled with special treats with symbolic significance like spring rolls.
Fried spring rolls are typically eaten for the Chinese Lunar New Year because their shape and color are similar to that of a bar of gold, symbolizing wealth and prosperity for the new year.
While they’re not a dish made regularly, assembling spring rolls can be a fun communal activity. Once you get the hang of wrapping them, the assembly is actually quick and easy.
The Best Wrappers for Spring Rolls
Spring roll wrappers are thin and fry up smooth and crisp. They are made of wheat flour, water, oil, and salt.
- Look for spring roll wrappers in the refrigerated and frozen section of Asian supermarkets. (I can’t find them at non-Asian supermarkets, even at the more well-stocked ones.)
- They come in different size squares—I prefer the 8-inch size, which yields a roll that that can disappear in 3 or 4 bites.
- Buy an extra pack of wrappers when you shop in case the wrappers are dried out. I also like to have extra in the event of wrappers ripping on me.
- Do not substitute these flour-based spring roll wrappers with the dry rice paper spring roll wrappers that are used for Vietnamese spring rolls and Vietnamese summer rolls (also known as fresh spring rolls.)
How to Fill Your Spring Rolls
The pork, cabbage, carrot, and mushroom filling in this recipe is one of the more common filling combinations for spring rolls.
You can also use other proteins such as chicken or turkey (preferably dark meat), beef, or chopped cooked shrimp. Here are the star ingredients of the spring rolls you’ll be making:
Pork: To julienne the pork loin more easily, freeze it until firm but not completely frozen, about 20 minutes. Since only one pound of pork is needed, I’ll often buy pork chops instead when making this recipe.
Spring rolls can use either julienned or ground meat. While I love the ease of ground pork, I like the cohesiveness of a julienned filling. Also, I find that when I use ground meat, I need to cook the combined seasoned mixture together with a cornstarch slurry to bind it all together.
Dried Mushrooms: Dried mushrooms, also known as dried shiitake mushrooms or dried black mushrooms, are readily available at Asian markets. They’re often wrapped on plastic trays or come in plastic boxes.
Look for thick mushrooms with clean edges that curl under (as opposed to the flattish ones). They are meatier and will plump up nicely. Dried mushrooms have a deeper and more savory flavor than fresh mushrooms. Soak them in hot water to reconstitute them; use the soaking liquid in lieu of water or vegetable stock. The stems can also be tossed into stocks.
Cornstarch: Cornstarch is commonly used in Chinese cooking. It’s typically used for marinating meat. The technique is called velveting; the cornstarch coats the meat and gives it a protective barrier that both keeps the meat moist and tender and gives it a “velvety” texture when stir-fried. If you’ve ever stir-fried meat that hasn’t included cornstarch in the marinade, you’ll find that the meat often comes out tougher or dries out faster as it sits.
Dipping Sauces for Fried Spring Rolls
During my childhood, the rare occasions we were allowed to order spring rolls were at dim sum. At these loud weekend Chinese brunches, women call out the names of their dishes as they push around small carts laden with small plates of food.
When we order spring rolls, they are served with a couple of shakes of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce and briskly snipped in half with scissors.
There are many other sauces you can serve with spring rolls:
- Duck sauce and spicy mustard
- Thai sweet chili sauce
- A mix of soy sauce and either red wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- A black vinegar called Chinkiang vinegar
What is Chinkiang Vinegar?
Chinkiang vinegar, made in southern China is my family’s favorite. It’s a glutinous rice and wheat bran based black vinegar with a touch of sugar. Aside from its expected acidity, it has a slightly malty and sweet flavor.
I grew up using Gold Plum brand with a plum blossom emblem on the label. Beware of the copycats who also use a similar logo.
Tips and Tricks for Making Spring Rolls
Here are a few quick tips or reminders to make spring rolls easier:
- The filling is easier to work with when it’s chilled.
- The filling should be pretty dry; a wet filling will make wrapping more difficult and can cause the wrappers to rip.
- After chilling, if the filling is still on the wet side, throw it into a colander or strainer set over a bowl to drain the liquid.
- Cook the vegetables until just tender. Overcooked vegetables will make for a mushy filling and thus a mushy spring roll.
- While wrapping, when you fold the sides over the filling in the center, try to keep the sides straight and parallel. When the sides are crooked, the spring rolls can form empty gaps of wrapper that look messy and darken faster than the rest of the spring roll.
- Cover the spring roll wrappers with a sheet of plastic wrap or a slightly damp clean kitchen towel as you’re wrapping to keep the wrappers from drying out.
- Have a damp towel at hand when wrapping to wipe your dirty fingers.
Swaps and Substations for Spring Rolls
You have to make a run to an Asian market for the spring roll wrappers but some of the other ingredients can be substituted for a quicker and easier spring roll recipe:
- Use ground pork instead pork loin.
- Shaoxing wine is optional. If you don’t have any but would like to add that additional layer of flavor, substitute with dry sherry.
- Sautéed fresh shiitakes can be used in lieu of soaked dried mushrooms.
Fried Spring Roll Variations
You may get the side-eye from traditionalists but feel free to be creative. Back in my restaurant and catering days, we got fancy and even used duck confit. Have you heard of Philly cheesesteak spring rolls? They’re a thing! Be judicious in the amount of filling since cheesesteaks are so heavy.
The point is there are many varieties of spring rolls, both traditional and non-Chinese. Experiment, find what you like and have fun. Here are just a few ideas:
- Shrimp, chopped, marinated, and sautéed, can be added to the filling, either with the pork or as the only protein.
- Use other proteins such as chicken, turkey, or beef.
- Add julienned bamboo shoots and bean sprouts to the filling.
- You can make them completely vegetarian by adding the above vegetables and seasoned pressed tofu or bulking up the vegetables to offset the exclusion of the pork. Be sure to use a vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce if you’re going down this path.
- You can shallow fry rather than deep fry. Heat a generous amount of oil in a skillet, enough to come slightly less than halfway up the side of the spring rolls when laid flat. Be sure to account for the displacement of oil once the spring rolls are in the pan.
Storage and Reheating
To Freeze: Freeze uncooked spring rolls, in a single layer on the sheet pan and transfer to a container with a tight lid once frozen. It’s ok to stack them once they’re frozen—they shouldn’t stick to each other. They should last about 2 or 3 months.
To Cook from Frozen: Don’t thaw the frozen spring rolls before cooking because they will get soggy. To cook from frozen add an additional minute or two of frying for the filling to warm through.
Store Leftover Fried Spring Rolls: Spring rolls are best when eaten fresh because they lose their crispness as they sit. If you do end up with leftovers, store them in a container with a lid (like Tupperware) and eat within 2 or 3 days.
Reheat Fried Spring Rolls: You can reheat leftover fried spring rolls in the oven or toaster oven, but they won’t be as crisp or juicy.
Fried Spring Rolls
Well-chilled but not quite frozen pork is much easier to cut than pork at room temp or even straight out of the fridge. Place your pork in the freezer to firm up, about 20 minutes, prior to cutting.
To make efficient use of your time: prepare the cabbage, carrots, scallions, and ginger while the mushrooms are soaking, and the meat is marinating. Be sure to clean your cutting board and knife after you’ve cut the meat to avoid cross contamination.
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound pork loin or tenderloin
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine, optional
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 medium head napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
3 medium carrots, julienned
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
4 cups canola or vegetable oil, divided
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 large egg
50 to 60 (6-inch) square spring roll wrappers
Chinkiang vinegar or black vinegar, to serve
- Deep-fry thermometer
Prepare the sheet pans and soak the mushrooms:
Set two sheet pans by the stove for you to transfer the meat and vegetables onto.
Place the dried mushrooms into a medium bowl. Add enough hot water to cover the mushrooms. To make sure the mushrooms stay submerged, put a small plate or a smaller bowl into the bowl to push the mushrooms down.
Let the mushrooms soak until the caps are softened, about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the bowl; trim off the stems and thinly slice the caps and set aside. You can reserve the soaking liquid and stems for mushroom stock to use another time.
Slice and marinate the pork:
Cut the pork against the grain into 1/4-inch thick 2 1/2 to 3-inch long matchsticks and put them into a medium bowl. Add the cornstarch, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and wine, if using, and massage the ingredients into the pork, using your hands. Set aside to let marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.
Cook the pork:
In large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot, add the pork and toss to coat with oil.
Cook, tossing occasionally, until the pork just turns white, about 2 minutes. Some browning is okay. Transfer the pork to one of the sheet pans and spread into a thin layer to cool, leaving space for the carrots.
Cook the carrots:
In the same skillet used to cook the pork, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil, the carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, tossing often, until the carrots are just starting to wilt, about 1 minute. Transfer the carrots to the sheet pan with the pork, to let cool.
Cook the napa cabbage:
In the same skillet used to cook the carrots, add 1 tablespoon of oil, the napa cabbage, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, tossing often, until the napa leaves wilt but the ribs still have some bite, 1-2 minutes. Don’t overcook the cabbage as it will get soggy. Transfer the cabbage to the second sheet pan and spread to a thin layer to let cool.
Finish the filling and refrigerate:
Once the pork and vegetables are at room temperature, combine them onto one sheet pan. Add the oyster sauce, mushrooms, scallions, and ginger and use tongs or your hands to toss to mix well. Spread the mixture out into an even layer and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. The filling will be easier to work with once chilled.
Make the egg wash:
In a small bowl whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water until thoroughly combined.
Set up your wrapping station:
Place a cutting board directly in front of you. Line two clean sheet pans with parchment paper and set to the side. Transfer half of the filling mixture into a bowl and return the remaining filling to the refrigerator.
Open the package of wrappers and cover with plastic wrap or a slightly damp kitchen towel. Set the egg wash and a small brush (unless you’re using your finger) and a damp clean kitchen towel by the board.
Wrap the spring rolls:
Wrapping spring rolls is basically like wrapping burritos. Place one spring roll wrapper on the board in front of you with the corners facing 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. Scoop a heaping tablespoonful of the filling about 2 inches above the corner closest to you. Form the filling into a 3-inch long horizontal log.
Fold the corner of the wrapper closest to you over the filling, then pull it towards you so it’s taut. Roll the cylinder tightly towards the corner opposite of you in one complete rotation. Fold both the right and left sides of the wrapper over the filling. Try to keep the sides parallel. Roll the cylinder toward the opposite corner for about 2 more rotations. The shape in front of you should look like an open envelope.
Using a pastry brush or your finger, brush the egg wash on the exposed corner and then tightly roll the cylinder up to the end of the wrapper to seal it. Set the spring roll aside on one of the prepared sheet pans.
Repeat wrapping spring rolls until all of the filling and wrappers are used up—don’t forget the remaining filling in the fridge. Keep the assembled spring rolls covered with a sheet of plastic wrap or a damp clean kitchen towel.
Prepare your fry station:
Fit a sheet pan with a wire rack or line it with paper towels.
Fill a medium Dutch oven or other small wide heavy pot with the remaining oil. Attach a deep-fry thermometer onto the side of the pot. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the thermometer reads 375°F.
Fry the spring rolls:
Working in 3 or 4 batches, gently slide the spring rolls into the hot oil. Cook, stirring occasionally with a spider or large slotted spoon to make sure that all sides are cooking evenly, until the spring rolls are golden brown, 1 1/2-2 minutes. They will continue to darken when they come out of the oil so don’t let them get too dark.
Keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil between 350°F and 375°F. Let the oil come up to 375°F before cooking another batch. Repeat until all of the spring rolls are cooked.
Stack the spring rolls onto plates and serve with the vinegar or a dipping sauce of your choice.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 2g||3%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||2%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||4%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|