Things a Monkey Could Cook: Shrimp Eggrolls
By Jean Stites on September 18, 2010
These popular appetizers become dinner in our home when placed on a plate next to a pile of white or fried rice, or simple ramen noodles—making a meal that really satisfies while sitting in front of a movie or in the company of a good book; and because no diversion at all is needed when in the company of a good friend, quantities here are for two. I myself first discovered these yummy delights while living in a college dormitory, loosing weight rapidly in light of the fact that—having found fish bones in my lasagna—I could no longer walk into the cafeteria. However, the proprietors of the Chinese restaurant down the street had long ago figured out that they could show up on campus at midnight and easily unload the day’s leftovers, where ravenous hordes of young people like myself were anxiously waiting to hand their precious pocket change over to the eggroll man….
Now I’m also going to pass along my recipe for the basic sweet-and-sour sauce I use for dippin' and in things like sweet and sour pork, but have to admit that when it comes to eggrolls, I often buy something more exotic whenever I can afford to—violating my intention to use only ingredients still readily available outside the average American hive in my cookbook. However, I love this meal, so I decided to put it in there anyway, and if you can’t find eggroll wrappers and plum sauce—sometimes also known as duck sauce—I apologize. I also buy hot mustard when in the mood, but in a pinch, one can make a simple version by mixing powdered mustard with water to desired consistency.
And in case you’re wondering why I’m not telling you how to make your own eggroll wrappers—since I appear to be a person obsessed with cooking everything from scratch—it’s because—like bagels, pita bread, and puff paste—having devoted countless hours to the art of dirt-cheap cookery while minding my sweet children, I finally conceded—deciding that for the truly delicate results I’d come to crave out there in the culinary world, I’d sadly be forced to leave these things to those with more sophisticated equipment. No, in my opinion you’ll be better off buying those wrappers, and you’ll find that there will be more than enough in one package for this recipe, which is particularly good news for the novice, since you can puncture several of them while learning how to roll without panic or guilt. Extras can be then frozen, and the casualties fried up in pieces as garnish for tomorrow’s soup.
And if you’ve never made eggrolls, be aware that success primarily depends upon how good you are with a knife, since the celery in particular needs to be shredded as thinly as possible. It’s worth taking the time to learn to do it if you’re new to kitchen cut-ups, because your food processor can’t really do it for you. A skilled oriental chef can slice a mushroom no bigger than a marble into seventy-two slices—using a meat cleaver the size of a fire-axe, while standing on his head—and with only several years of practice you can surely do the same, so what’re you worried about?
However, don’t let me make you overly concerned. As long as everything’s reasonably thin, your filling will surely come together enough to be rolled up. The point of getting everything so thin is to eliminate lumps that might poke a hole in the wrapper, while making a more compact filling that helps the finished product hold together when you bite into it.
- 1 pound shrimp, shelled and chopped into ¼-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons sherry
- 3 cups celery, shredded very thin, and then cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 pound bean sprouts
- 6 tablespoons peanut, canola, or vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- pre-packaged eggroll wrappers
- more oil for frying, the amount depending upon your pan
Buy small shrimp for this because not only are they less expensive, they’re actually more suited to the recipe. Also, it’s fine if the bean sprouts come from a can, in which case you won’t need to scald them, just be sure to drain them dry.
Helpful tip for beginners: this careful elimination of excess moisture is another key to success in any kitchen endeavor—and perhaps most especially here, where the filling should be kept as dry as possible throughout the whole process, so always be sure to wash and dry all your veggies well before moving on to the shredding and slicing. Don’t forget to squeeze any suspiciously spongy mushrooms—and in this case you should even once again forcefully roll the celery in a paper towel after shredding it for maximum results, while remembering that those who work with wet vegetables might as well add water to their list of ingredients and expect subsequently marginal results.
The sherry can be cooking sherry off the groceteria shelf or something more authentic, as your budget and resources allow; and if you can’t justify the expense, just leave it out and your food will hardly suffer at all except in terms of exotic flavor.
Mix the cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the sherry. Then add the shrimp until well coated.
Shred the celery and slice the mushrooms.
Scald the bean sprouts and drain them into a colander—scalding being the process of pouring boiling water over them and then letting them sit for a minute or two, until the color brightens.
Measure out the oil, sugar, and the rest of the salt—making sure all your ingredients are within easy reach of the stove and ready for split-second stir-frying action. Once all are assembled, take a deep breath and put your pan over medium-high heat for 30 seconds.
Swirl about half of the measured oil into the pan. Wait 1 minute. Add the shrimp and stir-fry 2 minutes—until they loose translucency—and then remove them into a bowl.
Immediately add the rest of the measured oil to the pan. Sprinkle in the salt, and add the celery. Stir-fry 2 minutes, and then sprinkle it with the sugar.
Add the mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the bean sprouts and mix everything well.
Return the shrimp to the pan just long enough to thoroughly combine all ingredients, then turn the mixture into the colander to drain and cool before proceeding.
Next, in addition to the filling mixture and the eggroll wrappers, you’ll need a small bowl of water for sealing purposes, a damp towel to keep your fingers clean, and a roomy plate to place the rolls on—don’t stack them, or they might stick together; and then, it’s time to rock and/or roll!
Lay an eggroll wrapper on the countertop and try to imagine this square within a clock face, with the points at high noon, three, six, and nine….
Place about ¼ cup of the filling mixture along a line from eight to four.
Fold up the bottom corner to partially cover the filling.
Fold the right and left corners over the filling toward the center.
Carefully roll your eggroll up toward the top corner, enclosing the filling as tightly as you can without tearing the wrapper.
Moisten the inside surface of this top corner with a fingertip dipped in water before you slightly pinch the surfaces together to seal them.
Once rolling is complete, heat about ½ inch of oil in a roomy frying pan over medium-high to about 375 degrees. Test it with a thermometer if you’re fortunate enough to own one; otherwise, test it by carefully lowering the corner of an eggroll into the pan: if no sizzling commences, take it back out and wait a bit.
Fry 3 or 4 eggrolls at a time—without crowding the pan—turning carefully once with tongs, until they’re golden brown. Drain well on paper towels.
Basic Sweet-and-Sour Sauce
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ cup sugar, white or brown
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
This works best if it’s allowed to return to room temperature, so be sure to make it before you fry those eggrolls for maximum tastiness. In terms of efficient menu coordination, the best time would be while the eggroll filling is cooling down.
Bring the ¾ cup water to a boil in a small, covered saucepan over medium heat.
Stir in the sugar until it dissolves and return to the boil.
Stir in the vinegar, and once again return to the boil.
Mix together the cornstarch, soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons water to form a smooth paste. Add this to the boiling mixture—stirring constantly, as it will thicken rapidly.
It’s a moment of yin-yang, sweet-and-sour perfection achieved!
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