*Or, “The most ridiculously elaborate use we could think of for green cabbage”
I should specify that the elaborateness isn’t actually cabbage-related. The cabbage part is really pretty simple both in terms of prep and the role it plays. It is blanched and it provides the internal crunch. It is the supporting players in an egg roll that make the magic. But before we get to said magic let’s back up and consider the egg roll for a moment. I think we all know, or at least suspect, that egg rolls are merely Chinese-esque, or possibly Chinese-ish, at best. Chinese-inspired, if you will. Go looking for an egg roll in Beijing and tell me how it goes. If anything, you are apparently more likely to find something that resembles a spring roll.
A little research shows that egg rolls in recognizable form showed up American cities in the late 1930s when Chinese-American restaurateurs were developing menus that felt Chinese, but that Americans would find palatable. Those egg rolls included roast pork, shrimp, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, green onions and some seasonings. No cabbage. Today, you are more likely to find egg rolls with lots of cabbage, a little pork, some carrot, and maybe even mushroom if the chef is feeling frisky. I don’t eat them that often, because though the ingredients are pretty consistent in just about every restaurant and freezer case in America, the quality ranges from the sublime to the absolute suck. I’ve had enough of the latter over the years to make me favor other appetizers and sides, so I had forgotten that they include cabbage at all. And I am looking for uses for cabbage. I was still working my way through one I got two weeks ago when I peered into the Box of Wonders this week and saw yet another green cabbage. Twas vexing, to say the least.
Luckily, peering in with me were my roommates and partners in culinary escapades. My Trusty Roommate Chad saw the cabbage and immediately suggested we make egg rolls. I believe my response was, “Huh?” But he quickly brought me and our other roommate Shae over to the side of Team Egg Roll by explaining that they would include the roast pork recipe he has been working on for the last few months. There is no half way in Chad’s Test Kitchen. He has recently perfected his marinade, for instance, by procuring something called “wet bean curd” (see below)…
…and four or five bottles of brown liquid that all look like soy sauce, but aren’t (below).
Throw these together with ginger, garlic, five-spice, and love, and you have yourself one heck of a marinade. You put the pork in a container with the marinade and chuck it in the fridge for about 24 hours. Then you roast the pork (using, I might add, the skewers Mom and Dad got me years ago for shish kabobs. Still got ’em, still love ’em!) under a broiler set to “low” heat.
It should be noted that the puppy sous-chef was actually drooling while this meat was being cut. He wisely took up a strategic position under the table tonight. There was a lot happening in the kitchen.
So what else was Team Egg Roll up to. Well, there was shrimp to cook, and water chestnuts to dice.
There was cabbage to shred.
The cabbage then got blanched and pressed to get as much of the water out of it as possible. This, along with peanut butter, is apparently the secret to a really good egg roll. If you’re like me, you just said, “Wait, what?” You read it right: peanut butter.
Pork and shrimp were diced. They were added to a massive pot with the prepped cabbage, water chestnuts, chopped green onions, the pivotal peanut butter, and salt, in proportions known only to Chad.
Then we heated up the deep fryer and started rolling. At this point I have to bring up that I have not found a good reason for this concoction to be called an egg roll. Some sources say it is because there is egg in the dough for the wrapper. That seems like a stretch. We did use an egg wash to seal the rolls, so maybe that’s it.
Rolling an egg roll, by the way, is actually pretty easy. Good rule of thumb is to include about half again as much filling as you think you should, or you will end up with something that looks more like a fried cigar, or possibly a taquito. We could only fry them two at a time, but they take less than a minute, and that was actually a good pace considering that we were novice rollers. It should be noted that the entire apartment smelled like oil for two days after Team Egg Roll hung up its aprons, and there was enough smoke that we went ahead and opened all the windows for an hour or so in Boston in February. After an hour it was less smokey, but still oily. Just so you know what you’re getting into if you ever try this.
But the oil and the smoke were totally worth it, because we ended up with a bunch of delicious egg rolls. These are the sublime kind I was referring to at the beginning of this post.
Then the wonton origami started. We had them with cinnamon and powdered sugar for dessert. Just because it’s dessert doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fry it. Words to live by.