There are innumerable options for stuffing fried spring rolls. I managed to squeeze in several classics in Asian Dumplings but have always wanted to try this one featuring plump oysters and ground pork. It’s a surf-and-turf combination that captures the subtle sweet brininess of the oysters. Oddly enough, the white pepper plays an important role in coaxing out the flavors and lending an earthy depth.
You’d think that the raw oysters are simply added to the filling but they’re actually first blanched to slightly firm them up and remove some of their fishiness. It’s an approach that Chinese cooks prefer. Otherwise, the oysters can overcook or lose their distinctiveness.
Some cooks blanch the oysters as is, but I tried seasoning them and coating them with cornstarch to seal them up. The technique came from a Fujian cookbook that Chris Tan just sent me from Singapore. It seems to work quite well.
In Taiwan, I saw buckets of freshly shucked oysters at the market. Lacking that convenience near my home, I use jarred fresh oysters, available at mainstream supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. The 10-ounce jars contain about 8 ounces of drained oysters, which works well. But if there is a 12-ounce jar (10 ounces net weight), you’ll have extra oyster goodness in the rolls.
Look for jars that say “medium” or “small” oysters or you may get gargantuan oysters. The jar I bought last Sunday was labeled “medium” and filled oysters that were each about 2 1/2 inches. My solution for dealing with the largish oysters was to chop them up into bite-size pieces.
One last note, yellow garlic chives are traditionally used in the filling. It’s sold at Asian markets. I didn’t have time to get them last weekend so I substituted scallion. You can do a little bit of both, if you like. Yellow chives have a mild garlicky note like delicate Chinese chives, which you can substitute here for the scallion too. (My garden crop of garlic chives struggles in our dreary Northern California weather this year.) Regardless, the rolls will be delectable.
Oyster Spring Rolls
These rolls are deliciously rich. However, you can freeze unfried rolls and bank your efforts. They are good on their own but if you’d like some sauce, try Thai sweet chile sauce.
The mayonnaise and ketchup mixture is a simple version of Comeback Sauce, a popular and addictively good concoction from the American South. It’s aptly named for the fact that you always come back for more. The richness of comeback sauce pairs well with the oysters. When draining the oysters, save the liquor and use some of that liquid for the cornstarch slurry, if you like.
Makes 14 to 18 medium or 12 to 14 large rolls
8 to 10 ounces drained fresh oysters
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
6 ounces (about 2 cups) bean sprouts, washed and drained well
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons oyster liquor or water
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 ounces ground pork, roughly chopped to loosen
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
3/4 cup lightly packed finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
14 to 18 medium or 12 to 14 large Shanghai spring roll skins (also called lumpia wrappers)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Canola Oil, for deep-frying
Thai Sweet Chile Sauce, or 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise mixed with 1 tablespoon ketchup and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. Give the oysters a quick rinsing and drain well. If the oysters are large, cut them into 3/4 to 1-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl. Add the 1 teaspoon white pepper, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon rice wine. Stir gently to combine. Set aside to marinate for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Using a mesh strainer, blanch the bean sprouts until they have just slightly softened, 30 to 45 seconds. Dump them into a colander and set aside to cool and drain.
Return the water to a boil, then blanch the oysters for 20 seconds. You can use the mesh strainer or not. Drain the oysters and transfer to a bowl; they will continue to release liquid after draining. Set the bean sprouts and oysters near the stove.
3. For the seasoning sauce, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 teaspoon white pepper and 1 teaspoon rice wine with the salt, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch slurry. Set aside near the stove.
4. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, stirring and poking it to break it into small pieces. When the pork is halfway cooked, about 1 minute, splash in the soy sauce. Keep cooking for another minute or so until the pork is cooked through. Add the scallion, and cook for about 30 seconds until they’ve lost their rawness. Then add the bean sprouts and oysters, give things a stir and cook for 30 to 45 seconds to heat through.
Give the seasoning sauce a stir then pour it into the skillet. Stir gently to combine and in about 30 seconds, the mixture should have thickened up. Transfer to a platter and spread it out. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. The mixture can be refrigerated overnight and return to room temperature before using. You should have 2 1/2 to 3 cups.
5. For each spring roll, place a skin, smooth side down, on your work surface. With medium skins, place a generous 2 tablespoons of filling (or 3 to 4 tablespoons of filling, if using large skins) slightly below the center of the skin. Fold and roll up the skin to create a cigar shape.
Before folding in the sides, brush some beaten egg on all of the exposed edges to ensure a good seal. Set the finished rolls, seam side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Keep covered with a dishtowel to prevent drying.
6. Heat 1 to 1 1/4 inches of oil in a wok, saucepan, or deep skillet over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. (If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry bamboo chopstick into the oil; if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil is ready.) Slide in few spring rolls and fry for 2 to 4 minutes, turning as needed, until golden brown and very crisp. Remove from the oil and drain. Return the oil to temperature before frying more.
7. Serve hot or warm with the sweet chile sauce or mayonnaise-and-ketchup comeback sauce.
If you make oyster spring rolls, what is in your filling? Or, what are your favorite fried spring roll fillings?
(Note: Spring rolls are not the same as Vietnamese rice paper rolls (goi cuon or cha gio). Spring rolls are of Chinese origin and employ a thin wheat flour wrapper. See the "Thin Skins" chapter of Asian Dumplings for a discussion of Shanghai spring roll skins and a recipe for how to make them at home.)