The first time I ever had what Americans insist on calling egg-rolls was before I even hit the double digits.
Ietje had made them, and I saw the entire process.
Unfortunately I didn’t take careful notes, so I can’t give you the recipe.
What I do remember is that they were small and tasty.
Which I subsequently discovered made them quite a bit different than the abortion sold in 'Chineesch-Indische' restaurants in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Chinese-Indonesian restaurant eggroll is slightly smaller than a burrito, filled with lots of bean sprouts and a small amount of pre-cooked meat scrap. The skin is some kind of soggy compound which bubbles up, and due to the construction of the roll a chopstick has to be shoved through the beast after removing it from the deep fryer to drain the excess grease.
As you can probably guess, it is quite one of the nastiest comestibles on the face of the planet.
The Netherlandish natives love the thing.
What it was modeled upon, it does not resemble in the slightest.
The Indonesian-Chinese eggroll or spring roll is no more than three or four inches long, and hardly one inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. The filling consists of slivered vegetables - carrot, yard long bean, water chestnuts, black mushrooms, celery, etcetera - augmented with a little meat or seafood, and maybe some minced fresh herbs. What really sets it apart, however, is the skin.
[Lumpia (潤餅) is the common term in most Indonesian and Philippino languages for this item, as well as in Dutch (spelled 'loempia'), derived from the Hokkien pronunciation of the words, and meaning a "smooth" or "generously filled" 'wafer' or dough skin. It is similar to popia (薄餅), which is the name that the non-fried version goes by. In most other Chinese dialects the second word (餅) does not mean wafer or dough skin, and the term 'Chun Kuen' (春捲 spring roll) is used instead.]
The best lumpia skins are made by sweeping a ball of dough quickly over a hot surface with one hand, peeling the skin thus left behind with the other hand and stacking it. It's a sensuous, sinuous process. Shploop with the right hand as the left pulls the damp cloth from the pile already made, pull the dough ball away while the left hand swoops in to peel the new skin off and stack it.
Very spare motions, very regular and rhythmical, very elegant.
If your auntie has arthritis, you can peel the lumpia skin off the hot surface for her.
Go on, be helpful - that's what nice young people are supposed to do.
She'll giggle every time you burn your fingers.
A dough ball yields over two hundred skins.
It is a mark of defeat to use a batter instead of a dough ball - the skins will not have nearly as nice a texture. And commercially bought skins, while adequate, are not really proper, nor as tasty.
OUCH! HOT! HOT! HOT!
So instead, let us talk about Cheung Fan (腸粉
). Which is rather similar, intellectually speaking.
Though in actual practice, there is no resemblance whatsoever.
Cheung fan are soft fresh sheets of rice flour dough steamed with a little filling - shrimp, beef, pork, or whatever - then folded over, drizzled with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, minced scallion to garnish. Cut into segments of folded roll and dipped in a little hot sauce or tiem jeung (甜醬) it is heavenly. Very kind on the stomach, the breakfast of champions. Eppes tasty.
The resemblance to spring roll is in the manufacture. There is heat, and there may be scorched fingers.
Oh, and it likewise requires an accurate eye. Let judgment be your guide.
[Don't worry, it will come to you - but if you are uncertain, perhaps best to do the first batch experimentally and quietly deep-six the results, so that you can flabbergast your housemates later with nicely made cheung fan. Let subterfuge be your other guide.]
In commercial establishments, a sheet of cloth is tightly stretched over a rectangular steamer and wetted. A rice flour batter is ladled over quickly, smeared flat, filling is strewn over one side, and within mere moments the cloth is lifted with the skin adhering and another put in place and wetted. Meanwhile a deft hand with a spatula separates the already steamed skin, dexterously jiggling it into a loosely folded wedge or roll. It is sliced across into segments, garnished, and promptly served.
At home it is not made so efficiently, because you do not have a large rectangular vat of fiercely boiling water with a perforated metal plate on top.
You have, perhaps, a really big steamer.
So what you can do is use pie pans instead of taught wetted cloth, either lightly oiled or with a little Pam sprayed on. The steaming time is a little longer, because your cheung fan will be thicker. And instead of nice sharp-edged rectangular rolls, yours will be a little thicker around the middle.
If no pie pans, salad plates will also do - the result will be cute little cheung fan, quite suitable as a mid-day snack.
CHEUNG FAN BATTER
One cup plain rice flour.
Quarter cup tapioca flour.
Two TBS cornstarch.
Two TBS oil.
Half a teaspoon salt.
Sift dry ingredients together. Slowly stir in some water, add the oil, and keep adding more water while stirring till you have a batter that looks like heavy cream - approximately 1¾ to 2¼ cups water in all.
Let it stand an hour, re-stir. It is now ready for use.
Grease a pie pan, ladle in enough batter to thinly cover bottom, and place in the steamer. After about a minute to a minute and a half, add the filling along one side. Steam for another four to six minutes, depending on how thick your layers are. Remove the pie pan from the steamer, and prepare a second pan while the first one cools.
As soon as you have added a filling to the second cheung fan, separate the first one from its pan with a flexible spatula, rolling as you go. Proceed in this manner till all the batter is used up. There should be about eight or nine cheung fan stacked on the plate when you're done. Drizzle a little sesame oil over for fragrance, slash into segments to show the filling, and garnish with minced scallion.
CHEUNG FAN FILLING - SUGGESTIONS
Dried mushroom and codfish silk jerky re-humidified and minced, with an equal amount of lap cheung, also minced, and slight quantity of ginger. Maybe re-humidified dry shrimp, or whole peeled fresh shrimp. Perhaps chopped ham. Or thinly slivered beef.
The key thing is that the filling be slightly savoury, slightly sweet, nicely fresh tasting, and not too much - you are eating a noodle, not a meat pie. So only a tablespoon or two per noodle sheet.
TIEM JEUNG (甜醬)
Four TBS Hoisin Sauce (海鮮醬 HoisinJeung).
Two TBS Soy Sauce.
One TBS sugar.
One Tsp. Chili sauce.
One Tsp. Vinegar.
4 - 6 TBS water.
Simmer while stirring till thick. Serve with cheung fan, lumpia, or popia.
Please note that the cheung fan batter given above can be modified, after due experimentation, as you see fit. Either the amount of tapioca flour can be reduced, replaced with a quantity of glutinous rice flour, or it may be increased slightly. It depends on the mouthfeel that you wish to achieve. So please, do experiment like topsy!
An all plain rice flour batter yields a noodle that isn't very interesting, it has to have some tackiness to it. I'm still experimenting too, in case you were wondering.
The oil, however, is essential, so do not omit it, though you may reduce or increase the quantity. It sweats out slightly during steaming, thus making it easier to lift the cheung fan off the cooking surface.
The same batter can be used for Teochew-style char kwee teow ('fried cake noodle': 炒粿條). Just steam the sheets without any fillings, peel them off the surface, and cut them into broad strips. After cooling they may be used for stir-fried rice noodles with clams, shrimp, and oysters, and bean sprouts. Remember to use pork fat for that real flavour. Add minced scallion (or chives) and thin omelette cut into strips, plus some sweet soy sauce
and chili paste, then imagine that you're eating by the side of a busy street in Georgetown.
There are some "cheerful" working men in stained tee shirts next to you with cigarettes and beer. The aroma of wood smoke and gasoline drifts over from elsewhere in the cool air of evening. Some place distant a tire is burning.
Yes, this is precisely how you imagined the day ending. Bon appétit!
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Labels: chili paste (sambal), Indo food, 真好食, 腸粉, 菜譜