The origin of spring rolls can be traced to the ancient Chinese tradition of preparing “spring platters” with pancakes and spring vegetables to celebrate the arrival of spring. The tradition gradually evolved through the centuries. Fancier ingredients started to show up on the platters. Rolling up the pancakes with the ingredients became the new form. By the time deep-frying was used to finish the preparation, the spring rolls reached new culinary heights. Not only did they become popular snack food, but they also appeared in upscale banquets. Even the grand Manchu Han Imperial Feast (满汉全席), prepared exclusively for the emperors, listed spring rolls on the menu.
Made with wheat flour, salt, and water, a spring roll wrapper is thin and light, which lends itself to a flaky crust after frying. When it comes to filling, you have lots of room to experiment with your favorite ingredients and express your creativity. My only suggestion to you is to make the filling juicy (but not watery), to create a textural contrast to the crust. If you use meat in the filling, slice the meat into small pieces and cook them to the perfect tenderness.
There has been much confusion in naming when it comes to spring rolls. Perhaps some clarification is in order.
Spring roll vs. Egg roll: Spring rolls are slimmer and more delicate than egg rolls, which are made with much thicker wrappers. You won’t find egg rolls in China, as they are an invention of American Chinese restaurants.
Spring roll vs. Summer roll. Summer roll, or Gỏi cuốn, is a Vietnamese roll using rice paper as wrapper. Also known as Vietnamese salad rolls or fresh rolls, they are not fried and are served cold or at room temperature.
As you would expect, there are many regional varieties of spring rolls in China. In Shanghai, my hometown, spring rolls filled with shredded pork and napa cabbage and a dessert version with red bean paste filling are the most popular ones. I crave them often!
My recipe below will show you how to make elegant spring rolls with scallops and cilantro. Like perfectly seared scallops, these rolls are golden crispy on the outside and juicy tender on the inside. Each bite is a pure delight, filled with refreshing aroma from the herbs.
What are your favorite fillings for spring rolls?
Spring rolls with scallops and cilantro
Makes about 12 rolls
For the rolls
1 lb (450 g) scallops (freshness is key; any size would work)
1 cup chopped cilantro (or any other tender herb such as basil, chervil, or parsley), about 1 oz (30 g)
½ cup chopped chives, about ½ oz (15 g)
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
Freshly ground white pepper
12 6-inch (15 cm) spring roll wrappers
1 egg white
Oil for frying
For the dipping sauce
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
- Cut the scallops into ½-inch (1.3 cm) cubes. In a bowl, mix the scallops with cilantro, chives, Shaoxing wine, ginger, salt, and a few grinds of white pepper.
- Place a spring roll wrapper on a work surface diagonally with one corner pointing at you.
- Lay two tablespoons of the scallop mixture near the bottom corner. Lift the bottom corner up and begin to roll until you reach halfway up. Brush the left and right corners with egg white and fold them in.
- Brush the upper corner with egg white and continue to roll upwards.
- Make sure the roll is tight and the upper corner is nicely sealed. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
- To make the dipping sauce: mix the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and Zhenjiang vinegar in a bowl.
- Fill a saucepan or pot with oil to a depth of 2 inches (5 cm). Heat the oil to 350° F (177° C). Fry the rolls in batches, making sure they do not crowd the pan.
- When the rolls are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, transfer them to a platter lined with paper towels.
- You can serve the rolls whole or cut in half on a bias.