Shanghai Spring Rolls (上海春卷 Shanghai Chun Juan)
December 12, 2020
Spring rolls 春卷 are a traditional food that used to be enjoyed by Southern Chinese people during special holidays, like the Spring Festival 春节 (a.k.a Chinese New Year) and Lichun 立春 (the Beginning of Spring). Nowadays, with an abundant food supply, Chinese people from North to South enjoy spring rolls pretty much anytime during the year. In other parts of Asia, spring rolls have also become a common food item.
These Shanghai Spring Rolls use a recipe from my mother-in-law. As you might have learned from some of my earlier posts, my in-laws are from Shanghai, and they make many Chinese dishes with distinctive Shanghai characteristics. If you are interested, Here are a few recipes that I learned from my MIL: Curry Chicken Wings and Chinese Style Savory Steamed Eggs. Usually, umami or 鲜味 (xian-wei) is one of the most important measurements for taste. These Shanghai Spring Rolls are no exception. The filling is full of umami with the help of napa cabbage, shredded pork, and a little bit of salt.
The filling for these Shanghai Spring Rolls uses only three main ingredients: napa cabbage, shredded pork, and vermicelli. The shiitake mushrooms are optional. Vermicelli not only adds a nice texture, but also absorbs the water released from the napa cabbage and holds the other ingredients together. You can find vermicelli in any Asian grocery store. I like to use the Korean vermicelli as they have a more chewy texture than the Chinese ones.
The spring roll, in a paper thin wrapper, becomes super crispy after frying, yet still juicy and tender inside. It is no wonder spring rolls have become so popular overseas as well.
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1.5 hours
Servings: 4 – 6 people
- 1/2 lb (~250g) lean pork meat1
- ~1 lb (~450g) napa cabbage leaves2 (about 10 large leaves)
- ~1/4 lb (~150g) thin vermicelli3
- 5 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt + 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 pack of spring roll wrapper (25 each)
- ~1 cup vegetable oil
- Slice the lean pork meat into thin shredded pork and place in a bowl. Add the 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and corn starch, mixing well. Let it marinate on the counter while preparing the other ingredients.
- Chop the napa cabbage leaves into thin long strips by cutting them along the same direction as their veins. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or basin, add the vermicelli and pour enough hot water to fully submerge. Depending on the type of vermicelli (see notes 3), submerge for anywhere between 5-15 minutes until the vermicelli becomes much softer but still firm. Drain the vermicelli from the hot water and use kitchen scissors to cut them into short portions. Set aside.
- (Optional) If using fresh shiitake mushroom, discard the stems and chop the mushroom caps into small pieces. If using dried shiitake mushrooms, immerse the dried mushrooms in hot water. Cover and leave submerged for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Once rehydrated, the caps will become tender again. Squeeze out the water and discard the stems. Chop the caps into small pieces. Set aside.
- Heat a large skillet under medium-high heat. When the skillet is getting warm, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Then add the shredded pork, tossing and turning to separate the pork. When the shredded pork is half cooked, add the chopped napa cabbage and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, tossing and mixing well.
- When the napa cabbage starts releasing water, transfer everything to a large bowl, immediately adding the shortened vermicelli. Thoroughly mix everything. Let the vermicelli soak up the water from napa cabbage. Leave the filling on the counter to cool completely before wrapping the spring rolls.
- Take out one spring roll wrapper and lay it on a dry surface oriented as a diamond shape. Use a pair of chopsticks to grab about 2 tablespoons of filling, and put the filling towards the bottom of the wrapper, leaving 1 inch (~2.5cm) on the end. Fold the filling twice from the bottom up then fold the two sides in. Finally roll the spring roll all the way up. See pictures. Lay each finished spring roll on a dry surface with some space in between. Repeat the same procedure to fold/roll the rest of the spring rolls.
- In a stainless steel skillet, heat about 1 cup of vegetable oil under medium-high heat. When the temperature reaches 160°F (~320°C), add the spring rolls, which should be half-way submerged in oil. Leave some space in between each spring roll and do not overlap them. When the spring rolls becomes golden brown (about 2-3 minutes), remove them from the oil. It might take multiple batches to fry all the spring rolls.
- Cool the spring rolls briefly on a kitchen towel lined plate or basket and enjoy while they are hot!
- Any pork meat without fat works well here. I used pork tenderloin.
- You can find napa cabbage (大白菜 Da Bai Cai) in any Asian grocery store. I’ve seen them in some western chain grocery stores like Kroger and Whole Foods as well. Napa cabbage has an oval shape and usually weighs between 2-6 lb (~1-3kg).
- Both Chinese and Korean vermicelli work well. The Chinese vermicelli tends to be thinner and thus takes less time to soften (less than 5 minutes). I used thin Korean vermicelli here, which takes a little longer (around 15 minutes) to soften.