Spring Rolls and Roller Coasters

This is where the roller coaster comes in. The emotional roller-coaster that is. Our daughter Claire (@ClaireB-Oz) breezes in and out of our lives like a whirlwind leaving a tangle of images and memories in her wake.
Yesterday Claire and myself met up with my friend and Italian teacher Solange who recently gave birth to identical twins. I get to see these gorgeous little boys once a week and there is nothing more delicious than nuzzling the baby-soft skin at the nape of their necks. This morning at Dublin Airport I tucked in a stray label in the back of Claire’s hoody just before she passed through security and suddenly the image of her as a tiny baby who I could wrap up and protect came flooding back. Once a Mammy always a Mammy I guess.
Anyway we had a fantastic few days including a wonderful send-off meal in China Sichuan last night where Kevin did us proud with a “no menu” spread that included whole Irish lobster and Sichuan rabbit. Claire has gone back saying she ate more Chinese food here than when in China and armed with Gok Cooks Chinese and Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice and lots of good intentions to cook and contribute to the blog.
Of all the memories of Claire’s visit, one of the nicest is of Claire and her friend Diane filling spring rolls on the butchers block in my kitchen, glass of wine at hand, chattering ninety to the dozen as they caught up on all the news and gossip.
From the day I started this blog Pat Whelan (@Pat_Whelan) of James Whelan Butchers has been asking me when I am going to make spring rolls. There’s not much point making them unless you have an excuse to prepare a batch of 20 or more, so having a gang in for the wagyu hotpot the other night was a great opportunity to experiment and serve them as an appetiser. Then I realised I had taken on far too much for a mid-week dinner party after a long day’s work so I was very glad when Claire and Diane rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in as very competent sous chefs.
I never had a spring roll in China and I find the stodgy versions you get from Chinese takeaways here very off-putting so I searched around all my cookbooks to find a recipe that might have a fresher, lighter taste. The recipe below is in The Food of China – A Journey for Food Lovers and the homemade plum sauce is from Gok Cooks Chinese.

Spring rolls served on a slate

I made them with free-range pork from James Whelans Butchers and vegetables and fruit supplied via Superquinn by Donnelly Fruit & Veg, with the exception of the Chinese cabbage and garlic chives which I picked up at the Asia Market where you can also get the spring roll wrappers.
So specially for you Pat, and with thanks for the wagyu beef, here goes:
Spring Rolls with Homemade Plum Sauce
Chinese chives

  • 5 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp roasted sesame oil
  • 3 1/2 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 1/2 tsps cornflour
  • 1 pork steak
  • 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 tbs groundnut oil
  • About a 3 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 130 g Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
  • 150 g shredded carrots
  • 30 g Chinese garlic chives cut into 2 cm lengths
  • 180 g bean sprouts


You will find these in freezer section of Asia Markets

  • About 30 square spring roll wrappers 125mm x 125mm (or about 15 of the larger wrappers 215mm x 215mm)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbs plain flour
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying in wok

Plum sauce:

  • 8 plums, stoned and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 – 3 tbs runny honey
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 – 3 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbs dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper


  1. Trim the pork steak and cut into very thin strips.
  2. Combine 2 tbs of soy sauce, 1 tsp of sesame oil, 1 1/2 tbs of rice wine and 1 tsp of cornflour.
  3. Add the pork, toss to coat and marinate in fridge for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile soak the drained mushrooms in boiling water for 30 minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water.
  5. Remove and discard the stems and shred the caps.
  6. Combine the remaining 3 tbs of soy sauce, 1 tsp of sesame oil and 1/2 tsp of cornflour and set to one side in a small bowl.

Cooking filling:

Pork filling for spring rolls

  1. Heat a wok over high heat, add 2 tbs of oil and heat until just smoking.
  2. Stir fry the pork mixture for 2 minutes or until just cooked.
  3. Remove and drain.
  4. Wipe out the wok.
  5. Re-heat the wok over high heat, add the remaining 2 tbs of oil and heat until just smoking.
  6. Stir-fry the mushrooms, garlic and ginger for 15 seconds.
  7. Add the cabbage and carrots and toss lightly.
  8. Pour in 2 tbs of rice wine and stir-fry for a minute.
  9. Add the garlic chives and bean sprouts and stir-fry for a minute or until the sprouts go limp.
  10. Add the pork mixture and soy sauce mixture and cook until thickened.
  11. Transfer to a colander and drain for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally to remove the excess liquid.

Making the plum sauce:

Plums simmering away

  1. Place the plums and 2 tbs of warm water in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients using only 1 tbs soy sauce and 2 tbs of honey to start with. once the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer.
  2. Simmer for about 40 minutes, loosely covered, until the plums are very tender, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the mixture cook dry. Add water if necessary.
  3. Once the plums are soft and collapsed, remove the star anise, whisk with a stick blender and taste and adjust the seasoning with soy sauce and honey until you get the balance of flavours you like.

Wrapping the spring rolls:

Making up spring rolls

  1. Combine the egg yolk, flour and 3 tbs of water and keep handy in a small bowl.
  2. Place 1 heaped tbs of filling on the corner of the wrapper, leaving the corner itself free.
  3. Spread some of the yoke mixture on the opposite corner.
  4. Fold over one corner and start rolling but not too tightly or they will burst open during cooking.
  5. Fold in the other corners, roll up and press to secure.
  6. Repeat with the remaining wrappers – about 20 to 30 in all. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect. They will still taste delicious.
  7. Set aside on a baking tray in a cool place loosely covered with a tea towel or muslin until ready to cook them.

Cooking the spring rolls:

Spring rolls cooked and cooking

  1. Fill a wok one-quarter full with oil. Heat to 180 degrees celsius or until a piece of bread fries golden brown in 10 seconds.
  2. Cook the spring rolls in two batches, turning constantly, for 5 mins until golden.
  3. Drain on kitchen paper.
  4. Serve immediately with the warm plum sauce.

These were gobbled up by my hungry guests. They were not as time consuming to make as the recipe suggested. Preparing and frying off the filling is a speedy enough process – the slowest part was finely slicing the meat but I will be a whizz at that when I’ve done my knife skills course (says she hopefully).
Do not be tempted to substitute other types of pastry, such as filo, for Chinese spring roll wrappers. And always go for wrappers from the freezer section of your local Asian Market – the fresh type are too dense and cloying.
The homemade plum sauce was really worthwhile. It was just delicious and the aroma of it permeated the kitchen while we prepared the meal. I’ve enough left over for Peking duck tonight.
Update (17th October 2012):
The first time I made these spring rolls, I used the smaller wrappers and served them as finger food. Last weekend I made up larger spring rolls with about 3 tbs of filling and served 2 per person as a starter at a dinner party on my slates from Slated.ie. It’s always a good sign when your friend, an accomplished cook, asks for the recipe afterwards and she did 🙂
I used 450g Pat’s free range pork loin the first time which was full of flavour but the second time I found it easier to work with a pork steak – less trimming. You could also substitute chicken or use a combination of chicken and pork or leftover shredded duck.
Irish chives and savoy cabbage could be substituted for the Chinese variety and will give a slightly different flavour.
You could make your own spring roll wrappers if you have the time and the patience but I’m guessing it’s hard work.
Bottled plum sauce is available but the home made variety is what lifts this dish out of the ordinary.

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