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Spring rolls are synonymous with takeout in the U.S. However, they have a long history as a snack in China, the idea being that you're literally "biting spring."
That being said, it can sometimes feel like you're biting grease. And limp fillings. And soggy wrapping.
But it's not hard to achieve spring roll perfection: The items aren't hard to find (you may have some in your pantry already). You want the outside to be crisp, light golden in color and, most importantly, not greasy. And the fillings, flavorful and fresh. Lastly, you need a bright dipping sauce to jazz everything up (see the recipe).
Ready to get rolling? Here's how you can set the golden standard.
Bring the filling to the forefront. Yes, spring rolls are a quintessential finger food, but once you get beyond the crisp exterior, you want to make sure you're biting into a filling that's packed with flavor. The good news? The world is your spring roll. According to Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang of China Blue in New York City, " You can put pretty much anything inside. At home, there is a savory version with pork and cabbage, and a sweet version with red bean or sesame paste." The golden rule, however, is to make sure your ingredients are small—by grating, shredding or julienning—so that they'll bind together as they cook and won't slip out of the roll after the first bite. Another rule: Season early and often as you're cooking. Forget to, and you'll end up with a bland piece of fried dough.
Keep those wrappers undercover. There's no way to escape having to wrap the spring rolls individually. So make sure to cover your wrappers with a damp kitchen towel after you open them so they're pliable and easier to roll, and cover the folded spring rolls as well so they don't dry out before frying.
Don't overstuff. Your spring roll shouldn't look like a soda can; keep it to more of a cigar shape at around one-by-three and a half inches. The fried spring roll should be eaten in roughly two and a half to three bites. (Half bites do exist.)
Keep it tight. We like the diamond technique (see the slideshow) when rolling our spring rolls. The goal is to ensure an even, tight package. Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Boston says, "You must remove the air. It's best that the rolls are wrapped tightly, especially keeping the sides tucked in. Air pockets make for limp rolls and can also cause them to break apart in the fryer."
Fry quickly and gently. Deep-frying can be intimidating, but, luckily, spring rolls need less than two minutes in the oil. Use a neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable, and make sure it reaches a depth of two inches in a wok or in heavy-bottomed pot. Fry the rolls just until they turn light golden brown, while flipping them over (chopsticks work best) to ensure even cooking and browning. Remove them using a slotted spoon and let the rolls drain on a wire rack to get rid of any excess grease.
Toss that sticky sauce. Rather than the overly sweet, almost jellylike sauce you get when ordering takeout, make a dipper that's more savory using soy sauce, rice vinegar and a touch of chile oil. The acidity and heat complement all the fried goodness.
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