The Cantonese chicken egg roll shows you the beauty of authentic Chinese food. It uses the perfect combination of meat, savory dried foods, colorful veggies, and a well-balanced sauce to release the ultimate umami. I learned this recipe from a famous Hongkongese dim sum chef. This is a must-try if you’re into real Chinese food.
If you think an egg roll is a normal food item that we eat on a daily basis in China, you’re very wrong. We call egg rolls “spring rolls” (春卷, chun juan) in China. It’s a festive dish that people cook and enjoy on the eve of Spring Festival (春节, chun jie), i.e. Chinese New Year. You can find egg rolls in many areas of China, but they are most popular in the southern part, in places such as Shanghai, Fujian, Guangzhou, and Jiangsu. While southerners are frying egg rolls to celebrate the coming of the new year, we northerners are boiling dumplings.
The truth is, I have eaten egg rolls fewer than five times in my 30 years of living in China. They’re not a usual item on the dinner table of a northern Chinese family, and you don’t really see them in restaurants either, unless you’re at a dim sum place.
My spring roll experience didn’t start off so well. Unlike with the typical egg roll overseas – a savory snack – we usually stuff them with sweet fillings such as red bean paste. Sometimes, when we have leftover spring roll sheets after the festival, we wrap leftover vegetables in them. They are not bad, but are definitely not something I crave, especially after eating twenty rich, juicy lamb dumplings.
My impression of egg rolls was forever changed two months ago. I had the best egg rolls of my life while visiting Guangzhou in July.
Although I’ve eaten a lot of Cantonese food in very authentic dim sum restaurants in Beijing, I was very excited to visit a dim sum restaurant in the province where it originated. When I looked at the menu, I had a hard time choosing what to order. There were more than 50 items on the menu and they all sounded wonderful, as they very well should.
In the end, I decided to try the chicken egg rolls. Since they are so popular in overseas Chinese restaurants, I wanted to find out why.
The truth was revealed to me fifteen minutes after I placed my order. The second I bit into the just-off-the-stove crispy egg roll, I thought OH MY GOD this is good! After 3 seconds of don’t-bother-me-I’m-in-the-zone, my brain started to process what the hell they put inside the roll to make it SO damn good. I found the filling included bamboo shoots, wood ears, egg, mushrooms, carrot, and ground meat. It was quite different from the combination I usually saw when browsing recipes.
Later on, I purchased a dim sum cookbook at local bookstore. It was written by a famous Hongkongese dim sum chef – Liang Wei Shan (Loeng Wai Saan in Cantonese). I learned all the secrets to creating the best egg rolls from this book, and now I’ll share them with you!
To create the best chicken egg roll
- Use pork in the filling. If you’re thinking, are you kidding me? I’m not. The truth is, the original recipe uses two types of pork (raw ground pork and cha siu) and the amount is way more than the amount of chicken. The reason for this is very simple. It is like how you’d cook bing bread with chicken grease or fry potatoes in bacon fat. It makes things taste ten times better.
- Use ground turkey that contains a high percentage of fat. Is it ironic that the chicken rolls don’t contain chicken? Of course you can use ground chicken instead, as long as you add some fatty pork, as well. If you don’t want to use pork, using fattier ground turkey definitely creates a better, tenderer, and juicier filling.
- Use dried shiitake mushrooms in the filling. You don’t need a lot. A small amount goes a long way, and it helps create a concentrated umami flavor.
- Use bamboo shoots in the filling. It creates a very nice crunch, a refreshing flavor to balance the meat, and even more umami flavor.
- Add chicken broth to the filling. It won’t cause the filling to become watery, as long as you cook the filling long enough, add a cornstarch slurry in the end, and chill the filling in the fridge. This will help you create a very moist and juicy filling, while keeping the spring roll shells crispy and dry.
It know it might look different from the egg rolls you’re familiar with, but trust me, once you give this recipe a try, you will always want to cook egg rolls at home instead of ordering takeout.
If there is an Asian market nearby, you can get all the ingredients in one trip. I also listed a few online shopping links and ingredients from other sources below, in case you don’t have an Asian market nearby.
Egg roll wrappers:
Try to find “Wei-Chuan Spring Roll Shells”. They are super thin wrappers that yield very crispy rolls. They’re quite tough in texture, so you won’t tear them apart in the process of wrapping the rolls.
When shopping for the wrappers, make sure you get the kind made from “wheat flour”. The label might say “spring roll” or “egg roll”. Make sure you don’t get the Vietnamese spring roll wrappers that are made from rice flour. Confusing, I know! (We call them “spring roll” in Chinese instead of egg roll.)
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a reliable online shop for the wrappers. If you don’t have an Asian market nearby, try out the frozen section at a bigger supermarket. I found that H-E-B sells them.
Dried Shiitake mushrooms:
I personally prefer to use whole mushrooms. If you want to save cutting and rehydrating time, you can get the sliced ones instead. Please note, for both types, you will need to remove the tough stems after soaking (cut them off with scissors, it’s easier). The stem will have a very chewy texture after cooking.
I highly recommend you get a whole bamboo shoot if it’s possible. It’s fresher and has better texture. Alternatively, you can use canned shoots. You can find them in the Asian section of a big supermarket. Or you can get them on Amazon.
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Cantonese Chicken Egg Roll (广式鸡肉春卷)
- 25 spring roll wrappers , squared, 8 inches / 20 cm in length
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon Japanese sake (or Shaoxing wine)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/16 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
Cornstarch slurry (x2)
- 1 teaspoon potato starch
- 2 teaspoons water
- 5 medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 small bamboo shoot , sliced to strips (yields 1 cup strips)
- 1/2 small carrot , sliced to strips (yield 1/4 cup strips)
- Sunflower oil for frying (or other vegetable oil with a high smoke point) (*see footnote 1)
- 2 cloves garlic , grated
- 3/4 cup (170 grams / 6 ounces) ground turkey (fat ratio 15%) (*see footnote 2)
- 1/4 cup (60 grams / 2 ounces) ground pork (*see footnote 3)
- 2 green onion , sliced to strips
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon black vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Place dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and add warm water to cover. Let rehydrate for 20 to 30 minutes (10 to 15 minutes if using sliced mushrooms). Gently rub mushrooms to remove dirt. Discard the liquid.
- Combine oyster sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, and white pepper in a small bowl (leave chicken broth out). Mix well and place near stove.
- Make two bowls of slurry (one for cooking the filling, one for assembling the rolls). Combine potato starch and water in two small bowls separately. Mix well. Place one bowl of slurry near stove.
- Slice bamboo shoots, carrots, and rehydrated shiitake mushrooms into thin strips. Transfer them to a bowl and place near stove.
- Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until warm. Add garlic and stir a few times, until fragrant. Add ground turkey and ground pork.
- Push the ground meat to one side of the skillet. Add bamboo shoots, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms to the other side. (*see footnote 4) Cook meat and vegetables on each side of the skillet. Stir and chop the meat into smaller chunks with a spatula. Cook bamboo shoots and mushrooms on the other side. Stir occasionally. When the ground meat is cooked on the surface, mix the meat and vegetables and continue cooking, until the liquid in the skillet is fully absorbed.
- Add sauce. Cook and stir for a minute, until the sauce is evenly mixed with the ingredients.
- Add chicken broth. Cook until the ground meat is cooked through.
- Stop heat and swirl in cornstarch slurry. Continue to mix with spatula and cook with residual heat, until there is no liquid left in the skillet.
- Transfer the filling to a plate and place in the fridge to cool completely.
Assemble the roll
- While the filling is cooling, take spring roll wrappers out of the freezer and allow them to thaw, 20 to 30 minutes. After the wrappers are thawed, transfer them to a cutting board. Cover with a damp cloth (or you can wet two pieces of thick paper towel with a spray bottle and place them on the wrappers) to prevent them from drying out.
- Mix the dipping sauce.
- Slice green onions into thin strips. Transfer the filling to the working surface. Place the potato starch slurry nearby.
- Work on the spring rolls one at a time by following the pictures shown in the post above: gently peel a spring roll wrapper from the stack and place it on the working surface, a pointed end facing you. Add 1 tablespoon of filling and two slices of green onion onto the lower third of the wrapper (*see footnote 5). Fold the lower part of the wrapper upward to cover the filling. Fold the both sides in to secure the filling inside. Tuck and roll the filling tightly upward until it forms a roll. Stir the potato slurry again. Rub a thin layer of the slurry onto the top point of the wrap. Gently fold and push to seal the roll. Place the roll on a cutting board. Continue working on the rest of the rolls in the same way.
- When you finish assembling half of the rolls, cover them with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Continue to work on the rest of the rolls. (*see footnote 6)
- Add 1 inch (2.5 cm) oil into a wok (or deep heavy pot) and heat over high heat until the oil reaches 350 to 370 degrees F (about 180 C). Place a strainer on a bowl (or cooling rack on a baking tray) and set it nearby the stove.
- Fry spring rolls in small batches of 5 to 7. Fry until the bottom side turns pale golden. Flip and continue to fry, until both sides are golden. Transfer the rolls to the strainer to drain and render the extra oil. When the next batch of rolls is cooked, move the ones from the strainer to a plate. Continue cooking the rest of the rolls.
- Serve the rolls with the homemade dipping sauce.
Reheat leftover egg rolls
- Place leftover egg rolls on a metal baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake at 350 F (180 C) until the rolls are warmed up (You don’t need to preheat the oven). It takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Choose good frying oil with a high smoke point such as peanut oil, sunflower oil, or corn oil. If you use a thermometer to monitor the oil temperature, you can also use canola oil, walnut oil, or grapeseed oil. They have slightly lower smoking points, but are still acceptable for this application.
- I found that fattier ground turkey generates very good results. You can use ground chicken as an alternative.
- Ground pork will add a very nice flavor to the egg rolls. If you want to skip it, make sure you use ground turkey or chicken that contains a high percentage of fat.
- I cooked the meat and vegetables at the same time, because I used a large skillet to make sure the ingredients were evenly cooked. If you are using a small skillet, or want to double the recipe, you should cook the meat and vegetables separately.
- You might be tempted to add more filling. I suggest you keep the filling small, less than 2 tablespoons, unless you’re using large egg roll wrappers. The filling in this recipe is very flavorful. You can make better looking rolls by keep the filling small, plus they won’t fall apart during the cooking.
- If you have a few egg roll wrappers left in the end, do not put them back into the freezer (you won’t remember to use them unless you’re making egg rolls again the next day). And do not throw them away (wasteful!). Fry these sheets after you finish frying the rolls. You can break them apart after frying, and scatter them on top of hot and sour soup, savory congee, or wonton soup (or snack on them). They’re so yummy!