Happy New Year!
Actually, it was New Year’s Day on Friday, but I was busy going out that evening. On Saturday daytime I was busy sleeping to make up for aforesaid evening out, and in the evening I iPlayered four solid hours of The Bridge, which did nothing to reset my confused body clock.
Today was a relatively normal day, during which I made some spring rolls for lunch to mark the New Year.
When I worked in Brighton, within almost easy reach of a Chinese supermarket, I used to make spring rolls using the ready made wrappers that come in packs. But I never really got into it – accessibility apart, I used to find the volumes that the wrappers arrived in problematic. As with ready made pastry, you can freeze them. However, it’s annoying having to remember to defrost them again.
Since I’ve started cooking, one of my favourite things to work with is pastry. It tastes much nicer if you make it yourself, buttery rather than greasy. You don’t have to remember to defrost it. You can make just the volume you want, without having tons left over. I also like the stretchy, silky feeling of it. But best of all is the knowledge that even if it goes wrong, you can MASH IT ALL UP WITH A BIG ROLLING PIN! and something perfectly tasty and edible will still come out of it, albeit slightly strangely shaped.
With all this in mind, I decided to research making spring roll wrappers, which after all, look like a kind of pastry. I found a variety of different methods online, some swearing simplicity, and others presenting a routine that would make Jewish ritual laws appear straightforward. There was one that I was quite attracted to, which involved MASHING IT ALL UP WITH A BIG ROLLING PIN! However, most seemed to be based around the idea that a spring roll wrapper should be very gently fried, and so the method I have come up with is as follows.
How to make spring rolls
Makes: 8 spring rolls
Ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 3/4 cup water, teaspoon of salt, some pre-cooked filling*.
Utensils: Large, flat non-stick frying pan, “one-cal” cooking oil spray, pastry brush (preferably silicone?), thin plastic spatula.
Method: Mix the flour, water and salt. The result should look like the batter you make on Pancake Day. Heat the pan on low-medium. It’s ready when you spray one-cal onto it and it hisses. (I found One-cal weird stuff when I first started using it, but now I ignore its similarity to WD-40, as I am totally sold on its magic.) Spray the whole pan with One-cal. Now use the brush to start painting the batter onto the pan into a square shape. I do this fairly slowly, but this is OK. By the time you have finished the square, the wrapper is more or less ready. I flip it over just to dry the other side out, but you don’t want it too dry.
Now you are ready to fold the roll up. There’s a picture here on how to do it.
The big, big advantage of making up your own wrappers is that when they are freshly made, they are nice and soft. So you can wrap each one as it comes off the pan, and this makes things very easy – from the pack, you have to be careful not to let them dry out.
* You can put anything you want in the filling – I use whatever I have to hand out of: onions, carrots, prawns, chicken, spring onions, beansprouts. The only things you have to put in to make it taste authentic are: soy sauce, garlic, some sort of spice – Chinese 5 spice is ideal, but mixed spice is fine.
When you have finished making the wrappers, you can cover the bottom of your nice big pan up with oil and turn the heat up high. The oil is ready when you drop in some unfortunate morsel and it sizzles. Fry the spring rolls each side until they are brown and crispy.
After lunch, I phoned my mum to say Happy New Year, and to tell her about my spring rolls. My mum reminisced a bit about how her mum taught her how to roll them up, and how they used to buy packets of wrappers to do this.
I remember doing this with my mum and grandma once. I’m far from the most physically co-ordinated/confident person in the world and, being convinced that this was another thing I’d get wrong, I was too tentative with it and rolled it up far too loosely. Whereupon my mum told me I was no good at it and that it would be easier for her to do it herself. Something which I have subconsciously held against her for years as a symbol of all that was wrong with my childhood! It’s only remembering this now that I see it from the other point of view – with a family sized bundle of wrappers to fold up, it’s no wonder she was in a hurry.
I do sometimes think about how when we are children, the smallest remark can discourage us. And yet as adults, sensibly calibrating how much we praise our own children against how realistically we want them to look at the results of their own endeavours sometimes seems totally impossible.