As someone who, for decades, wrote about "real" ethnic food in Chicago, I admit to snobbishly shunning the cuisine upon which my ancestors built their fortune. But if someone who spent the first third of her life in China can embrace it, so can I.
These recipes may not be ancient Chinese secrets, but they do reflect popular products of Chinese ingenuity.
According to author Andrew Coe, who wrote "Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States," the egg roll was likely invented in New York sometime in the early 1930s. One of the chefs who claimed the honor, Henry Low, even included an egg roll recipe in his 1938 book "Cook at Home in Chinese." According to Coe, the recipe included "bamboo shoots, roast pork, shrimp, scallions, water chestnuts, salt, MSG, sugar and pepper," a much more luxurious mix than the "cabbage, flecked with bits of pork and carrot for color," that "rose to dominate the restaurant tables and freezer sections."
With the Gos' recipe, many of those luxurious fillings have been restored -- and Fanny Go encourages home cooks to add just about anything they want as long as it's chopped small, fully cooked and drained of most moisture.
During Lunar New Year celebrations -- which start Feb. 10 -- it's customary, in China, to serve visiting family and friends delicate spring rolls to welcome the next season. But if you live someplace where February doesn't feel much like spring, a plump, sturdy American egg roll could be just as welcome. And now that the Cantonese-American egg roll has -- like Go -- thrived through more than eight decades, it's probably safe to say that it has earned a place as a tradition of its own.
Prep: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook: 2 minutes per batch
Makes: 12-16 egg rolls
Note: This recipe is adapted from the one Fanny Go has made for decades. Look for barbecued pork in Chinese barbecue houses such as Sun Wah BBQ (5039 N. Broadway) and Hon Kee (1064 W. Argyle St.) in Uptown or BBQ King House (2148 S. Archer Ave.) or Wing Chan BBQ (2157 S. China Place) in Chinatown. You also can make it by marinating approximately 2-inch-wide sections of pork shoulder/butt in store-bought char sui sauce overnight and then roasting in a 350 degree oven on a rack over a pan lined with foil until done. Go suggests several extra ingredients that can be stirred into the filling; see the list and suggested amounts below. (The number of egg rolls made will depend on how much filling used per piece and any extra ingredients.)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
2 cups julienned Chinese barbecued pork
10 cups shredded green cabbage (about 1 large cabbage), blanched, squeezed dry in a dish towel
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt