Born and bred in southern China, Fanny Go did not grow up eating egg rolls.
Family meals in her part of Guangdong province were dominated by rice, greens, preserved vegetables and morsels of meat.
But ever since she and her late husband Tom decided to whip up a batch for a block party 45 years ago in Chicago, these chubby, stubbly, golden cylinders have become a family – and neighborhood – tradition.
“My parents would make as many as 500 for people at the block party to eat and take home,” says the Gos’ eldest daughter, Jean. “They knew that food always brought people together.”
Like Fanny Go, who came to the U.S. in the early ’60s, the egg roll represents a 20th century meeting of two cultures. Though dim sum chefs in Hong Kong produce a similar snack called a spring roll, the egg roll, as we know it, is a creation of early Chinese-American restaurateurs who used local ingredients to create Chinese-ish foods that would appeal to American diners.
One of the restaurateurs who helped popularize the egg roll was my grandfather, Harry Eng, whose nephew, Tom Go, worked as a manager in the family’s downtown Chicago chop suey palaces for decades. Tom Go based his egg roll recipe on the appetizers that proved such a hit with the restaurants’ clientele.
Today Fanny Go, 87, carries on the Chinese-American tradition by making the savory treats for parties and family gatherings.
During Lunar New Year celebrations – which began Sunday – 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.
½ 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
½ cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Extras, see list below
12 to 16 large (7-by-7-inch) egg roll wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, peanut oil or lard for frying
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ cup boiled shrimp chopped into dime-size pieces
½ cup soaked, squeezed and thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
½ cup julienned and well- drained bamboo shoots
¼ cup thinly sliced water chestnuts
½ cup bean sprouts
For the filling, heat the peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat until pourable, adding 1 tablespoon peanut oil if needed to get the proper consistency. Allow to cool slightly. Combine the pork, cabbage, onions, sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and any of the optional extra ingredients in a very large bowl until thoroughly blended. Hands work best to do this. Pour cooled, but still liquid, peanut butter into the mixture; mix thoroughly.
Cut off 1 inch from each of the corners of the wrappers for easier rolling. Place stack in front of you with one corner pointing toward you. Place a handful (about ¼ cup) of filling near the bottom corner; roll corner over the filling, tightly rolling up to just over half way. Fold in side corners snugly; continue rolling until there are 2 inches of wrapper left. Brush some egg wash over the final corner; continue rolling over it to seal the egg roll.
When all egg rolls are rolled, heat oil or lard in a heavy pan or wok until it reaches 350 degrees. Fry egg rolls, in batches, until golden brown; drain in a paper towel-lined pan.
Eat while hot, dipped in duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce or hot mustard. Makes 12-16 rolls.
Per egg roll: 277 calories, 10g fat, 2g saturated fat, 25mg cholesterol, 34g carbohydrates, 12g protein, 841mg sodium, 2g fiber.