Brown Crab Meat Spring Rolls
"Autumn to winter, winter into spring,
Spring into summer, summer into fall, —
So rolls the changing year, and so we change;
Motion so swift, we know not that we move."
Dinah Maria Craik (1854)
As part of my ongoing quest to champion the brown meat that comes from a crab but that garners only a fraction of the appeal compared to the more popular white meat amongst those that eat crab, I had this idea ticking along well before this Chinese New Year came along. Truth be told, I never had my eye on when Chinese New Year would arrive but, then again, the recipe wouldn't have been ready anyway, a few iterations needing their consideration.
But we're only into week two of the new year and I'm very happy with the perhaps belated result. Particularly so because I managed to pack twice as much brown crab meat into these really rather delicious spring rolls than I had ever intended to. From an economics point of view, bear in mind that brown crab meat retails at approximately one-third of the price of white meat. And when accompanied by punchy flavours it's not only the more economical choice, but the preferable choice, given its far more assertive flavour. Of course these spring rolls could be made with white crab meat but with all the zingy flavours abounding, whilst costing three times as much, the eater might not even notice the crab!
My research very rapidly convinced me that time spent looking for the "correct" spring roll formula was time well-wasted. The formulae are myriad! Though amongst them does not present itself one in which brown crab meat takes the starring role. Could this be a first!?! I doubt it, but why burst a balloon?
Inspiration and technical advice for this recipe came initially from my go-to resource of Jeremy Pang at the School of Wok whose YouTube channel is an invaluable source of learning in culinary matters Chinese. Further ideas came from a recipe for the BBC by Ching-He Huang, a household favourite stalwart of Chinese cuisine, and a fortuitous find in the Red House Spice, whose recipe I would say forms much of the basis of the one here.
No spring rolls are complete without their dipping sauces, though these can make or break the enjoyment of a dish. But this dipping sauce, only subtly adapted from the one suggested by Red House Spice, I really believe is a maker here! And I've got neighbours who will corroborate that! I couldn't help also offering a little bowl of that ubiquitous chilli oil, though.
As mentioned above I took inspiration from a variety of sources and one thing that all have in common is how care must be taken to ensure the consistency of the filling is not too wet, for fear of causing the rolls to burst when being fried. Indeed, with brown crab meat being the focus here and having the high degree of moisture content that it does, I have developed the recipe accordingly. As well as adjusting the balance of the ingredients the recipe advocates that the brown crab meat be incorporated only while still fridge-cold and that the filling be allowed to return to fridge temperature before being rolled.
Some recipes suggest that some ingredients should be swiftly stir-fried before being included in the stuffing mixture, others seemingly don't want to lose the crunch. I am with the latter. The only ingredient in the recipe below that could be at risk of being over-crunchy (and therefore at risk of piercing the wrappers when rolled) is the carrot. Whilst I quite like to shred the carrot using a Julienne-peeler, if in doubt, just coarsely grate.
When it comes to rolling the rolls, pretty much every guide you'll find seems to give the same advice. Although I've tried my best to describe the technique in words, nothing will beat a visual demonstration and, for that, I recommend the one on YouTube by School of Wok - it certainly worked for me.
Which "glue" to seal the rolls, though, seems to be more subject to debate. It's probably fair to say that either a flour and water mix (some advocating cornflour, others all-purpose) or beaten egg (some advocating the whole egg, others just the yolk) are the most eager contenders. But wait there! If you do watch the School of Wok clip you'll find that a banana crafted so as to form an edible version of what resembles a hobbyist's glue stick is apparently an effective alternative solution! I rather like this idea but, not regularly having bananas in my kitchen, I have found that the flour-and-water and the whisked-egg "glues" work equally fine!
Although I haven't tried with this recipe, I've come to understand that, in general, spring rolls freeze extremely well if frozen immediately after rolling. It's not just the advice I have read in the various resources I've looked at in developing this particular number that leads me to suggest so, but also my experience in being given ready-to-cook spring rolls by my Filipina housekeeper on occasion. They can be cooked from frozen but the temperature of the oil probably wants to be a little higher when the rolls go in - not because they need to cook at a higher temperature, but because they will bring the temperature of the oil down rather more quickly than rolls at closer to room temperature.
Brown Crab Meat Spring Rolls
Ingredients (Makes 7-8 spring rolls)
70g carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips 2" long, or coarsely grated
50g green cabbage, very finely shredded
1 large or 2 small spring onions, sliced thinly on an acute diagonal
1 tsp grated ginger
100g rice vermicelli noodles (weight after soaking), cut into 1-2" lengths
1 tbsp oyster sauce
½ tsp sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice
¼ tsp ground white pepper, or to taste
Pinch of salt, to taste
150g brown crab meat, fridge cold
Frozen spring roll wrappers, defrosted (15cm x 15cm are quite standard sizes)
1 egg, beaten
Sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
For the dipping sauce:
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice wine (or other white) vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
½-1 tsp sugar (quantity to taste)
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1-2 red chillies, very finely chopped (or quantity to taste)
Put all the ingredients, except the crab meat (keep in the fridge until the last minute), the spring roll wrappers and the egg, in a mixing bowl and combine well with a spoon, or preferably with your hands. Fold in the crab meat with a spoon and check and adjust the seasoning. Place the mixture in the fridge for 15 mins or so to set a little.
Meanwhile make the dipping sauce. Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside to infuse until ready to use.
To create the spring rolls, on a board, place a spring roll wrapper such that it looks like a diamond. Spoon about 3 tbsp of the stuffing mixture approximately 1½-2" away from the nearest point and shape it into a rough horizontal sausage. Fold that nearest point over the mixture toward the centre of the diamond, pressing the mixture in snuggly. Then roll wrapper until it reaches about halfway up, fold in the two sides to create a shape resembling an envelope. Roll once more then brush the far end of the diamond (which will now look like a triangle) with the beaten egg. Finish rolling and transfer the spring roll to a plate while you repeat with remaining spring rolls.
Heat the oil for deep-frying to 190°C and line a plate with kitchen paper. Carefully lower a batch of spring rolls into the oil, making sure to not overcrowd the pan, and fry for about 4 mins, turning occasionally. When crisp and golden transfer the rolls to the paper-lined plate and allow to drain - they will continue to crisp and brown. Repeat with the next batch(es) of rolls.
Serve the spring rolls with the dipping sauce or any one or more dipping sauces of your choice.
"Pork Spring Rolls", School of Wok, YouTube, accessed 9 February 2022
"Spring Rolls", Ching-He Huang, BBC, accessed 9 February 2022
"Chinese Spring Rolls (春卷), Deep-Fried or Air-Fried", Red House Spice, accessed 9 February 2022