SOME RECIPES are real naturals at a party. Like a perfect guest, they make no demands on the hostess, contribute to the conversation and make everyone feel comfortable.
Taiwanese egg rolls combine the do-it-yourself fun of the Mongolian hot pot with the easy eatability of the taco. They are the all-in-one party dish, perfect for casual entertaining. Everything is done ahead so the hostess stays cool, unharried and inscrutable. The guests do no cooking over a hot pan, they simply explore the thousands of possibilities presented by the multitude of vegetables, meats, seafoods and sauces that may be tucked into those same little steamed pancakes served with Peking duck and moo shu pork. The egg rolls may be eaten standing up at a cocktail party or sitting down at dinner.
Let me explain them a little more precisely. Several days or even weeks ahead of a party, the pancakes are made and frozen. This is the hardest part of the recipe, but most people are able to master the technique with the first batch. These pancakes, which look like flour tortillas, may be purchased at Chinese grocery stores. You will find them with the wonton skins and egg roll wrappers. They are inferior in taste to the homemade ones and easily tear when separated but may be used in a pinch. On the day before the party, five or six different vegetables are julienned and blanched. Some of the possibilities are celery, carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, cabbage, snow peas, tiger lily buds, Chinese dried mushrooms, hot red chilies and water chestnuts. They are refrigerated until the afternoon of the party. Several kinds of meat are cooked and seasoned. Some are served cold and some are served hot or lukewarm. In addition, shredded lettuce, chopped peanuts, cilantro and green onions are prepared.
Several sauces are mixed and many more are used as they come from the jar. Sometimes rice stick noodles are fried to produce exquisitely tender, crunchy bits. The meats and vegetables are arranged on a very large platter or lazy susan. Bowls of sauce surround the platter. Each guest at a sit-down dinner should be served five or six steamed pancakes wrapped in a napkin to keep them soft. At a cocktail buffet the pancakes may be kept in a bamboo steamer basket resting in an electric wok with water in it and the temperature set on low.
Each guest picks and chooses to make taste combinations that suit his palate. The more adventuresome will want to try the hot Szechuan chili paste or chili oil with their chosen meats and vegetables. This dish is meant to include the entire array of Chinese flavors at one sitting when done as described. It may be done on a smaller scale with only a few vegetables and one or two kinds of meat. TAIWANESE EGG ROLLS (8 servings)
48 Peking pancakes (recipe below)
2 cups julienned carrots
2 cups thinly sliced celery, blanched
2 cups bamboo shoots, julienned and blanched
2 cups bean sprouts, blanched
2 cups snow peas, blanched
15 large dried mushrooms, soaked and julienned
1 recipe oyster chicken (recipe follows)
1 recipe pork with ginger and garlic (recipe follows)
1 recipe string cut beef (recipe follows)
1 recipe fried shrimp (recipe follows)
4 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups cilantro leaves
2 cups chopped peanuts
2 cups scallions, minced
2 cups chopped hot red pepper
1 cup hoisin sauce (from Chinese grocery)
1 cup lemon sauce (from Chinese grocery)
1 bottle hot chili oil (from Chinese grocery)
1 can Szechuan hot chili paste
1 recipe egg roll sauce (recipe follows)
1 recipe garlic vinegar (recipe follows)
1 recipe ginger soy (recipe follows)
Make the pancakes, following the recipe below. Steam them just before serving. To cut the carrots in julienne strips, cut long diagonal slices about 1/8-inch thick. Stack three or four slices and cut in thin strips. Drop the carrots in boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and run cold water over them. Slice the celery in paper-thin slices on a diagonal. Drop in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Be sure to buy whole bamboo shoots; they come in large cans. Cut in thin julienne strips, drop into boiling salted water. Although they are already cooked during canning, the blanching improves the flavor. Wash the bean sprouts and drop into boiling salted water. Remove immediately. Frozen snow peas need no blanching. For fresh snow peas, snap off the ends and drop into boiling salted water. Remove after 1 minute. Run cold water over to keep bright color. Soak the mushrooms in hot water until quite soft. Remove the stem and discard it. Slice in the thinnest julienne strips possible. I like to add a tablespoon of soy sauce to the mushrooms for flavor. Prepare the oyster flavored chicken a day ahead. On the afternoon of the party, prepare the pork, beef and shrimp. If you wish to save a little work, a pound of picked crab may be used in place of the shrimp recipe. Shred the lettuce, and cilantro, chop the peanuts, mince the onion and chop the hot red pepper. The sauces may be prepared 2 or 3 days ahead. I like to use lotus bowls or Japanese tea bowls to serve the sauces. You may cut down on the number of sauces if you haven't enough bowls for all. Place a teaspoon or, better yet, a demitasse spoon in each bowl. Place the shredded lettuce in the center of a very large platter or lazy susan. Place the meats and seafood opposite each other, dividing the circle in quarters. It is not necessary to use all of the recipe on the platter; some may be saved for refills if the platter is small. Now make mounds of vegetables between the meats. Place the sauces around the platter. Cover with a bridge-size tablecloth until serving time.
Note: Some Chinese families have octagonal lacquer boxes which they use at New Year's for sweets. The Taiwanese egg rolls may be taken on a picnic in one of these elegant boxes. The pancakes fit in the center and a limited number of ingredients will fit around. One or two sauces are carried in small jars. Beer tastes really good with this meal, although a mellow German wine can do quite well, too. PEKING PANCAKES (Makes 24 pancakes)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups boiling water
Salad oil, for brushing tops
Stir the salt into the flour. Add the boiling water all at once. Stir well. When cool enough to handle, knead until the dough is soft and flexible. Form the dough into a long thin log. Cut the log into 12 even pieces. The easiest way to do this is to cut the log in half, then cut each half in half. Cut each of these pieces in thirds. This will give you 12 pieces. Cut each of these in half and you have 24 pieces. Cover with a dry cloth and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Place two of the pieces on a lightly floured board and, using your fingers, press them into 2-inch circles. Brush top of each circle with plenty of salad oil, then stack one circle on the other, oiled tops together.
Roll the two circles of dough into one thin pancake, about 5 inches in diameter, working from center to edge, turning the pancake several times so both sides are rolled out to the same size, making sure edges are even. Rolling and cooking them together makes them thinner than if rolled and cooked separately. There is also a difference in texture because of the oil used to keep the two pancakes separate.
In an ungreased 8-inch skillet, cook the pancake on each side 2 to 3 minutes, or until both are light brown. The top will bubble up as the pancake cooks. After removing from skillet, carefully pull each pancake apart so you are left with the two original layers.
Before serving the pancakes, reheat them in a large kettle with a tight-fitting lid. Place inverted custard cups and a little water in the bottom of kettle. Set pie plate with pancakes on top of cups. Cover and steam over simmering water until hot.
You will need to make two recipes to have enough pancakes for 8 people. I cannot recommend doubling the recipe. It is far better to make 2 batches because the dough tends to dry out before the last pancakes are made. Gentle, even rolling is essential. Too much pressure will make the two pancakes stick together. I prefer the small rolling pins sold in Japanese and Mexican stores. They are simply wooden dowels 1 inch thick and about 12 inches long. OYSTER SAUCE CHICKEN
4 cups water
1 piece ginger, size of your thumb
4 green onions
1/2 teaspoon, plus a pinch five-spice powder (from Chinese grocery)
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds chicken breasts
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (from Chinese grocery)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Put about 4 cups of water in a quart saucepan. Smash the ginger with the side of your cleaver or the bottom of a heavy pan. Do the same with the green onions. Add them to the water along with the 1/2-teaspoon five-spice powder and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken breasts and additional water if necessary to cover the chicken. Boil for 25 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cool. Remove the skin and bones and tear the meat in shreds, using your fingers. Mix the oyster sauce, honey, pinch of five-spice and sesame seeds. Pour over the chicken and refrigerate. Serve cold. PORK WITH GINGER AND GARLIC
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine (substitute dry sherry)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced very fine
4 cloves garlic, minced very fine
Pork tenderloin is available at the major grocery stores in vacuum sealed plastic packages. Remove the fat and silvery tendon. Cut in thin slices. Pound with the side of your Chinese cleaver to flatten. Cut in thin strips. Marinate the meat in the cornstarch, soy and rice wine. Mince the ginger and garlic fine. Don't try to use a food processor for this. Heat a wok or skillet until it is very hot. Add about 4 tablespoons of oil. The oil will smoke if the skillet is hot enough. Add the ginger and garlic and stir. It will be very fragrant. Add the pork and stir until it is cooked on all sides. Set aside. Serve warm or at room temperature. It may be reheated by frying. STRING CUT BEEF
1 1/2 pounds of sirloin or round steak
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine (substitute dry sherry)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Oil for frying
Place the beef in a freezer for 45 minutes to an hour. This will semi-freeze the meat and make it easier to cut in very thin slices. Cut in paper thin slices 3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide. Marinate the meat in all of the remaining ingredients, except the oil for frying, for 10 minutes or more. Heat a wok until very hot. Add about 1/4 cup oil and stir to coat the wok. Add about 1/3 of the meat and fry until well done. Remove and fry the remaining beef in the same way. Reheat near serving time. FRIED SHRIMP
1 pound medium-size shrimp, shelled
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons rice wine (substitute dry sherry)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Marinate in the remaining ingredients. Heat a wok or skillet until very hot. Add a splash of oil. Add the shrimp and stir fry until the shrimp turn pink. Remove and refrigerate until serving time. They may be heated by frying very gently. I like to substitute squid for the shrimp in this recipe. To do the squid it is necessary to tenderize the sheaths with a meat hammer, then slice them in julienne strips. Use the same marinade as for the shrimp. EGG ROLL SAUCE
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons rice wine (substitute dry sherry)
1/2 teaspoon Szechuan pepper, ground fine
Mix the ingredients in a jar. GARLIC VINEGAR
1 cup rice vinegar (no substitute)
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
Mix shortly before serving. GINGER SOY
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
Mix shortly before serving.
Notes: As mentioned before, this dish may be cut back to feed fewer people or for a less elaborate display. It may also be enlarged to nearly fill a table. You may add cucumber, seaweed, green beans, broccoli, pressed beancurd, squid, crab, canned straw mushrooms, tiger lily buds, silver fungus, cloud ears, shredded cooked duck, sliced Chinese roast pork, Chinese sausage, hot bean paste, Chinese barbecue sauce and most commercial Chinese pickles.