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Wraps, Chinese Style

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Dim Sum and Other Snack Foods

Summer Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(2) page(s): 24, 25, and 31

How common are finger foods in China? Not very, but they do exist even though many do eat those very foods with chopsticks. Recently, more of them are consumed as finger foods. Chinese foods are wrapped for one reason or another, the primary one is for texture, an item very important to the Chinese. There are many different kinds of food wrapped or rolled in something. Most of these are grain foods or vegetable leaves, a very few are protein foods such as egg, there are some wrapped in poultry skin and some wrapped in fat, caul fat to be specific.

When westerners think of wrapping in vegetable leaves, stuffed cabbage comes to mind. If you were Chinese, and thinking of vegetable leaves, thoughts might bend to Lion’s Head, a minced or ground meat dish cooked in cabbage leaves. For an item totally vegetarian, there are many mushroom dishes wrapped in lettuce leaves. On the non-vegetarian side, a minced pigeon dish is most famous and it is wrapped in lettuce leaves. Wrappings or packages are made using lotus leaves, bean curd skin, hair sea vegetable, seaweed sheets that the Japanese call nori, and many others. Stuffings can be vegetarian or not, that is a cook’s choice.

Flour and water made into a dough wrapper is another common wrapping for foods. Mexicans think tacos, while Chinese thoughts go to egg rolls and spring rolls, and similarly wrapped foods. There are many kinds of dumplings made in all sorts of wrappers, many are called pi or skins. And there are the shao bing or flat breads that are split and stuffed with any number of items from Peking duck and other meats to vegetable or vegetable and meat mixtures.

Omelets are also wrappers to the Chinese; they can be stuffed with vegetable mixtures from bean sprouts to mushrooms, and fish and seafood combinations with or without vegetables. Wrappers hold shrimp and crab pastes or pieces of seafood, soft egg mixtures, even meat strips and/or finely chopped meats. Poultry skin and meat skin such as from a leg of lamb or ham can be used as a wrapping. Some of these skins keep some of the meat and bone and wrap around that. When on the bone and if poultry, usually wing and leg bones remain, the bird stuffed and reshaped, then skewered together, and steamed or steamed and then deep-fried. Off the frame, these skins are also stuffed and steamed or just fried, or both.

All of the above and other wrapped foods are most often cut into pieces, if large. They get to the mouth using chop sticks. But, as was already said, nowadays, many of these are held in the fingers and popped into the mouth whole if some piece or pieces are bitten off then chewed. Formal meals require popping an entire piece into the mouth all at once.

At formal restaurant meals, hot towels are given before one starts a meal to freshen up and clean fingers and hands. After foods expected to be hand held, new towels are provided. Lower class establishments find their clientele using the edges of the tablecloths and/or their sleeves. Classy this is not!

So wrapped foods were and still are eaten with or without chop sticks, and that means with or without using ones fingers. Look around at meals and you may notice patrons using soup spoon and chopsticks in tandem. That is another way wrapped foods make it to the mouth; the food sits on the ceramic soup spoon, and the chopsticks act as helpers. Most, but not all, wrapped foods are considered snack foods. But, some do grace formal banquet tables.

Over the years, this magazine has included many wrapped foods in various articles. There is even one in this issue in the Newman News and Notes column. It is called Fish Rolls, and the wrappers in this recipe are exceptionally thin slices of fish. There are a few others in different issues of Flavor and Fortune; you might want to seek them and others out. Try the Lamb Wraps in Volume 5(1) on page 12, the Loin’s Head with Crab Meat in Volume 5(3) on pages 20 and 21, Mongolian Pancakes stuffed with Meat in Volume 7(1) on page 24, Honey-filled Flat Bread in Volume 10(2) on page 37, the Bean curd Rolls in Volume 8(4) on page 10, and the Steamed Pork Wrap in Volume 5(1) on page 8. And there are others.

Past issue less than six years old are available for purchase, earlier articles and their recipes already on the website. As copies are sold, more will be appearing there, but it is a slow and an expensive process, so maintain patience, please; or make donations to speed the process. Do check the website for that and other information. For this moment, here are some for immediate enjoyment.
Steamed Cabbage Rolls
12 leaves of Chinese cabbage
1/2 pound pork
1/2 pound shrimp, minced
6 black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed, and minced
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon coarsely ground dried fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon corn oil
3 Tablespoons fried shallots or onions
1. Boil water and immerse leaves only until they start to soften, then drain and remove.
2. Gently mix pork, minced shrimp, minced mushrooms, cornstarch, soy sauce, egg, and ground fennel, and divide mixture in twelve parts.
3. Take one part meat mixture and roll in a cabbage leaf, bottom to top, folding in the sides before the first roll. Repeat until all are rolled.
4. Oil a shallow bowl and place the twelve rolls seam side down. Steam over boiling water for ten minutes, then remove and place rolls on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the fried shallots and serve.
Lotus-leaf Wrapped Rice
6 lotus leaves
1 pair Chinese sausages, steamed for two minutes, then diced
1 piece (about six ounces) Chinese bacon, steamed for four minutes, then diced
6 black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed, and diced
1/2 pound shrimp, each one cut in half
1/4 cup frozen green peas, defrosted
2 Tablespoons corn oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
4 cups cooked rice, at room temperature
1. Soak lotus leaves for two hours, then drain.
2. Mix diced sausages, Chinese bacon, diced mushrooms, shrimp, and peas, and set aside.
3. Heat oil and fry garlic for one minute, then add to the meat mixture. 4. Gently stir in soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground pepper. Then mix in the rice, and divide into six portions. Wrap each rice portion in a lotus leaf, and put on steam-proof plate, seam side down.
5. Steam over boiling water for thirty minutes, then remove. Using a scissor, cut each lotus leaf package in half, and serve.
Crab Wrappped in Caul Fat
6 ounces crab meat, all cartilage removed, and minced
6 ounces minced or ground pork
2 Tablespoons frozen peas, defrosted
2 Tablespoons minced scallion, white part only
12 quail eggs, hard-cooked, and peeled
3 large pieces caul fat, each cut into four pieces, each about six-inches square or round
6 Tablespoons flour
2 cups oil for deep frying
1. Mix crab and pork, peas, and scallions and divide into twelve portions, wrapping each around a quail egg.
2. Next, wrap each of these in a piece of caul fat, and then roll these in flour, dusting off any excess flour.
3. Heat oil and deep fry these caul-wrapped balls, four at a time until golden, repeat until all are fried, then serve.
Shrimp Wrapped in Tofu Skin
3 sheets died tofu skin, soaked for three minutes
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, veins removed, and minced coarsely
6 canned, drained water chestnuts, minced coarsely
3 Tablespoons minced fresh coriander
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chili paste with garlic
1 teaspoon corn oil
1. Cut each tofu sheet into four squares, about five inches on a side.
2. Mix minced shrimp, water chestnuts, coriander, ginger, sesame oil, and chili paste with garlic and divide this mixture into twelve parts.
3. Put one part of the shrimp mixture in the center of a piece of tofu skin and fold the sides in and then the ends in; and gently flatten this package.
4. Oil a heat-proof plate and put these packages seam side down on it. Steam over boiling water for eight minutes, then serve.
Lucky Sea Vegetable Rolls
1/2 cup hair vegetable, soaked in warm water for an hour, then drained
1 cup potato, peeled, diced, cooked, then mashed and cooled
1/2 cup carrot, peeled and diced, and cooked for ten minutes, then drained
4 water chestnuts, minced
1 stalk Chinese celery, minced
1 egg white
2 Chinese black mushrooms, stems removed and ground fine in a blender
1 teaspoon Chinese brown slab sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1.Drain hair vegetable well, and divide it into four parts and spread it out evenly and thinly on four sheets of plastic wrap. Each should be about five inches square.
2.Mix mashed potato, carrots, water chestnuts, Chinese celery, egg white, mushroom powder, brown sugar, and cornstarch and then divide this mixture into four parts. Make a cigar-shaped roll, four inches long with each of them and put in the center of each batch of hair vegetable.
3. Using the plastic wrap, enclose the potato mixture on all sides rolled in the hair vegetable. Squeeze gently to remove any pockets of air.
4. Steam over boiling water for twelve minutes, then remove and discard the plastic wrap.
5. Cut each roll in half on a sharp angle, stand in a small bowl wth sides, and serve.
Mango Magic
6 spring roll wrappers made of rice
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into long stick-shaped pieces
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup blanched almond slices
1/2 cup flour mixed with one-quarter cup of water, to make a batter
1 cup oil, for deep frying
1. Take one spring roll and brush with a little sesame oil near one edge, Put one-sixth of the mango strips about one inch in from the opposite edge and sprinkle one teaspoon almond slices over the mango pieces.
2. Fold edges in, leaving the one with sesame oil open, and then roll the spring roll toward that end, seeing that it gets sealed at that oiled edge.
3. Slowly heat the corn oi. Dip the roll into the batter and then roll it into or sprinkle more almond pieces on it, then deep fry until a light golden color. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the other spring roll sheets.
4. Cut every roll in half on an angle, and stand them up in a circle on a serving plate. If there are any left over almond slices sprinkle them about, and then serve.

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