There’s a sort of unwritten and unspoken code among chefs that as long as you give credit where credit is due, sharing a recipe is no big deal. Most of us have no problem. Note that I said most.
There are a few exceptions. One restaurant where I was co-executive chef actually made me sign a contract that I would never reveal their “secret” recipes for any dishes on the menu. That was ludicrous because all (not most) of the dishes were fairly well-known and recipes for each abounded in many sources. The owner was especially concerned about what he alleged were family recipes brought over from “the Old Country.”
We debunked that myth when a supply truck brought in manufactured frozen versions of the supposed secret family recipes.
Then there was the time I visited a pan-Asian restaurant in Scottsdale where the eclectic menu included a very interesting dessert. Essentially, it was a sweetened and filled eggroll. I really enjoyed it, so I asked the owner if the chef would mind sharing the recipe.
You would have thought I had asked for the secret formula for the atomic bomb. There was a crash of pans and dishes in the kitchen and a lot of screaming and yelling in Chinese (I think). But the answer was a firm, “No. The chef does not share his recipes.”
So I ordered a second one and took it apart. I’ll share the recipe I figured out at the end of this column.
The thing is that egg roll and won ton wrappers are two of the most versatile products available, usually in the produce department of your supermarket. Essentially, someone has gone to the trouble of making pasta sheets for you. And from those pasta sheets you can create ravioli and other occidental style meals with a classic Asian component.
The key to understanding how to use egg roll or won ton wrappers is that they have virtually no flavor. And it becomes your job to add flavor on, to, or in them. Then they must be baked, boiled or fried.
If you’re making ravioli, here’s one way to flavor a won ton wrapper. Take two of them and place one basil leaf or a sage leaf in between. Press together with a rolling pin. Put the filling of your choice on another won ton wrapper, place the pressed wrapper(s) on top and, after following traditional ravioli-making instructions, voila, you’ve got extra flavor in your ravioli. It’s a stunning look, so serve the sauce separately so everyone can see the shadowbox effect.
That’s a savory way to use the wrappers. Now here’s the sweet one I mentioned earlier:
And just for fun, let’s call it Chef Jim’s Banana-Pecan Egg Rolls
1 package egg roll wrappers
2 bananas, not overripe
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted
Toast the pecans in a hot dry sauté pan, being careful not to burn them. Set the toasted nuts aside. Slice the bananas thinly.
Melt the butter. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Place one egg roll wrapper in the “diamond” shape. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Place two or three banana slices just below the center of the wrapper and sprinkle with some of the toasted nuts.
Take the bottom point (the one closest to you) of the wrapper and gently pull it over the banana-nut mixture. Pull in both sides and finish rolling to the top point. If the butter has dried, brush the top point with a little more butter to help seal the spring roll. Place seam-side down on a cookie sheet or shallow baking tray. Continue making the rolls. Brush each spring roll with more melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
You can either bake the spring rolls in a 350 degree oven or sauté them lightly in butter. They’re done when the roll is golden brown.
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