I didn’t invent this recipe. One of the law school girl friend parties I went to over the Christmas holidays back in 2013 was hosted by my friend, Sol. Among the dishes she served was fried spring rolls with tinapa (smoked fish) and itlog na maalat (salted duck eggs) filling made by her husband, Deo. They were truly delectable.
For non-Filipinos, tinapa is traditionally eaten with rice with a side salad of chopped tomatoes and salted eggs. It’s an all-day breakfast dish and the best way to enjoy it is to have a piece of fish and a small portion of the tomato and salted egg salad with every spoonful. You get a flavor explosion with the smokiness of the fish, the creaminess of the salted eggs and the crunchy tartness of the tomatoes.
Salted duck eggs
Making salted eggs came from the Chinese and they’ve been making them since the sixth century. If you’re familiar with the history of Southeast Asia and the Philippines, you might have come across something about the locals trading with the Chinese long before the European colonizers came.
In the Philippines, making and eating salted eggs predates the arrival of the Spaniards. Traditionally, mallard duck eggs, the same kind used for making balut (you know, that delicacy with immature duck) and penoy, are used for making itlog na maalat or salted duck eggs.
Salted duck eggs are sold cooked — hard-boiled to be more precise. The red color of the shells isn’t natural, of course. The shells are dyed to distinguish them from fresh eggs.
Smoked fish (tinapa)
Tinapa is the generic name for smoked fish in the Philippines. Tinapang bangus (smoked milkfish) is the most common but other varieties of fish are cooked into tinapa too. The process of cooking tinapa involves hot smoking. So, by the end of smoking time, the fish is fully cooked. Just discard the skins, heads, tails and bones of the fish, flake the flesh and use for the spring roll filling.
Spring roll wrappers come in different sizes
The wrappers used here just the regular kind that you will find in the frozen section of most groceries (Asian groceries in case you live outside Asia).
Small ones are ideal for this recipe. Because there is fresh tomato in the filling which contains a hefty amount of water, it is best to keep the spring rolls small with only a teaspoonful or so of filling. This helps prevents the spring rolls from turning soggy too fast as they cool.
For more about spring rolls wrappers, wrapping, storing and reheating, see the following post.
The English-speaking world calls them spring rolls although this Asian delicacy has nothing to do with spring. They are served fried or non-fried and fillings vary. The wrappers vary too depending on which part of Asia you are in.
Deep fry the spring rolls
Please do not be tempted to shallow fry the spring rolls. Deep frying is best to ensure that the wrapper is cooked evenly. Do not overcrowd the pan. That means the spring rolls have to be in a single layer during frying. If they are stacked one on top of the other, the pan is overcrowded.
Smoked fish, salted eggs and tomato spring rolls
- 2 salted eggs - shelled
- 2 plump tomatoes - halved, seeds discarded and cut into cubes smaller than a quarter inch
- 1 bird’s eye chili - (optional) finely chopped
- 1 small bunch scallions - finely sliced
- 1 small handful Thai basil - torn into small pieces
- 2 tinapang bangus (smoked milkfish)
- 20 small spring roll wrappers
- cups cooking oil - for deep frying
- rice - to serve
- Halve the shelled salted eggs, dump into a mixing bowl and press with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Add the tomatoes, chili (if using) scallions and basil.
- Discard the skin, head and tail of the fish. Flake the flesh.
- Add to the salted eggs and vegetables in the bowl.
- Toss lightly but throughly until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Wrap one heaping teaspoon of the filling with the spring roll wrapper. Repeat until all the filling has been used.
- In a fryer, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- Fry the spring rolls (in batches if necessary) until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
- Half fill bowls with rice, top with spring rolls and serve, optionally, with mangoes and cucumber on the side.