Lumpia have the three qualities that's helped street food carve out a thriving niche in the culinary world: portability, convenience and variety. Usually described as their version of spring rolls, Filipino lumpia are ground meat and veggies packed neatly inside a simple egg-and-cornstarch wrapper that's shallow-fried to golden-brown goodness.
Lumpia are Social, but Frozen are Easy
Lumpia are traditionally made in large quantities by many hands, and it's as much about socializing as food preparation. That's not always an option, though, so for the sake of convenience they're often bought and sold in frozen form. Lumpia's compact size and ingredients freeze well, and frozen lumpia take just a couple minutes longer to cook than their freshly made brethren. The best frozen lumpia can rival the homemade kind in quality.
Frying On the Stovetop
Fill a straight-sided saute pan with 1/2 inch of oil. Set the heat to medium-high and let the oil heat up until it reaches about 375 degrees Fahrenheit when tested with a thermometer. If you don't have a frying thermometer, drop a 1-inch cube of white bread in the oil and time how long it takes for it to brown. A 1-inch cube of white bread turns golden brown in 60 seconds at 350 to 375 F, exactly where you want it when frying. If the bread browns in less than a minute, or takes longer than a minute, adjust the burner so it crisps up in 60 seconds exactly
You can also put the end of a chopstick or handle of a wood spoon in hot oil to check if it's hot enough to fry in. If the oil bubbles steadily after you place the chopstick in it, it's good to go. If it bubbles quickly and erratically, lower the heat a bit, and if it bubbles slowly and occasionally, increase the heat a bit.
Frying Your Lumpia
Remove the lumpia from the freezer and unwrap them. Only take enough lumpia from the freezer that you can fry in the pan at one time while giving them about 3/4 inch between each other. Grasp the frozen lumpia one at a time with tongs and place them in the oil. Use the tongs to keep the lumpia away from each other in the oil during the first 30 seconds of frying to prevent them from sticking to each other.
Scoop a little oil in a 2-ounce ladle or large spoon and pour it over the lumpia while cooking. Spoon-basting speeds cooking up a bit and helps shallow-frying foods cook evenly. Fry the lumpia until golden brown all over and heated through, about 7 minutes, Remove them from the oil one at a time, using tongs, and place them on a plate lined with paper towels.
Baking Your Lumpia
Heat the oven to 425 F and remove the lumpia from the freezer. Arrange the lumpia on a cookie sheet or in a shallow baking dish, spaced about 1 inch apart. Place the lumpia in the oven on the middle rack. Heat the lumpia until the wrapper turns golden brown and crisps and the internal temperature reaches 165 F, about 12 to 15 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer lengthwise in side of a lumpia to check the temperature.
A Couple of Final Points
- Don't use a kitchen thermometer to check the temperature of oil unless it reaches at least halfway up the probe, where it registers the temperature.
- If you let lumpia thaw before frying them, they get soggy and you can't salvage them.
- Insert a probe thermometer in the side of a lumpia lengthwise and check their temperature. You should heat frozen food to at least 165 F. If thethey measure low, place them back in the oil and cook them until they reach that temperature and are hot and steaming when you break one open.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.