Afternoon at the Improv

Sometimes, when things don’t work quite as planned, it becomes necessary to improvise to reach the goal.  Such was the case recently, when I attempted to prepare the dish pictured above, Ji Si Chang, or Chicken and Vegetable Rice Rolls, from Andrea Nguyen’s latest cookbook, Asian Dumplings.

The filling, a mixture of chicken, shitake mushrooms, carrots, celery and scallions, was delicious.  The savory chicken and mushrooms pair well with the sweet carrots and the scallions’ bite.  Even better when all is enrobed in a silky and slightly salty combination of soy and oyster sauces.

The challenge came when I attempted to create the rice-flour sheet meant to wrap each portion.  Despite repeated efforts, I just couldn’t seem to make it work.  The resulting wrapper sheet always was either too thick, too thin, or too crumbly to be of any use.  This is no fault of the recipe; Ms. Nguyen’s always are spot-on.  I just didn’t have the proper equipment to make a good run at it.

At this point, a decision was necessary.  The filling, as described above, turned out very well; the wrapper, not so much.   What to do?  One possibility was to present the stir-fry (which is how the filling is prepared) as a standalone recipe.  This seemed to be dishonest, though, as it isn’t what I set out to do, and it smacked of quitting halfway through the game.

Instead, the situation called for something to stand in for the rice-flour wrapper.  The rice paper used to wrap Vietnamese Spring Rolls (one of the blog’s first recipes) seemed a suitable replacement, though the local grocer didn’t always carry them.  It was worth a shot, though, so as the filling cooled, I made a desperate dash to the local grocer.  Success – rice paper wrappers save the day!

This ended up being quite an effective improvisation, as the dish preserved the thematic sprit in which Ms. Nguyen offered it originally.  Moreover, serving it as a rolled morsel allowed for it to be crowned with Chili-Garlic Sauce and sliced scallions, a superb accompaniment.  Sometimes, improvisation merely shines light on another path to success.


Ji Si Chang

(Chicken and Vegetable Rice Rolls)

  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 5 and 1/2 teaspoons canola oil (*1)
  • 1/4 cup chicken, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 pinch white pepper
  • 2 large shitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into strips
  • 2 and 1/2 inches carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 rib celery, strings removed, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 scallion, cut into matchsticks to match the celery

In a bowl, combine the salt, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, the water, a 1 teaspoon of the oil.

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