Recipe: vietnamese fried spring rolls (cha gio)
All signs point to “Back to School”. Crested Butte seemed to be emptying out this past weekend and our trail run Monday morning was particularly devoid of the usual summer gamut of hikers, runners, and bikers. We are now back home in the Front Range, navigating around freshmen and their parents as they arrive at the university. Folks are wrapping up their summer vacations and the commuter buses will be running at capacity once again. We spied a single aspen that had gone gold amidst a sea of green on our drive from Crested Butte to Nederland. Someone always jumps the gun, but fall is not far off for the mountains where splashes of red and yellow are already dotting the understory like little jewels. Speaking of little jewels, we’re seeing many wild berries ripening in the high country, too!
my favorites: huckleberries
The berries I find in the mountains are precious to me. No one tends to these plants. No one waters them. No one protects them from pests. No one throws blankets over them when there is an overnight freeze. And yet these wild and hardy plants produce the most intensely flavored little fruits. Treasures. When you explore the mountains year-round, you gain an appreciation for the struggles that all mountain life endures – especially when you pop a perfectly sweet and tart sun-warmed berry into your mouth. It is a short-lived berry season. The approach of fall looms large as my mind turns back to the kitchen, where it is starting to feel comfortable enough to cook. Let’s make some Vietnamese spring rolls or cha gio.
ground pork, shrimp, carrot, bean thread (cellophane) noodles, salt, pepper, egg, garlic, shallot, fish sauce, rice paper
While I love fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, I am a huge sucker for crisp fried things. That’s probably part of my motivation to keep active! The first time I had the fried Vietnamese spring rolls, was when our Vietnamese server misunderstood my order for grilled pork bun (rice noodle vermicelli) and brought me the grilled pork and egg roll combo bun instead. SO GOOD! I didn’t know such a thing existed.
chop the cellophane noodles with scissors
the filling: chopped cellophane noodles, minced shallots, shredded carrot, ground pork, chopped shrimp, fish sauce, beaten egg, salt, pepper, minced garlic
place all of the filling ingredients in a bowl
mix it together
It took several years for me to muster the guts to make this recipe at home. I wasn’t sure I wanted the knowledge because I might make them all the time and then I’d have to go double duty on my Ass Reduction Plan (ARP). Luckily, I loathe dealing with cleaning up after frying, so I can stick to my regular ARP. But these spring rolls are definitely worth making because they are easy and delicious.
dip the rice paper in warm water
spread a tablespoon of filling close to one edge
fold the nearest edge over the filling
tuck in the sides and roll it up
My biggest issue was getting the skins to brown. The trick to not getting them super oily is to fry them on low heat. And don’t toss them in all at once either. The skins stick together when you do that. Instead, drop one or two (but you have to supervise the two so they don’t stick to one another) into the oil for about 30 seconds. At that point, they should be non-sticky, and you can add another one or two. It’s a pain, but the sticking will drive you mad.
wrapped and ready to fry
draining fried spring rolls on paper towels
serve hot with rice vermicelli, lettuce leaves, and nuoc cham
Shortly after I had my first fried spring rolls accidentally added to my bun, I learned that they could be ordered as an appetizer. I love them both ways, as long as there is ample nuoc cham for dipping or dousing. My spring rolls were crisp and chewy on the outside and the filling was perfectly savory and delicious. We didn’t consume an entire batch in one sitting, which led me to discover that they refrigerate well. Reheat the spring rolls in a moderate oven for five or so minutes until crisp. That way, you can enjoy them all week long!
as an appetizer
wrap the spring roll with rice vermicelli in lettuce and dip in nuoc cham
Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls Cha Gio
1 oz. dried mung bean (cellophane) noodles
6 oz. (about 1 cup) ground pork
2 oz. raw shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and minced
1 oz. crab meat, coarsely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup (about 1) carrot, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp salt, to taste
1 small egg, lightly beaten, you’ll use half
24 sheets of Vietnamese rice paper (about 8.5 inches in diameter)
rice vermicelli, rehydrated
several green leaf or butter lettuce leaves
1/2 cup nuoc cham, see recipe below
2 limes, juice of
2 tbsps brown sugar
4 tbsps fish sauce (I like Three Crabs brand)
4 cloves garlic, minced
chile-garlic paste to taste (or finely sliced hot chiles)
1/2 cup water
Make the nuoc cham: Whisk together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Make the spring rolls: Boil 3 cups of water. Soak the dried mung bean noodles in the hot water for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain the noodles and use scissors to cut them into 1-inch pieces. Combine the noodles, pork, shrimp, crab (optional), carrot, garlic, black pepper, fish sauce, salt, and half the beaten egg together in a medium bowl and mix together. Clear a work surface to roll the spring rolls. Fill a wide (wide enough to fit the rice paper sheets) shallow vessel with warm water. Dip the rice paper quickly in the warm water (don’t soak it, just dip it). Set the paper on your work surface and place a tablespoon of filling close to the edge of the paper, but not at the very edge. Fold the little edge of rice paper over the filling, tuck the sides over the filling to form a 3-inch wide piece, then roll the spring roll up. Repeat until you have used up the filling. Heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-low heat until hot (about 340°F). Fry the spring rolls in a couple of batches. You will want to fry one for about 30 seconds before adding a second one because the skins are very sticky at first. Add them one at a time like this and then fry until golden brown. Mine never got to golden brown, but I called it good after 15 minutes. Drain the spring rolls on paper towels and serve with rice vermicelli, lettuce leaves, and nuoc cham for dipping. Makes 24.
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