For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m half Vietnamese. Which means I grew up not only eating all sorts of American food, but lots of fantastic Vietnamese cuisine; my mother and grandmother are both excellent cooks, and so I was lucky to have had such exposure to a world of wonderfully fresh and (for some) exotic foods. Growing up my comfort foods were pho, banh xeo, and cha gio (pronounced sorta like CHA-YAW).
Lots of people are now familiar with cha gio, that Vietnamese riff on a fried, meat-filled roll, like the ubiquitous Chinese egg roll or Filipino lumpia. I find the Vietnamese version, when done well, far superior to any other style of egg roll, and it’s not only because I’ve grown up eating them. Cha gio are generally lighter and crisper than egg rolls; the filling is a mix of ground pork, shrimp, crab, and veggies, the wrapper is a light, super-crisp fried rice paper, and the general practice of wrapping the roll in fresh lettuce makes the whole eating experience fresh, lively, and balanced.
|Crispy logs of perfection.|
This recipe for cha gio I’ve been tinkering with over the past few years. It’s very close to the recipe I used at my restaurant Red Ginger Pan-Asian Kitchen in Half Moon Bay. Except there I used ground chicken instead of ground pork as part of the filling. Also, although this recipe uses bean sprouts in the filling, I’ve occasionally substituted shredded jicama or daikon radish. The truth is that there is no “One True Recipe”, and if you want to tinker with this recipe, have at it! Maybe throw in a little minced halibut instead of crab? Sure. You want ground turkey instead of pork? Why the hell not? Can’t find wood ear mushrooms? Sub with shiitakes, no prob. Go for it, make it your own.
1/3 pound medium shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 pound fresh crabmeat (Dungeness or blue crab)
1/3 cup chopped fresh wood ear mushrooms (or reconstituted dried wood ear mushrooms)
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped bean sprouts
3 small shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce (preferably Three-Crabs brand)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Using your (washed) hands, mix all of the above until well-combined.
You will also need:
rice paper rounds for wrapping spring rolls
a little bit of sugar
nuoc cham dipping sauce, recipe below
boston, bibb, or leaf lettuce, washed and dried
In a large bowl add some warm water, enough to immerse the rice paper all over. Whisk into the water two tablespoons of granulated sugar. To roll the spring rolls, moisten a sheet of rice paper in the warm water, shake off the excess water, and lay on a cutting board. Dab excess moisture off the rice paper with a clean kitchen cloth. In about ten or fifteen second the rice paper will be pliable.
Put about a quarter cup of filling near (about a half-inch away from) the bottom edge of the moistened rice paper in a pile roughly three inches long. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, and then fold over the sides, creating a packet. Carefully roll the bottom up and over, like you would a burrito, and gently squeezing the filling as you do so, to reduce any air pockets in the finished product. Roll until the package to the top edge, completing the roll. Place finished roll on a sheet pan lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Continue with the rest of the filling.
Heat a fryer or oil in a pot to 350 degrees. Fry spring rolls in batches until golden brown. Eat while hot and serve with dipping sauce, fresh lettuce, and mint. Wrap hot cha gio in lettuce with a little mint tucked in. So delicious!!!!!
|The rice paper wrapper gets shatteringly crisp!|
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup cider vinegar or rice vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/4 cup finely grated carrot
Combine all the ingredients and shake well in a small jar or whisk vigorously until the sugar dissolves. Refrigerate until ready for use.