It’s still summer and in most of the country it’s still hot as blazes! Goi Cuon is probably my favorite hot weather appetizer. The classic Vietnamese fresh roll is known by several names. My mother calls them salad rolls, which is what I grew up calling them. I’ve seen them on menus billed as spring rolls, which is confusing since many people call cha gio, the famous crispy fried Vietnamese “egg roll” a spring roll (I do). And yet another set of people call them summer rolls, which is what I call them when I’m not referring to them by their Vietnamese name. Right now, at any rate, when temperatures are in the 90s and I want something cool and refreshing, they are most definitely summer rolls.
|Summer rolls, goi cuon, salad rolls, what have ya?|
They’re not too hard to make, but many people who are unfamiliar with using rice paper can be stymied by the pliable, sticky, easily-torn wrapper. I say, go for it. Rice paper rounds are cheap! Practice a little, don’t be afraid to mess up, don’t expect perfection the first go-round. Honestly, rolling the goi cuon is not the hardest part of the recipe. Assembling all your ingredients is much more time consuming. Also, deciding what you want in your roll can be tricky, since you can roll pretty much anything you want on the inside! Well, as long as it’s fairly dry — I wouldn’t roll up anything juicy; for instance an orange slice would exude too much liquid, which would seep out, moisten, and split open your wrapper.
The recipe I’ve provided is pretty authentic, although I’ve recommended slices of cooked chicken breast instead of pork, which would be far more common in Vietnam. In Vietnam or good Vietnamese restaurants you might also see a long flat chive right down the middle of the roll, but these “garlic chives” aren’t so easy to find, except in Asian markets. The shrimp and the omelet are very common, as is one of the dipping sauces; I was raised dipping the rolls in nuoc cham, the garlicky sweet and citrusy fish-sauce that is ubiquitous to Vietnamese cuisine. For some reason peanut sauce has become a de rigueur accompaniment in Vietnamese restaurants in America. I can’t fathom why, but perhaps it’s a riff on another sauce with hoisin, garlic, and pureed liver. Anyway, I’ve included my peanut sauce recipe as well, so you can offer your family or your guests a couple of options.
|Bun noodles are the best. This is a good rice paper for fresh rolls.|
You will need:
– Softened round rice noodles, called bun in Vietnamese. You can also use bean thread noodles. Either way, the noodles must be very dry. Boil until tender (probably three minutes) and then rinse under cold water. Drain very well.
– Rice paper rounds. If you see a brand with summer rolls on the front, use those!
– Thinly sliced poached or roasted chicken breast. Substitute roasted pork loin if you like.
– Cooked medium shrimp, cut in half through the middle into two crescents.
– Boston or leaf lettuce, large ribs removed.
– Fresh mint leaf, torn.
– Scallion greens, chopped.
– Roasted peanuts, crushed.
– Two eggs, whipped and cooked in a pan over medium heat, creating a thin layer of omelet. Cut omelet into thin strips when cool.
– Cucumber, julienned.
– Peanut Sauce and Nuoc Cham Sauce, recipes below.
|Noodles, lettuce, cukes, omelet, chicken, shrimp, scallions, crushed peanuts, fresh mint.|
|Make a thin single-layer omelet out of two eggs, in a non-stick pan.|
Put all your ingredients within easy reach. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip a round of rice paper in the water, rub water all over it, and shake off excess. Lay rice paper on a cutting board or right on the counter-top (well-cleaned, of course). If you have any puddles of water on the rice paper dab it with a dry, clean kitchen towel. Wait about ten seconds and check the edge. It should be pliable.
Now, take some of your lettuce and put down a single layer near the bottom edge facing you, but leave enough room to grab the edge. Add a fist-full of noodles, about a third of a cup. Add some cucumbers, some strips of omelet, a few herbs, a sprinkling of crushed peanuts, and three or four thin slices of chicken breast.
|Add your summer roll fillings!|
Using both hands, draw the bottom edge up and over the filling, squeezing down and rolling as you do so. You want the filling to be compact, so roll pretty tightly. Roll until that bottom edge contacts the middle of the rice paper. It should stick to itself.
|Tuck in dem scrimp.|
Now, take three shrimp and tuck them in the middle of wrapper, just under the edge of the filling; the inside of the shrimp (white side) should be facing up. Roll the sides of the rice paper up, creating a fat, cigar-like (or burrito-like) shape. Now, grasp with both hands the roll and complete the rolling process. If you’ve done it right, it will look uniform and beautiful.
|Congratulations! You’ve rolled your first summer roll!|
Now, repeat the process with your remaining ingredients. When you’ve rolled all you can, with a sharp knife trim off the ends and cut the rolls into three pieces. Stand them up like sushi on a plate. Serve with the dipping sauces. Enjoy, cool off, and have a great summer!
|Goi Cuon: The most refreshing dish ever?? Perhaps. Perhaps.|
Keep in mind that this dish is only limited by your imagination. I’ve made and had versions in restaurants stuffed with grilled pork, lemongrass beef, crab, Chinese sausage, jicama, avocado, etc. I’ve made and had all kinds of sauces to go these rolls too — mango sauce, tamarind sauce, spicy apricot sauce, coconut sauce, cashew sauce, etc. So try all kinds of things. The only constants to my mind are lettuce and noodles. Lettuce (or watercress or arugula or similar) keeps the roll together; even as you compress salad greens, they want to open up again and that gentle pressure from the inside adds enough tension on the fragile wrapper to keep the roll from falling apart. Noodles of some kind are good in that they keep the fillings from being too dense; if it’s all hard vegetables it’s not such a fun, light experience.
Try some of these variations once you get the mechanics down. Once you get a hang of rolling, you’ll want to try all sorts of fillings out!
– King crab, avocado, mango, mint.
– Grilled Korean-style short ribs, kimchee, asian pear.
– Smoked tofu, soba noodles, green beans.
– Spicy chicken, roasted bell peppers, cilantro pesto.
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I like three crabs brand.)
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
Put all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth!
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.
|A Tale of Two Sauces|