Jay’s parents are Korean and mine, Vietnamese. One of Jay’s close friends is also Korean-American and has a partner of Vietnamese heritage. Naturally, when we get together, we wind up talking about our favorite cultural institution: food!
Recently, the two came over for a spring roll (gỏi cuốn) making party in honor of our friend D’s impending move. They brought the rice paper wrappers, vermicelli noodles, and boiled & butterflied shrimp — we provided the rest. Spring rolls are a pinch to make, requiring only easy prep and the simplest of cooking methods: boiling. The rolls are truly tasty, but in my opinion, the real magic lies within the peanut sauce typically served alongside them. Creamy, tangy, and toasty, the dip is a perfect contrast to the crunch and freshness of the rolls.
The best part about this meal, however, isn’t its near-effortlessness. It’s the sense of community. This is the kind of meal that requires all its participants sit down and share. On the table, you have a spread of your individual components; in front of you, you have your plate, waiting to be filled. Shyness won’t do you any favors here — you reach out and grab those ingredients!
Vietnamese spring rolls (gỏi cuốn)
- 1 pound of shrimp
- 1 pound of pork tenderloin
- 3 tablespoons of salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups of cooked rice vermicelli noodles (bún)
- Rice paper wrappers, as needed
- Vegetables (garnish for the spring rolls; some pictures below)
- 1 large cucumber, rinsed and cut lengthwise into long matchsticks
- 1 large carrot, rinsed and cut lengthwise into long matchsticks
- 1 head of red-leaf lettuce, rinsed
- 1 cup of fresh mint leaves, rinsed
- 1 cup bunch of cilantro springs, rinsed and cut into 5″ lengths
- 1 cup of bean sprouts, rinsed
- 4 stalks of green onion or Chinese chives, rinsed and cut into 5″ lengths
- peanut dipping sauce (recipe below)
- additional accompanying fillings (optional; we had fried tofu and shredded tofu, as pictured below)
Cooking the shrimp
- In a pot, add water (enough to cover shrimp) and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to boil and add shrimp.
- Once shrimp are cooked through, drain and cool.
- Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp.
Cooking the pork
- In a pot, add pork and enough water to cover the pork. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until pork is thoroughly cooked, about 15-20 minutes (it should not be pink). Remove pork from water and cool. Reserve the water for the peanut dipping sauce.
- Slice the cooled pork against the grain into thin 1/4-inch-thick pieces.
Assembling the rolls
- Lay out the vegetables, pork, shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles, and rice paper wrappers. Fill a shallow bowl with lukewarm water. Each person should have a flat plate on which to assemble their rolls.
- Quickly wet the rice paper wrapper. I typically find it easiest to submerge one end of the wrapper at an angle, and then rotating it to get the remaining portions of the wrapper wet. You will want the wrapper to be soft and pliant — not too brittle, but not too soggy. This may take a bit of practice, so don’t be discouraged if you have to toss a few wrappers in the process.
- Add the toppings of your choice. Again, there is a balance here — you don’t want to add too many or too few toppings. I find it easiest to lay the lettuce down first (which adds a protective layer for your roll, in case the wrapper breaks). I typically bunch it into a small log shape near the lower third of the wrapper. Add your noodles (not too many — it’s easy to overshoot here) and meat. Add your veggies lengthwise along the wrapper. Making sure to evenly distribut everything so that you get all those flavors in each bite!
- Roll up your wrapper. If you’re familiar with burritos — this is how I do it! Pull the bottom of the wrapper up and over the fillings. Pull the sides of the wrapper in, and then roll it up. Don’t be afraid to take your time and ensure a tight roll. Again, practice makes perfect.
- Enjoy! You can also wrap these in plastic wrap and keep them, refrigerated, overnight.
Peanut dipping sauce
- 1 Tablespoon peanut oil or Asian sesame oil – I used sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup finely ground unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- 1/2 tsp chili paste
- 3/4 cup pork broth, reserved from the above
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons thick peanut butter
- 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- Garnish: 2 Tablespoons finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
- Heat the peanut or sesame oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and cook until golden. Drain and discard oil.
- In small bowl, whisk garlic with ground peanuts, chili paste, pork broth, peanut butter, hoisin sauce, sugar and fish sauce.
- When the mixture has smooth consistency, pour it into saucepan and bring to boil on medium-high heat. Boil 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until it reaches your desired consistency, being sure to mix throughout to prevent burning.
- Cool to room temperature. Stir and garnish with finely chopped peanuts.