For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a big Asian food kick. It stems partly from the course that I took back in early July at the Institute of Culinary Education. The other driving factor has been the steamy weather, which hasn’t inspired me to turn on the oven to cook a huge, big meal. Quick, flavorful bites like the Thai-inspired Chicken Skewers have been more up my alley. These Vietnamese Summer Rolls are much the same type of small-bite meal. Cool, crisp, minimal cooking over a hot surface, and easy to prepare, they are the ideal starter or even an entire a dinner with several of them.
The key is to be very carefully when preparing them so as not to tear the delicate rice paper shell. The other important part is to keep the ingredients together and to roll everything as tightly as possible. It might take a bit of practice to do, but the results are really worth it when you pop the first one into your mouth and let all the different flavors and textures take over your senses.
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Prep Time: 30-ish minutes
Serving Size: 8 rolls
8 large Shrimp (16-count* is fine)
1 Bay leaf
2 Lemon slices
5 Red Peppercorns
1 medium Cucumber, seeded and cut into julienne (i.e., matchstick size)
1 medium Carrot, cut into julienne (i.e., matchstick size)
Handful of Cilantro leaves (not stems)
Handful of fresh Mint leaves
Red leaf Lettuce
8 Rice Paper Wrappers (see photo)
Spicy chili dipping sauce
Peel and de-vein shrimp. Put a saucepan of water on the heat to boil. Toss in the bay leave, lemon slices, and peppercorns. Put cleaned shrimp into the water to cook. This will take 3-4 minutes maximum. When the shrimp are pink and some of them have risen to the top of the water, turn off the water. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the seasonings. Discard the water and the seasonings.
Let shrimp cool while cutting up the vegetables and rinsing off the herbs and the lettuce. It is very important to have a complete mise en place set up for this before you do the next step, as the rice paper is fragile and needs to be worked with quickly to achieve the best results.
Count out 8 of the rice paper wrappers. Fill a shallow bowl or dish with warm water. Put all the vegetables and herbs out on a board or a plate. Cut the shrimp in half around the curve of the back where you removed the vein so that from the pink side it looks like it could be a whole shrimp (see photo above).
Rice Paper Wrappers
Soak one of the wrappers in the water for about 30 seconds. Remove it and place it on the board or a towel making sure to get it as flat as possible. Put two halves of the shrimp on the wrapper at one end about 1/3 the way from the edge. The white side of the shrimp should be facing upwards.
Then, pile on the vegetables and herbs into a neat pile onto of the shrimp. It doesn’t matter the order in which you place them, as long as the shrimp are still underneath all of it, as they will be what shows through the wrapper.
Then, make the first roll of the wrapper, taking the short edge and carefully lifting it up and over all of the filling ingredients.
The first roll
Before making the next roll forward, tuck in both sides of the wrapper, making sure to push all the filling ingredients together so that nothing is sticking out too far. Then roll it forward.
Continue to roll forward about one to two more times, keeping the ingredients and the sides tucked in tightly. This will keep the roll from falling apart when eating it.
Continue with the rest of the wrappers and the ingredients. Cut in half to serve, allowing one shrimp piece per half like below. Dipping sauce is the usual accompaniment for these rolls. To add a little spice and heat, I’ve suggested using a red chili one, but you can alter this to suit your tastes. These rolls really are at their best when freshly made, so I’m not suggesting they be prepared in advance; however, you can prep the shrimp and the vegetables ahead of time and just roll up the ingredients in wrappers right before eating them.
*Kitchen Witch Tip:
Shrimp is sold by size as well as by weight. The count number indicates approximately how many shrimp are in a pound, so 16-count means that there’s roughly 16 shrimp in a pound. That means that they relatively large in size, which is perfect for this recipe.