Spring rolls or gỏi cuốn or summer rolls make perfect elegant appetizers for any party. The traditional Viet spring rolls contain lettuce, cucumber, pork, shrimp, mint, cilantro, rice noodles and asian chive, all rolled up tight in edible rice paper. Mini compact Asian burritos :)
Here is a tasting plate of Spring Rolls (pic above and below) as a lunch appetizer, first course, for hubby and Ted: Shrimp-Mango, Shrimp-Cucumber, Watermelon-Shiso and Watermelon-Mango. Be creative and explore fun options for fillings. I am totally digging these pedestal cake stands for family-style platters. Miriam garnished the table with wild daisies from the yard.
Rice paper is a semi-transparent edible sheet once softened in water. You must come up with a layout strategy for all the ingredients making note of what colors and shapes will show through once the spring roll is...well, rolled. The idea is to produce neat appetizing rolls versus ugly sloppy ones. Shrimp is a popular filler because of its bright orange glow through the rice paper. See?
Mise en place: rinsed and plucked mint or shiso leaves, cucumber strips (cut lengthwise into quarters or 1/2" thick), cooked/cooled rice noodles, chopped cilantro (or scallion), cooked shrimp cut in half down the center and a package of round rice paper. Have nearby, a deep and wide saute pan of warm water for dipping the rice paper. Better yet, set up near a stove and keep a large pan of hot water on the burner simmering.
Boil the shrimp. When it turns a bright orange, rinse in cold water, deshell, and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise, down the middle. Set aside. Figure 2 shrimp halves per spring roll, so one whole shrimp per roll.
So many brands of rice paper, bánh tráng, to choose from! Lately, I've had great luck with the "Flying Horse" brand (sold at Asian markets like Tay-do in Salt Lake). Rice paper is sold square-cut or circle-cut, in large or small sizes. I like using the large round sheets to roll BIG ONES with the option to cut the rolls in in half (strictly for presentation purposes) at serving.
Make sure the rice paper sheet has no cracks or holes near the center. Throw damaged ones away as they will be a PAIN to manage. One package comes with plenty of rice sheets, and at $1.59 for a whole bunch, no need to worry too much about running out or wasting.
Use warm/hot water to dip and soften the rice paper. I like to station myself next to the stove with a wide and deep pan of simmering water. Carefully and quickly (like, within seconds) dip over half the sheet of rice paper into the warm water rotating clockwise with both hands until the entire sheet is wet, not soaked. Transfer it to a flat surface (non-wood) immediately. When it gets limp and very tacky (within seconds) and slightly elastic, the rice paper is ready to work with.
Use a nonporous surface, like a plastic cutting board, cookie sheet, round flat plate or a clean countertop to make the spring rolls. Heads up—avoid wood, bamboo, or any porous surfaces, as the rice paper will stick to it like glue, thus making it ridiculously impossible to roll.
(1) In a small neat pile lengthwise toward the bottom of the sheet, add the following ingredients in this order: mint, small bundle of rice noodles, a pinch of cilantro (or scallion), a strip of cucumber. Add 2 pieces of shrimp, color side facing down side by side, toward the upper half. See below, like a funny face :) Remember this procedure, layout and design so that all your rolls look and feel exactly alike.
(2) Begin rolling from the bottom to the middle holding in everything tight, but not too tight, or it will BURST.
(3) When you reach the middle area (the shrimp part) fold in the sides carefully keeping the filling in tact.
(4) Finish folding over the sides. Sticky sticky. Remember, be deliberate with your folds on your first try or you'll end up peeling back and tangling wrapper into a crunched up mess. If you mess up, just toss it or eat it and start over with a new sheet of rice paper.
(5) Continue and complete your roll. Oh, look at how that shrimp glow. Gorgeous.
(6) Fini. Viola—one down.
Transfer the rolls to a plate. If you are making a whole bunch ahead of time, keep them in a covered container (like a huge tupperware) to keep from drying out.
If the rolls are exposed to air, not covered (if you're here in high altitude Utah), they will dry up immediately. They are just horrible and not edible when they do dry out—they will look, feel and taste like hard plastic. Keep the rolls sealed at room temperature before serving with peanut sauce, sweetened fish sauce or your favorite salad dressing.
(Rice paper, rice noodles and peanut sauce deserve their own respective posts. Kay, I'm on it.)
Spring rolls make an elegant late night snack with friends over wine and tea.
The "spring" in spring rolls assume they are served fresh at room temperature and not deep-fried. The fried spring rolls are called chả giò or vietnamese egg roll and shouldn't be confused with Chinese eggrolls call for a wonton egg wrapper versus rice paper.
Listening to Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers.