The número uno request I get from everybody for potlucks, picnics, dinner parties, etc. is spring rolls. Spring rolls make my life pretty easy; they take about 20 minutes to make from start to finish, including the peanut dipping sauce (click link for recipe!). They’re not complicated at all. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some horrifying things done to spring rolls.
I remember watching an episode of Chopped in which the contestant soaked the rice paper in water until it looked like a soaked napkin, and then he tried to roll it up with some ingredients. It was a scary failure. He ran out of time, so he proceeded to throw his ingredients on the plate alongside the soggy rice paper. The judges said it looked like a used, wet napkin. Truth be told, not even Bounty paper towels could’ve cleaned up that mess.
I think once you start making your own spring rolls, you’ll find it difficult to ever buy them again from grocery stores or restaurants. Here are the secrets to making beautiful Vietnamese spring rolls:
Secrets to Making Vietnamese Spring Rolls:
1. Don’t overcook the noodles. Rinse cooked rice vermicelli noodles with cold tap water, and finish by rinsing with very hot tap water. Cold tap water rinses out all the starch in the noodles, and hot tap water makes all the water on the noodles evaporate. This step makes all the difference between stringy noodles and noodles that stick together correctly.
2. Don’t over-wet the rice paper/spring roll wrapper. Dip the individual rice paper in water just until every square inch has become wet. Do not dip the wrapper in water until it becomes pliable! Immediately remove the rice paper from water and lay it down on your plate. Wait one minute for the rice paper to become pliable and then immediately load it with ingredients.
3. Lay lettuce leaf down first at one end of the rice paper. Sturdy lettuce leaves (i.e., romaine hearts, red leaf lettuce, or Bibb lettuce) help prevent tears in the rice paper by forming a strong medium for you to roll with. If you do so, it doesn’t even matter if your rice paper tears — it’s as if you were making a lettuce wrap all along. So go ahead, lay down the lettuce leaf first, then pack on the noodles and other ingredients.
4. Use the freshest ingredients. Use fresh herbs like mint, chives, and basil for a refreshing bite. Other ingredients include sliced tofu, pickled shredded carrots, cucumbers, or chicken breast. Whatever your <3 desires.
5. Don’t overfill the spring rolls. We’re not making Chipotle burritos here. Don’t use too much noodle in your rolls (any more than 1/3 cup of cooked rice noodles is way too much). Use a measuring cup to understand what 1/3 of a cup means, if you have to.
6. Don’t be afraid to roll the spring roll tight like a cigar. First, fold in the right and left sides of the filled rice wrapper and press down. Then, proceed to roll. You have to push down on the ingredients as you are rolling in order to make a perfectly tight roll.
Below are step-by-step photos of how to perfect the popular Vietnamese spring roll. Don’t forget you need to buy rice paper and thin rice vermicelli noodles, aka rice noodles or rice sticks. Please don’t buy cellophane noodles. That’s totally different.
I’ll shut up now. Here’s what you need!
Rice noodles, rice paper, lettuce, mint, and shrimp. The usual. I’m using thawed shrimp that has not been deveined, so let me show you what you gotta do:
Get a toothpick and stab the thing towards the tail end. Go all the way through.
My mama taught me this sweet trick. This is sort of like threading or sewing. “Thread” out the vein of the shrimp and discard. You could use any kind of frozen shrimp you like, but if your frozen shrimp is not deveined as mine were, you’re going to have to do this. Try to cook shrimp with the shell still on(to maintain its shape) because it’s just the way spring rolls are traditionally made.
Obsessively wash your hands with soapy water(don’t forget the cutting board). Then cook the shrimp in lightly boiling water for 2 minutes, just until they are pink, opaque, and fully cooked through.
Cool them down with some cold water.
Peel immediately and discard the shells.
Now halve your shrimp. Please don’t skip this step. We don’t want too much shrimp in one spring roll, and cutting them in half makes sure you don’t overstuff your rolls!
How nice! No veins. Totally cooked and totally plump. You could stop now if you enjoy eating shrimp by itself. But I digress… let’s continue.
Throw some dried rice noodles in a pot of boiling water.
Follow your package cooking directions. It usually takes 5 minutes for the noodles to finish cooking. We’re not looking for al dente here. They need to be totally cooked.
Now rinse with cold water until the water draining underneath your colander runs clear. You want all the starch out.
This is what it looks like after a cold water rinse. It doesn’t stick together, and that’s no bueno. So…
…I need you to rinse the noodles with hot, steaming tap water until all the noodles are steaming hot. Then you let the noodles rest and continue draining for 5 minutes and…
Ta-da! After 5 minutes, the noodles actually stick together. This is perfect for spring rolls.
Now wet some rice paper wrappers… Please don’t over wet them. We just want to coat it in water just until the entire thing is wet.
Now lay it flat on your plate. This is where we roll things and things get fun.
After one minute, the rice paper is totally pliable. Now load it up with your ingredients.
I’m making shrimp shrimp rolls, so place your halved shrimp, cut side UP, on the end furthest from you. We place them cut side up so that the pretty side of the shrimp will be showing on the outside of the spring roll.
Now lay your sturdy lettuce leaf on the spring roll.
Lay on some noodles. Remember. No more than 1/3 cup of noodles, please. Also, tear up some fresh mint leaves while you’re at it. Here’s where you add shredded carrots, cucumbers, tofu, etc. if you want.
Now fold in the two sides of the roll…
And push down as you roll away from you. Pack the ingredients tight as you roll. This can be tricky, but you’ll get used to it. Obviously, use both hands to roll. I wonder why only one of my hands is in this photo? Is it because: a) I’m eating a spring roll with my right hand, or b) I’m holding my camera, or c) I’m just that good I can do this one-handed, or d) I’m FaceTiming with my dog? Free spring rolls for one whole year for the first person to answer correctly!
Keep on rollin’!
et, voilà. That’s a beauty. Serve it right up with plenty of peanut dipping sauce.
Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls
Total time: 20 minutes
Prep: 14 min
Cook: 6 min
Yield: about 10 spring rolls
12-15 thawed medium-sized shrimps with shell intact and veins removed
7 ounces dried thin rice vermicelli noodles
About 10 rice papers (clear spring roll wrappers)
Fresh mint leaves
(optional: fried tofu, bean sprouts, shredded cucumbers, shredded carrots, pork tenderloin, etc.)
In a pot of boiling water, cook rice vermicelli noodles for 5 minutes, or until tender and cooked through. Drain noodles, rinsing with cold water to remove all starch from noodles. Rinse noodles with very hot, steaming tap water. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
In a small pot of lightly boiling water, add shrimp. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until shrimp are pink, opaque, and cooked through. Drain shrimp and cool with cold water. Remove shells from shrimp and discard shells. Using a small knife, cut the shrimp in half lengthwise, from the tail end to the other end.
Assemble the rolls one at a time: wet one rice paper wrapper thoroughly in water for a few seconds, shaking off any excess water. Lay the rice paper on a large plate, allowing the paper to sit for one minute to become pliable.
Neatly lay down 3 shrimp halves in a line, cut side up, on the end farthest from you, making sure that shrimp are at least 1 inch away from the round border of the rice paper. Lay down a medium-sized piece of lettuce on the end of the rice paper closest to you. Lay down no more than 1/3 cup of cooked noodles in a line on top of the lettuce. On top of the noodles, add torn mint leaves or additional optional ingredients, making sure not to overstuff spring rolls.
Fold the right and left sides of the rice paper about 1-2 inches inwards over the filling and press to seal. Pull the edge of the wrapper closest to you upwards so that the filling is tight. Proceed to press down on the ingredients, packing them tightly together, and begin to roll away from you. Continue rolling until you reach the end of the wrapper furthest from you. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. Serve immediately or at room temperature with peanut dipping sauce.