Seafood and Chicken, Snacks
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Sizzling Shrimp Spring Rolls

frying shrimp rolls

Shrimp rolls sizzling in the pan

Thanks to my step-father-in-law, travel and Asian cooking classes, I’ve unintentionally become a master at making fried shrimp spring rolls or cha giò tôm. Accident or not, I’m thankful for this skill for spring rolls have turned out to be a fun group activity, popular cooking lesson and intriguing hot appetizer at parties. Just imagine your — or my — friends’ faces when offered a warm, crunchy, golden hors d’oeuvre and hearing the words, “Want to try some crunchy shrimp spring rolls? Nope, they’re not from the Chinese restaurant down the street. I made them myself!” Talk about impressing guests!

Although I came to shrimp spring rolls through Vietnamese cuisine, these snacks have their origins in China. During the Tang Dynasty, between the 7th and 10th century, people began serving spring rolls to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the planting of the new season’s crops.

Rolling up a spring roll

Rolling up the spring roll filling in a rice paper wrapper

The early version of this finger food featured sliced spring vegetables rolled up in a delicate pastry or pancake. Thus how it got the name “spring roll.” Once sealed, the bundles were briefly deep-fried so that the wrappers became crisp while the filling remained soft. Think of this as culinary yin and yang with the two contrasting textures complementing one another.

Ingredients for shrimp spring rolls

The ingredients in shrimp spring rolls

Vietnamese spring rolls differ from their Chinese predecessors in that they pair shrimp, pork and vermicelli rice noodles with spring vegetables such as carrots, scallions and mushrooms. They also use herbs such as coriander, mint and chives. Occasionally, one or two eggs are included in the mix. After being tossed together, the ingredients are enfolded in fragile rice paper wrappers and pan-fried.

Snipping rice noodles

Snipping vermicelli rice noodles to add to the filling

When making spring rolls, be sure not to overstuff the wrappers. If you add too much filling, the wrappers won’t seal tightly and will subsequently pop open in the frying pan. For the proper sized roll, see the first photo at the top of the entry. For rolls bordering on overstuffed, note the plump ones on the edges of the white platter in the image below. To avoid overly fat rolls, use between one and two tablespoons of stuffing.

Uncooked spring rolls

Platter of plump, uncooked spring rolls

Because I am a pescetarian and don’t eat pork, the following recipe does not include meat. If you’re seeking a truly authentic cha giò tôm, replace three-fourths of the shrimp with ground pork.

Makes approximately 4 dozen spring rolls

for the rolls:
4 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
2/3 cup chopped spring onion
2/3 cup cremini or shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
14 to 16 ounces peeled, defrosted shrimp, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablepoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 packages of rice paper wrappers
Grapeseed or canola oil, enough to have a 1-inch deep layer of oil in your frying pan

for the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Allow them to soak for 10 minutes, periodically stirring and pulling the noodles apart. After 10 minutes drain off the water and snip them into 2-inch strips.

In a large bowl mix together the egg, bean sprouts, carrot, onion, mushrooms, garlic, shrimp and noodles. In a smaller bowl stir together the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, pepper and salt until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Pour the sauce over the filling and stir until well combined.

Folding the spring roll's edges

Folding over the edges of a spring roll wrapper

Place a wrapper on a clean work surface and moisten the wrapper with a clean, damp cloth. Using a measuring spoon, put 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling one inch from the bottom of the wrapper. Fold the bottom edge over the filling and then roll the wrapper over itself once. Fold the sides of the wrapper inward until their ends meet. (See image above for details.)

Roll up the spring roll. If the edge doesn’t seal tightly, lightly wet it with water and press down until sealed. Repeat these steps with the remaining filling, placing the spring rolls on a platter until you’re ready to fry them.

To fry, heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is ready, it will read 365 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy or instant-read thermometer. As the oil is heating, whisk together the hot water, sugar, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, crushed chili pepper, black pepper and garlic. Set the dipping sauce aside.

frying spring rolls

Mixture of over-stuffed and just right spring rolls frying in hot oil

Using heat-proof tongs, place the spring rolls in the pan, making sure that they don’t touch each other. Fry the spring rolls on one side for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Turn them over and fry for another 2 minutes. Remove the rolls from the pan and place on a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the spring rolls have been fried. Serve warm with the dipping sauce.

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