Everybody loves Vietnamese rice paper rolls, they are incredibly refreshing to eat. It’s one of the most ordered entrees at Vietnamese restaurants.
I’ve come across quite a few recipes for Vietnamese rice paper rolls and cringe when I see chicken and capsicum listed in the ingredients for the filling. These are not ingredients that are traditionally used in a Vietnamese rice paper roll. The Vietnamese rice paper roll can fall into one of those dishes where people think that they can put in whatever they want, roll it up and whola! Sure, people use whatever meat/vegetable combination they want but I think that there are a certain balance of flavours that go well together to really make a good Vietnamese rice paper roll. Too many ingredients can overwhelm the simplicity and light taste of the roll and some ingredients just don’t sit well in the scheme of things (ie: capsicum).
When I make Vietnamese rice paper rolls I like to have the following ingredients for the filling.
• rice vermicelli
• lettuce, shredded
• bean sprouts
• carrot, grated
• cucumber, thinly sliced
• mint leaves
• cooked prawns, peeled and sliced in half
The type of rice vermicelli I use is Happy Swallow – it has the right thickness and texture. You need to cook, strain, rinse the vermicelli under cold water and then leave it to dry for about 30 minutes so that has a sticky texture.
Other types of herbs can be used as well like basil, Chinese chives and coriander but I just like to use mint only. Mint brings out refreshing and cool tones to the rice paper roll against the other ingredients. I don’t like to include more herbs as I find it overwhelming, using just one herb makes it clean cut.
I personally like to use the thinnest rice paper so that it is very translucent and light around the filling.
If you get thicker rice paper, it will be a bit tougher, it can feel rubbery and like you are chewing into latex. However, using super thin rice paper means that you have to be very careful and delicate in your handling of it as it breaks easily.
To make Vietnamese rice paper roll
Fill a wide shallow bowl with lukewarm water.
Dip a piece of rice paper into the bowl and rotate the sheet around so that it is immersed in water. All you need to do it wet/moisten the rice paper and then quickly remove it from the bowl and spread it out on a flat work surface, after about 30-60 seconds it will soften further and become usable.
Place all the fillings except for the prawns on the bottom half of the rice paper - make sure you have a good balance of each ingredient and also don’t add to much as the roll with burst. Arrange the fillings so that it has a rectangular shape and will conform to the shape of the roll.
To form the Vietnamese rice paper roll, pull up the bottom flap of the rice paper over the filling, then fold in the side flaps. Place the prawns in the rolls with the orange side facing down, along the crease. Then roll everything up together tightly, tucking in the fillings as necessary but gently too so you don’t break it until you complete the cylinder and it seals. Rolling up the rice paper roll is not easy, you need to make sure that you have rolled it tightly and that the filling remains intact but also be careful not to break it.
When you first begin to roll the rice paper rolls, you will experience many burst ones and much frustration. It takes some time and practice to know how to layer the ingredients and the amount of pressure applied to rolling so that it is tight but you don’t end up breaking it. When I layer the ingredients, I add the rice vermicelli and lettuce first and I will layer the cucumber, carrots and bean sprouts (the more pointy ingredients) on top. As the vermicelli and lettuce are softer, they cushion the outside of the rice paper from breaking. I add the prawns later on for appearance sake so that they can be seen nicely on the front of the rice paper roll. The prawns can also provide some cushioning from the carrots and bean sprouts poking through.
There is much method in the madness of making rice paper rolls. Although it looks easy to make, there is quite a bit of skill involved in getting a perfectly rolled rice paper roll. Enjoy!
Vietnamese rice paper rolls can be served with
• Nuoc cham
• Sweet chilli sauce
• Hoisin sauce with crushed peanuts and chopped chilli
Vietnamese rice paper rolls are perfect for summer picnics.
(At the Sommerville Auditorium for Lotterywest Festival Films)