Crispy Vietnamese Egg Rolls – Cha Gio
This crispy finger food is a great introduction for anyone to Vietnamese cuisine. It is one of the easiest Vietnamese recipes to start with, and actually the first recipe that I cooked myself. These are always a hit at parties! Whenever I decide to make a batch for a potluck they always get gobbled up pretty quickly.
Ingredients for Filling:
1 lb ground pork
½ to 1 lb raw shrimp (cleaned and minced)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
1-2 carrots (peeled and julienned or grated)
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (soaked and sliced – can be left out or replaced with fresh sautéed and julienned mushrooms)
4 oz bean thread noodles (soaked and cut into 1 inch pieces)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) – I always get the one with the 3 blue crabs on the front but any will due.
Rice paper or wheat egg roll wrappers
Oil for frying
1 egg (optional – you can use an egg wash (egg with a little water) for closing the Vietnamese egg rolls if you like)
Ingredients for Dipping Sauce:
¼ cup nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
¼ cup sugar
Lime juice (to taste)
Hot sauce or hot peppers (finely chopped, to taste – optional)
My sister is vegetarian, so I am always thinking of ways to adjust my recipes so that she is able to enjoy the food. For this recipe, my vegetarian suggestion is to sub the meat in the recipe with soy ground meat (found in your supermarkets vegetarian freezer section), and add some silken tofu for a nicer texture. Now the flavor will definitely match that of an authentic crispy Vietnamese egg roll, but it will allow your vegetarian friends to have something to snack on as well.
Full pieces of Romaine lettuce (used for a bed for the summer rolls)
Fresh cilantro and mint leaves
Large frying pan or pot for frying
Large mixing bowl
Large Spoon (for mixing – your hands will do just fine if you like)
Large Bowl (for warm water if you are using rice paper egg roll wrappers)
Paring knife (smaller knife used to clean and devein shrimp)
Cheese grater (if you are planning to grate your carrots) or Mandoline (to help with getting a nice julienne on the carrots)
Cookie Sheet or Plate (for rolled but not fried egg rolls)
Cooling Rack fitted in the cookie sheet (for draining after frying)
Tongs (for frying)
Paper Towels (slightly damp to lay over the egg rolls as they are wrapped – also can be used to soak up extra oil after frying)
Soak bean thread noodles in warm water until softened, then cut into 1 inch pieces. At the same time, soak dried mushrooms until rehydrated and then slice into thin strips (julienne). Clean (peel and devein) and finely chop raw shrimp. Peel and julienne or grate the carrots. Heat up the frying oil to about 325-350 degrees F in a large pot or deep frying pan.
Mix all ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Make sure that the ingredients are well mixed. A good technique to test the flavor of your filling is to take a small spoonful and microwave it for about 30 seconds (or until the pork is cooked through). Then you can adjust the amount of spices in your recipe as you like.
If you use rice paper wrappers, wet the wrappers in warm water and place on a plate until the wrapper softens and is pliable. Put about 2-3 tablespoons of filling at one end of the wrapper. Only do one or two wrappers at a time so they don’t get mushy when you are rolling them. Roll the wrapper 2-3 times over the filling then fold in the sides and finish rolling. If you are using wheat egg roll wrappers, make sure to seal the wrapper with egg wash or a bit of warm water. While you are wrapping the Vietnamese egg rolls, make sure to cover them with a damp cloth so they do not dry out. If you have left over filling or would like to save some of the egg rolls for later you can always freeze the excess and use at a later date.
Freezing Hint: When you freeze the egg rolls do so initially on a cookie sheet or flat surface, make sure that the egg rolls are not touching one another. Let them freeze for about 20-30 minutes and then package them in a freezer bag or container. This trick will help to ensure that they won’t stick together and you can still fry them individually down the line. You can also freeze them after cooking and then re-fry when ready to eat!
Once all your egg rolls are wrapped, you are ready to fry! To check if the oil is hot enough, place the end of a wooden spoon or chopstick in the oil. If it bubbles, then the oil is ready. Place a few egg rolls carefully in the oil using your tongs (if you are use the rice paper wrappers, try putting one egg roll in at a time, make sure that they do not initially touch (for the first minute) in the oil). Make sure not to add to many egg rolls at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop too much (this will make your egg rolls more oily).
Cook the egg rolls until golden brown, remove from the oil and place on a cooling rack or paper towels. It’s always a good idea to test an egg roll in the first batch by cutting it in half to make sure that the filling is cooked through. From that you will be able to tell about how long it will take to cook each batch, as the cooking time can vary based on the temp of the oil and the size of your egg rolls. If the egg rolls are browning too fast and the filling is not able to cook through, reduce the heat on your oil.
After your egg rolls have cooled, I would suggest eating them wrapped in lettuce and dipped in the nuoc mam dipping sauce; although they are also very good by themselves.
The Egg Roll Wrapper (Rice vs. Wheat):
Authentically, these egg rolls are made with rice paper wraps (which is their clear distinction from, say, a Chinese egg roll). However, most of the time when you go to restaurants you will find that they are wrapped with a wheat based wrapper that makes them more evenly browned and crispy when cooking (which some people prefer to the rice paper wraps that can sometimes be a bit chewy). I have made them both ways and I like them both.
Unless you have a good Asian market near you, the rice paper wrappers can be difficult to find. In that case, I would definitely go with the wheat wrappers which are just as delicious. As an added bonus, they make frying the egg rolls a lot easier than the rice paper egg rolls which have a tendency to stick to each other at the beginning of frying.
The filling of these egg rolls vary from recipe to recipe, but generally has the same base filling Vietnamese cuisine. Most are made with pork (which can be subbed for a leaner meat such as chicken or turkey), shrimp, some chopped veggies, and noodles (in my case I use bean-thread). I’ve made this recipe with chicken and turkey for my friends that don’t eat pork (for religious or other reasons) and the end result is pretty much the same. If you like more veggies, then you can always add shredded cabbage to the recipe as well.
My personal preference for this recipe for the filling includes ground pork and shrimp, onions, shredded carrots, and bean thread noodles (because I have a husband that is not the biggest fan of mushrooms – a common ingredient in Vietnamese egg rolls). Many people also include other veggies such as jicama, taro and bean sprouts, but for me the simpler the better!