Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)

June 23, 2011

The torch of love is lit in the kitchen.
~French proverb

What’s in a name?

In 1803, envoys from the recently founded Nguyễn dynasty gathered in Beijing to establish diplomatic relations with their northern neighbor. The emperor had chosen the name Nam Việt for his ancient realm. The word Việt, a shortened form of Bách Việt (“hundreds of Viets”), was derived from the traditional name for the imperial domain and from those who populated what is now northern and central Vietnam. Nam (south) had been added to acknowledge expansion into lands further south.

The Chinese fervently objected to the proposed name because it conjured up memories of an identically named ancient state that had openly rebelled against China. So, it was resolved to call this culturally diverse land Việt Nam. Ironically, the words Việt Nam had appeared in several carvings and writings centuries earlier. Now, this long curve fingered nation carries the official moniker of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam).

The country was often called Annam until 1945, when Emperor Bảo Đại changed the official name back to Việt Nam. During French occupation, it was westerly referred to as Indochine française (Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp, oftened shortened to Đông Pháp).

Gỏi cuốn, often translated as “salad roll,” is a wickedly delicate Vietnamese finger food comprised of pork, shrimp, herbs, bún (rice vermicelli), and chums all serenely swaddled in Bánh tráng (rice paper). This is synergistic stuff chocked with textured, cool nuances and flavorful bursts. Tailor made for a midsummer evening.


1/2 lb. pork loin, ground or sliced very thinly
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb. medium shrimp
3 stalks of lemon grass, just the thick ends, smashed and roughly chopped
Sea salt
1/4 C whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3-4 thyme sprigs
2 T coriander seeds
2 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 pkg bún (rice vermicelli)

1 pkg bánh tráng (rice paper)

1 C cucumbers, peeled and petitely julienned
1 C carrots, peeled and petitely julienned
8-10 scallions, sliced thinly
Bean sprouts

1/2 head Napa cabbage or green lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
Mint leaves, cut into chiffonades
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Sesame oil
Rice vinegar

Over medium high heat and in olive oil, saute, then dry and drain pork on paper towels. Meanwhile, prep, clean and dry all vegetables and herbs and place in bowls for assembly. Lightly dress the cabbage in equal parts of sesame oil and rice vinegar.

Place shrimp, lemongrass, sea salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, coriander seeds and shallots in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook until just cooked through, about 2 minutes, then drain immediately. Please take pains to not overcook as the shrimp will take a tough, rubbery turn for the worse. Once cooled, peel and then cut boiled shrimp in half, lengthwise.

Add the rice vermicelli to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes and drain well. All ingredients must be allowed to cool to room temperature before assembly.

Creating the rolls is a one-at-a-time zen task. Dip a single sheet of rice paper into a large baking dish filled partially with lukewarm water. It will soften within seconds. Then lay flat on a work surface. (If the rice paper languishes in the water longer than a few seconds it will become overly soggy and unusable.) Keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp cloth to prevent curling. On one edge, arrange a nest of rice vermicelli, a spoonful of pork, a few shrimp, some cucumbers, carrots, scallions, bean sprouts, cabbage, mint, and cilantro. While laying out the fillings, remain cognizant of how the spring roll will look once complete. Gingerly roll up the now loaded rice paper, tucking in the sides as you go and press to seal so it is snug. Once both sides are folded inward over the filling, roll the spring roll upwards so that it becomes a somewhat uniform cylinder.

Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. During the process, arrange finished rolls on a plate and cover with a slightly damp cloth to keep moist as you construct the remaining rolls. Gỏi cuốn should be rolled up firmly, but not too tightly, or the they will split. They should be assembled to your liking, but not overstuffed. While the wrapping may seem difficult at first blush, once you grasp a technique it will go smoothly.

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled with dipping sauces or concoct one to your liking.

Nuoc Leo (Peanut Sauce)
1 T peanut oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t chili paste
2 T tomato paste

1/2 C chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 t sugar
2 T peanut butter
1/4 C hoisin sauce

1/4 C unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 fresh red Thai chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and then add the garlic, chile paste, and tomato paste. Cook until the garlic is lightly golden but not browned, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the broth, sugar, peanut butter and hoisin sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Cool slightly to room temperature and serve in small bowls, garnished with peanuts, and sliced chile.

Red Curry Peanut Sauce
1/4 C roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar

2-3 t Thai red curry paste
8-10 T water
2 t peanut or vegetable oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C finely chopped shallot (about 1 large)
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise

Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand and set aside.

Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.

Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then thin with water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency.

Rice Vinegar & Soy Sauce
1 T rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t sesame seeds

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds.

Nuoc Cham
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 T rice vinegar

1/2 C nuoc mam (fish sauce), available at Asian markets
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 C turbinado (raw) sugar

In a small bowl, soak the red pepper flakes in the rice wine vinegar for 15 minutes.
In a second bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and sugar.
Whisk in 1 1/2 cups boiling water to the pepper & rice wine vinegar mixture.
Add the fish sauce mixture and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Pourboire: Not surprisingly, rice vermicelli is found in other notable asian cuisines, including chinese (米粉), malay (bihun), and thai (เส้นหมี่ sen mee).

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