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Monday, September 10, 2012

Fresh Spring Roll Wrapping Party - It's How We Roll!

I love Fresh Spring Rolls but can never seem to get the wrapping technique down as well as they do in a restaurant. Enter my friend and professional makeup artist, Giao Nguyen, who really knows how to roll. Giao brought a major batch of fresh spring rolls to a July 4th party a couple of years ago at the brand new home of Andy Mark and Lisa Whalen. After stuffing myself gracefully I told Giao that I just gots-to-know how she rolls so perfectly. So two years later we finally got together for a spring roll wrapping lesson and celebration of these tasty tubes.

Giao is a perfectionist and makes everything from scatch so my kitchen quickly came alive with sous chefs prepping like crazy. This first shot is almost the whole gang slicing and dicing away.

Left: Romona Synder, Giao and her husband Thai Mai.   Right: Elley Ho and Andy Mark
Speaking of scratch Giao prefers using fresh water chestnuts for stuffing her Ground Turkey lettuce wraps. I had never seen them before. They are about the size of walnuts and we peeled them with a paring knife. Here Giao demos how to remove their tough outer layer to prepare them for dicing.

There is no shortage of garlic in Giao's Ground Turkey stuffing for the lettuce wraps and she moved gracefully through many cloves here turning them into a perfect mince. Elley was amused, Ramona was amazed and Thai was focused on dissecting heads of lettuce.

Giao's other choice for protein stuffing was pork.  She simmered it in a broth and then Thai carefully sliced it to a perfect thickness for wrapping.

Covering all the bases were jumbo shrimp cooked to perfection and then sliced lengthwise making them thin enough to roll up with the other ingredients. Giao scoops out the shrimp and Andy continues to work the turkey saute.

Giao helped solve the mystery of the popular peanut dipping sauce. Her recipe use simply peanut butter and hoisin sauce. We were all eager to learn her secret to this favorite stuff in which to dunk our rolls.

Giao uses plain smooth peanut butter out of the jar to create a very tasty peanut dipping sauce.
My contribution to the feast was Pineapple Mango Green Tea and a spicy Thai Cabbage Salad.

Pineapple Mango Green Tea on tap
Thai Cabbage Salad with Serrano Chile Lime Dressing and Peanuts

When we were good to go we covered the dining table with all of the ingredients because these wraps are all custom made by the guests. It's a like a like a taco or ice cream sundae bar where you stuff them as you please and roll your own. The list of stuffing choices included pork, shrimp, rice noodles, mint, lettuce, bean sprouts and avocado. This format promotes customizing rolls and keeps everybody happy.

Although we had free reign on our choice of stuffings Giao made it very clear that there are rules to rolling. It all begins with a rice paper sheet that is perfectly moist. She came armed with a simple device for just this purpose. You just lower in a sheet vertically and make one complete rotation in the warm water. It wets the sheet but not overly so and in moments you are ready to roll. This gadget is a single tasking kitchen device but one that makes wrapping spring rolls a breeze.

Giao surprised everyone when she told us that this clever gadget was invented by a teenager. It even comes complete with a slot to stage the sheets ready for dipping.

Here is Giao's no miss step-by-step method of rolling the perfect spring roll. Note that she starts with the ingredients at the edge of the wrap closest to you and not in the middle. You then roll away from yourself. The pink side down on the shrimp makes for a nicer presentation as their color will be visible through the opaque roll.

Step 1. On a perfectly moistened sheet lay the shrimp pink side down and/or slices of pork.
Top the proteins with lettuce leaves. Omit lettuce ribs as they can tear the wrappers.
Add a few fresh bean sprouts for a nice crunchy texture.
Mint leaves layer another whole layer of fresh flavor.
Soft Rice Noodles give the rolls body and make them very satisfying.
The three keys to a successful roll are as follows:
1. Use both hands and roll slowly 
2. Continue to tighten the roll as you fold 
3. Half-way through tuck in both ends and then roll to completion

Giao displays her perfectly wrapped roll
Remember that these rolls are best served immediately. If they sit too long the wrappers, they will dry out and become tough. A wet paper towel and plastic wrap cover can help keep them soft longer. Professional wedding photographer and friend, Elley Ho, certainly did not come empty handed but rather surprised us with our first of two desserts for the evening handmade by her friend, Michelle Ng.

Peach • Black Sesame • Sakura • Mango • Pistachio • Dark Chocolate Macarons from Michelle Ng

As we sat around and enjoyed this Asian delicacy I kept marveling at all that rice has to offer to the culinary world. It is inexpensive, low in calories, flexible in use and highly non-allergenic. Even the uncooked dry noodles are fun to munch on like chips. We tried sprinkling them with some flavored salts from I was given recently from Salt Farm in San Diego. This handful had a splash of their #35 Bruschetta salt for an Asian/Italian mash up. Move over popcorn!

Speaking of mash ups we traditionally conclude our parties at the fire pit. No matter how full we are there is ALWAYS room for S'mores. Enter the improv Chef Carl. After extolling all of the virtues of rice paper I decided to mash these beauties with S'mores. Why not? I am a firm believer in both finger food and wrapping anything. The marriage of these two foods made perfect sense to me. So I started with a nicely done S'more and then gave it rice paper jacket.

What's not to love about this East meets West treat?
Andy did the honors and put my Spring S'mores to the flame.
This Asian version is even less messy as it captures all of the melty goodness from escaping.
My parting shot is a tribute to fusions and mash ups of all kinds. After all, this kind of hand held food is all about freedom of choice.  Just like burritos, wraps, pita pockets or any other devices for stuffing. They are limited only by your creativity and imagination.

A huge thanks goes out to Giao and her husband Thai for being so generous with the groceries and sharing their expertise at our first ever Fresh Spring Roll University. I truly love the way you roll!

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