Last summer I hosted a rager on my ex’s gorgeous penthouse terrace and asked friends to bring a bottle or a potluck dish. Nini came with a tin of spring rolls. At that party, she mentioned having spent the afternoon preparing her family’s signature Vietnamese dish, but I had no idea how much trouble she’d gone through until last night, when she invited me to join her for a lesson in her gorgeous Wall Street kitchen. Truth be told, I think Nini had an ulterior motive for standing over a hot stove late last August, frying 60 pouches of pork deliciousness for my summer fete; his name was Michael (then boyfriend, current fiancee). Both recipe and man endured, and I’ve been begging Nini to teach me her secrets and let me share in her family’s tradition of gathering ‘round a table to wrap and roll dumplings ever since.
So if you’re aiming to impress a crowd of mouths or just one very special set of lips, gather your friends together and make a day of celebrating spring and it’s signature rolls. Just keep the Chardonnay handy as these suckers took the entire evening to make…and there were two of us!
- 1 head Garlic (1 TB divided & finely minced)
- 4 Shallots (finely minced)
- 2 Eggs
- 2 TB Maggi Seasoning or Soy Sauce
- 1 TB Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 TB Sugar
- Dash of Fleur de Sel
- As much Black Pepper as you can handle
- 2 lb Ground Pork
Wrapping / Frying / Serving
- Egg based Extra Crispy Spring Roll Wrappers (defrosted)
- Peanut or Canola Oil for frying
- 1 head Romaine Lettuce (outer rolls)
- 2 bundles fresh Mint Leaves (garnish)
- 2 Carrots (sliced for garnish)
- 1 ½ cups Water
- 8 TB Premium Fish Sauce
- 2 ½ TB Sugar
- 1 Lime (juiced)
- 1 TB Chili Paste
- Remaining Minced Garlic
This recipe is a long one. Start by mixing your filling, which can be done one day before and refrigerated if you want to divvy up the workload. Mince your garlic and shallots as finely as your patience allows (honestly, this alone took me about 20 minutes and quite a few tears—so come prepared). In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 TB garlic, all the shallots, eggs, Maggi Seasoning, Worcestershire, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk contents of bowl for 30 seconds.Then add the pork and mix thoroughly, almost into a paste, being sure to spread the seasoning evenly throughout the meat.
Remove the defrosted spring roll wrappers (which should measure either 4” x 4” or 6” x 6”) from their packaging and cut in a diagonal; wrappers this size will make rolls that are approximately 2.5” long. Turn the pile of triangle-shaped, cut wrappers toward you with the point side up, like a pyramid. To begin rolling, use a spoon to shape a quenelle, or football-shaped, piece of filling about 2” long by ¾” wide. Place the quenelle near the base of the pyramid (flat side) leaving about a ½ inch space beneath the ball of meat; you’ll need this extra slack to start rolling. Wipe any excess filling from your fingers at the top of the pyramid; this excess will act as a glue to seal the rolls together. If you don’t have any excess on your fingertips, smear a little filling at the tip of the triangle. Fold the right side of the wrapper as far as it will go; then fold the left.Pick up the extra slack and begin rolling from the base toward the top of the pyramid. Make sure you are rolling tight, trying to press all the air out of the spring rolls. Seal at the top and lay the rolls on a plate, seal-side down, to help them stay closed.
Fill a large non-stick or well-seasoned, cast iron pan with enough frying oil to come up the sides of the pan (about 1” deep). Heat over high heat. Bring the oil up to a simmer and place as many rolls in the pan as will fit, leaving at least a 1” space between them. Once the oil begins to visibly bubble, reduce heat to medium.Make sure the rolls are seal-side down when first placing in the pan! Turn the spring rolls every couple minutes using tongs, or if you’re a pro like Nini, chopsticks. Do not allow one side to begin bubbling due to uneven cooking, as it may cause holes in your rolls.After golden on both sides, remove rolls from the pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. You can serve them hot or room temperature.
To prepare the dipping sauce, simply mix all ingredients and taste for seasoning. The mint leaves should be rinsed and the carrots peeled into strips. To prepare the lettuce wraps, just rinse and cut pieces of romaine leaves from top to bottom a couple inches longer than the spring rolls. Each Romaine leaf should allow for 2 spring roll wraps.You will be wrapping the rolls inside the lettuce cups and filling them with fresh mint and shredded carrot to your liking.Every guest can roll individually. Of course, the whole concoction gets dipped into the sauce and devoured in only a smidgen of the time it takes to make these suckers. But damn, they’re worth it!