Restaurants and cookbooks often list Vietnamese chả giò (I pronounce it like cha – y’all) as Vietnamese egg rolls or spring rolls. Other than their shape, there is no other similarity to the egg rolls you might find at your local Chinese takeout restaurant; they taste nothing like them. Really, chả giò are in a class of their own and if you’ve tried them, I imagine you’d agree.
They don’t have cabbage or bean sprouts as the main ingredients. Instead, they’re usually filled with pork, shrimp/crab meat, jicama, carrots, wood ear mushrooms and bean thread noodles. My mother never liked to deep fry any food, but at every big holiday or dinner party, she’d make them and they always went fast. Even now, I rarely order them at restaurants because they often pale in comparison to the ones she makes. I think it’s partly because she buys quality ingredients and she doesn’t skimp on the shrimp or crabmeat – which is often my complaint at restaurants.
These are great just eaten out of hand as appetizers but they’re delicious when added to rice noodles, beef/pork/shrimp skewers, carrots, cucumbers, fresh herbs and crushed peanuts in Bún Thịt Nướng or tucked into lettuce cups with rice noodles and fresh herbs, and then dipped in Nước Chấm.
This recipe below uses the traditional rice paper (Bánh Tráng) to wrap the filling. I know they’re also made with the Chinese Spring Roll wrappers. I think Vietnamese Americans often choose them over rice paper because there’s slightly less work (you don’t have to moisten them in water), they fry up nicely and have a crisp snap to them. They don’t have the crackly, yet slight chew that the rice paper gives but I think they’re quite good anyway. I suppose the filling is what I care about most; get that right and we can still be friends. I promise.
INGREDIENTS: approx. 20 rolls
- 1 lb. (~ 450 grams) ground pork
- 5 medium-large shallots, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup (~60 grams) of dried wood ear mushrooms, re-constituted in warm water for approx. 20-30 minutes, drained and finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup (~120 grams) finely grated carrot
- 1/2 cup (~120 grams) finely grated jicama (củ sắn)
- 1/2 lb. (~225 grams) shrimp – peeled, de-veined, and roughly chopped
- 1 bundle of bean thread (cellophane noodles) – soaked in warm water until limp and cut into 1 inch segments
- 1/4 lb. (~110 grams) crab meat [optional]
- 1.5 tsp. salt
- 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
WRAPPERS (the rice paper, not the singers) & DEEP FRYING
- 20 sheets of rice paper (bánh tráng)
- large bowl (I use my 10 inch cake pan) filled with warm water
- approx. 4-5 cups of peanut oil (or any vegetable oil)
- small/medium brown paper bag, for blotting oil
- Thoroughly combine all the ingredients for the filling (this can be done 1 day ahead). Set aside.
- Quickly dip the rice paper sheet into the water and moisten both sides. Lay the rice paper on a cutting board or plate – it will quickly soften and become pliable.
- Spoon a rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom third of the wrapper. Spread and even out the filling to approx. 3.5 inches (~9cm) in length.
- When the rice paper is soft and slightly transparent, bring the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling and follow with the right and left sides. Begin rolling the filling, keeping it fairly tight. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat a dutch oven or deep pan with oil (the level shouldn’t reach beyond 1/3 the height of the pan – otherwise, the oil can spill over when you add the chả giò) to 350F and fry the chả giò (a few at a time) for about 5-8 minutes – they will rise to the top and likely bubble. I find a deep-fry thermometer is helpful to gauge and maintain a constant temperature.
- When they are crisp and slightly golden, you can use tongs or chopsticks to transfer them to a plate or bowl lined with brown paper – (it blots the oil well without adhering like some paper towels) – a tip from one of my Southern friends.
- Serve warm and crispy.
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