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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cha Gio - Vietnamese Egg Rolls

Every time I begin writing, I always stop and pause.  First, to look at the picture I take, then to decide how I'm going to start the post.  I think this might be my first Vietnamese dish and I want to babble on about how wonderful Vietnamese food is and how it got its roots from this and that.  But then I remembered that every time a segment like that comes up on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, I get sleepy as heck.  So we are going to skip that... this time.  What I won't skip is the reason this simple roll is so wonderful and, of course, how to make it.

So what better first Vietnamese dish to post than a simple egg roll?  It epitomizes what it means to eat Vietnamese.  It's vibrant and colorful, it has lush, green veggies.  It's simple, easy to eat and yet, it's flavors are so complex.  The ingredients can be few, or it can be created with a variety of other innovative ingredients.  The flexibility of the egg roll shows the culture of the people and how they can use what's on hand to create such  an amazing dish.  The labor shows the family ties.  How each member from the mother to the children can bond over the joys of dinner.

I, however, lost that touch.  As a kid I helped my mom wrap up the egg rolls.  But I really hated it.  It was a chore, not a bonding experience.  Maybe that's what differentiated us Vietnamese-Americans from our parents and relatives overseas.  There's not a communion of bonding over food.  It's a task we don't enjoy.  We simply ask, "why not visit McDonalds?"  But as I grow up, I begin to understand that food is not just to be eaten.  It's to be enjoyed with friends and family.  And truthfully, the bonding that is done while laboring over the cooking, is labor worth doing.  When I make egg rolls, I never do it alone.  There is always another family member, friend, or girl friend who is wrapping it with me.  Though mistakes are always made, there is unmistaken bond over the chore.  And when it's all said and done, everybody enjoys the egg rolls.

Ingredients for egg rolls:
2-3 lbs ground pork (I prefer using ground pork leg as it's a bit leaner)
1-2 lbs ground shrimp (chopped with a knife or run briefly through a food processor)
2 grated carrots
1 onion, grated or finely minced
1 cup Asian fungus
1 small roll bean vermicelli
2 eggs
4 cloves minced garlic
3 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs mushroom seasoning
1 tbs corn starch
2 packages large egg roll wrappers, thawed

1) You're going to want to first hydrate the bean thread vermicelli and fungus.  Remember to only use one small batch of the vermicelli.  You don't want too much of it.

2) Grate onions and carrots and ground up the peeled and deveined shrimp.  I ran mine through a food processor to have it almost pasty, but some prefer it to be chopped into small pieces instead.  That's totally optional.

3) Mix all ingredients together well.  For the vermicelli, use kitchen shears and cut into 1-2 inch long cuts.  You don't want the whole thing in there together otherwise it'd be hard to eat.

4) A lot of people use egg whites to "glue" together the egg roll wrappers.  I prefer to use corn starch so I don't waste an egg over this.  It doesn't add to the taste by using eggs.  But I mix together half a cup of water with 1 tbs corn starch.

5) I failed to take pictures of me wrapping the egg rolls.  What a great blogger I am huh?  Even if I took pictures, I don't know if it'd help much.  Here's a YouTube video by Runny who shows how to wrap the egg rolls.  Start at 3:05 for the wrapping.  Of course you can watch the rest of his video for his ingredients too.  The only thing is that I don't like is how flat the rolls are.  Make sure they're not that flat when you roll them up, otherwise... they're not really rolls.  Don't worry too much about the wrapping though, it's OK to mess up.  It'll still be good.

6) When done wrapping, set canola or peanut oil at least 2" deep to medium high heat.  Have the temperature reach 350.  Make sure you use peanut oil or an oil with a high smoke point when deep frying.  Olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil) will burn.

7)  The time it takes to finish deep frying depends on the thickness of your rolls.  But a general rule of thumb is to deep fry until they're GBD -- golden brown and delicious.  As long as you don't have the temperature of the oil too high, you won't have a problem.

Easy huh?  Enjoy simply by wrapping with a red leaf lettuce.  Of course you can add herbs and other veggies if you want.  To make a full meal out of this, serve with vermicelli.  ALWAYS dip in nuoc mam (pha), or a mixed fish sauce.  So enjoy this, with a friend, a family, a loved one, because the shared labor here will make it so much better for everyone involved.