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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: DIY takeout has never been easier -- it’s time to spring (roll) into action.
It’s easy to buy pre-made fresh spring rolls from your favorite takeout joint or highfalutin grocery store. Yes, it’s a fast meal that you can feel good about eating, but every time you grab them in their overpriced, oversized plastic coffins, you have to convince yourself that this is a better option than making them yourself. You’re worried it’ll be too hard: that you won’t be able to to seal them properly, or you’ll have little stacks of julienned vegetables falling out of both ends, or you’ll end up with misshapen amoeba-like rolls that threaten to take over your countertop.
Don’t be nervous. You can, and should, make spring rolls at home. For starters, it’s fun -- you get to customize them with whatever fillings your heart desires. Use as many different vegetables as you want. Add tofu, shrimp, or even pork. Think about adding noodles, like rice vermicelli or soba noodles. Eschew cilantro in favor of mint. It’s your roll; make it your own. Wrapping fresh spring rolls is easier than you'd think, and it's fine if the first couple wrappers rip or the finished rolls are a little lumpy. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be churning them out by the dozen.
A linguistic note: These also moonlight as summer rolls, rice paper rolls, Vietnamese spring rolls, salad rolls -- the list goes on. Spring rolls can be fried too, but then they are no longer called fresh spring rolls, and are referred to as fried spring rolls, or simply, spring rolls. The one thing these are not: egg rolls. Egg rolls are generally fried and made with flour-based wrappers.
There are a number of different methods for working with rice paper wrappers, but here's how we make a closed-end roll:
The value of mise en place is not to be underestimated when dealing with wet spring roll wrappers. So get all of your ingredients prepped -- wash and slice your vegetables, pick the leaves from your herbs, slice your tofu into soldiers -- and arrange them all in little piles or bowls. If you're using meat, seafood, or noodles, cook them. Now is also the time to prepare your dipping sauce and set it aside -- try a peanut sauce, a soy-based sauce, or one of these suggestions from the community.
Clear a space for wrapping the rolls: The easiest option is a cutting board or clean countertop, but you can also use a large plate. Add warm water to a large, shallow bowl or pie plate -- or any vessel you have that is larger than your wrappers. Standard-size rice paper wrappers are 8 1/2-inch circles, so you should be able to find something that works. If you have extra-large rice paper wrappers, and don’t have a big enough dish, not to worry: You can soften them up by holding them under warm running water in your sink.
Put one wrapper in the warm water, submerge it, and rub it with your hand, flip it, and rub the other side, leaving it in the water just long enough to make sure the whole thing gets wet. It will still feel slightly firm when you pull it out of the water, but it will continue to soften -- it might take some practice to figure out what the right amount of firmness feels like. Leave the wrapper in the water for too long, and it will start sticking to itself and get too soft for you to work with. (If you know you'll be making a lot of rolls, Food52er boulangere recommends working with cold water, and letting the rice paper wrappers soak longer.)
More: Not convinced? Skip the rice paper and make these summer rolls with leftover fish and crisp leafy greens.
Lay the rice paper wrapper out flat and place ingredients in the bottom third of the wrapper. Aim for placing them in the shape you want the spring roll to be -- long and thin.
Treat each roll like a burrito: Distribute the ingredients evenly, so you don’t have all of one ingredient at one end; and layer the ingredients so you get a little of every flavor in each bite. Don’t overstuff the roll -- leave enough space on all sides to wrap it up. The rice paper wrapper takes a minute or two to soften up once it's out of the water, so by the time you’ve got all of your ingredients on the wrapper, it should be pliable enough to roll.
Pull the bottom (the part closest to you) of the rice paper wrapper up and over the filling, tucking it under a little bit to pull the ingredients closer together. Gently pull the left side of the wrapper over the middle, and then the right, to close up the ends of the roll.
Roll it up away from you, continuing to gently tuck the filling in tighter as you go. The tucking helps the roll keep a nice shape, and guards against loose, unraveling rolls. For extra insurance, follow Sagegreen’s lead, and build rolls with two wrappers each -- she recommends soaking two wrappers in hot water for less than a minute. Layering two wrappers together at first (or wrapping a finished roll in a second wrapper as Sagegreen does) will make a sturdier roll, so you’ll have fewer missteps (and fewer ingredients breaking through) as you gain confidence with your wrapping technique.
Tell us: What are your tricks for wrapping rice paper rolls?
Photos by Linda Pugliese