Sunday, March 8, 2009
Fresh Spring Rolls
Oh Fresh Spring Rolls, are you Thai? Are you Vietnamese? Are you some sort of creation thought up by crazy Americans and passed off as authentic Asian cuisine? Tell me your secrets!
Though I have no idea where these tasty treats hail from, and after at least three minutes of exhaustively googling them I came up with no conclusive evidence, I still love them. The first time I had them was on one of my first dates with Mr. TA before we got married. He really likes Asian cuisine, all kinds, and he took me to this really cute little Thai place in Washington. We had Phad Thai, Chicken Satay, Mangoes with Coconut Sticky Rice, and Fresh Spring Rolls. Everything was delicious and Mr. TA and I were well on our way to everlasting mushiness - or more typically driving each other as crazy as possible. We like to keep things fresh.
So, more importantly, fresh spring rolls are a rice paper wrapper filled with lettuce, an assortment of herbs, chicken, and shrimp. Many recipes also require the addition of other vegetables like carrots or cabbage and many times noodles are added. I prefer to stick to the style we first had on our date, so I use only lettuce, basil, cilantro, mint, chicken, and shrimp. Top it off with some out of this world peanut sauce and you're good to go.
Speaking of peanut sauce, talk about a crapshoot when you're looking for a good recipe, eh? I've made peanut sauce countless times, and I've never been quite satisfied with any of them. They're either too sweet, too peanutty, too spicy, or too oily. I like my peanut sauce to contain a myriad of flavors - heat, sweetness, spice, and of course the peanuts. It needs to blend effortlessly into a flavor that complements the dish it's adorning, not covering it up. Peanut sauce isn't really an Asian creation (invented by crazy Westerners), so it's little surprise it's now basically the Asian ketchup. We throw it on everything, and instead of adding an additional level of flavor, it masks everything else until all we can taste is the peanut sauce.
That's why I attempted to create my own recipe completely from scratch. Usually when I attempt something like this it ends in an Epic FAIL. This time, it actually worked. It's the best peanut sauce I've ever had - restaurant or otherwise. It was one of those recipes that as I was mixing everything I knew that it was either going to be the most amazing thing I've ever created - or lump of goo not fit for the neighbor's cat that keeps pooping in my flower beds.
And believe me, at this point I'd feed that cat all sorts of weird crap. That's right, poop in your owners house - not my chrysanthemums.
I've heard that working with some Asian ingredients and techniques can be a little intimidating for some, so I've included some step-by-step photos to guide through the process. They're really so simple, I can't think of any reason for not trying them.
Fresh Spring Rolls
For the Rolls:
6 sheets rice spring roll wrapper (available at any Asian market)
6 leaves green or red leaf lettuce (romaine and iceberg are too firm, they may tear the wrapper)
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup basil leaves
12 shrimp (preferably 25-30 ct.), raw, shelled and deveined
10 oz chicken (1 medium boneless, skinless breast), cut into small strips about 1 oz each
4 tablespoons butter, divided
For the Peanut Sauce:
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon palm sugar, grated
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/3 cup coconut milk
In a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat melt two tablespoons butter. Add the shrimp, season to taste with salt and cracked pepper. Cook until pink and opaque throughout. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Melt the remaining two tablespoons butter and add the chicken strips. Cook completely. Remove from skillet and set aside. Turn off the heat, but keep the pan on the burner (gas stoves may require lowest flame). Using the residual heat, melt the peanut butter for the peanut sauce, in effect deglazing the skillet with the peanut butter. Add remaining ingredients, combine thoroughly and let meld for at least two minutes - adjust to taste if necessary. Remove from skillet into a ramekin or other small dish and set aside.
For assembling the rolls:
Start with your rice wrappers
This is what they look like when they're dry, out of the package
In a wide, shallow dish ( I use a large pie plate) fill halfway with hot water (from the tap is fine). Soak the wrapper for about 45 seconds, lift it out of the water carefully and let excess water drip off. Now it will look like this:
A quick tip, dry to keep your work area as dry as possible. It needs to be moist, but if the area is soaking wet the wrapper will stay soaking wet too - and it needs to start to dry out a little as you're working or when you start the rolling it will be too slippery to stick to itself. Keep a kitchen towel handy and wipe down the surface after every roll.
Start the assembly by placing two cooked shrimp, side to side in the center of the wrapper.
On top of the shrimp, layer the herbs in equal amounts and top with a strip or two of the cooked chicken.
Top with a lettuce leaf. Now, start to roll it like a burrito. Flip the edge nearest you over the top of filling, pull taught, and fold in each side.
Now just keep rolling until it's sealed.
If you're awesome you end up with the shrimp showing through the top of the wrapper. However, I am not awesome, and after rolling all six of mine I still didn't get one to work properly - so they look all plain and boring like this:
Now you're all finished. You can serve them whole or cut on the diagonal.
Top with the peanut sauce, but not too much...
Now devour at will.