Sunday, April 11, 2010

Supper Time

It seems when someone cooks, whether it be a little or a lot, we all have our favorite dishes to make. It can be a dish that we enjoy eating or it may be a dish shows a certain flair. One of my oldest food memories formed one of my most favorite dishes to make. It's the Vietnamese appetizer called chả giò.
ricepaper
Living in the Maryland suburbs outside of DC meant you were introduced to an incredibly wide variety of people. Air Force kids whose parents worked at Andrews Air Force Base, the Hindu family whose mom's distinctively accented voice could carry for four blocks, calling her kids home for dinner. Then there were our next door neighbors whose son came back from the Vietnamese war with more than bad memories and worn green duffel bag. He came back with a Vietnamese wife and child. I was just another tom boy kid playing football in the yard to notice if Sun was happy in her new home. What I do remember is that she loved eating crabs at our backyard crab feasts and that made her OK by me. However when she first broke out the chả giò to the neighborhood picnic, yours truly first took her foodie baby steps. I had to know more. Luckily chả giò is one of those dishes that goes a lot quicker if you get a group together to pitch in and help assemble. Sun tried to teach me but I was not quick or neat enough to be of much help. I do remember the huge platter of already rolled chả giò, waiting for their turn in the deep fryer and making my mouth water in anticipation.
treeears
Chả giò as a recipe is fairly simple. A filling rolled into a moistened rice paper skin which is then deep fried. Nestle that hot roll in a bed of mint and green lettuce and dip it some spicy Nước mắm pha sauce and you've got yourself some good eatin'. The exact recipe is as varied as the many cooks and the places where they live. Ground pork seems to be one constant. To that you can add shrimp or crab. Vegetables may include bean sprouts, finely minced onions, shredded carrots and jicama or sweet potato. Don't forget the tree ear fungus (above) and cellophane or glass noodles. For more flavor I like adding fish sauce and white pepper. A beaten egg helps bind the mixture together.
ricepaper2
The tough part of this dish is working with the rice papers. You have a choice of using dried round wrappers made from rice or a variety of spring roll wrappers made from flour. I prefer the rice. You have to moisten the wrapper briefly to make it pliable but not too wet or it will tear. The diagram shows how to roll a chả giò.Easy right? Next you get to deep fry your rolls. Peanut oil is my frying oil of choice. My hints on frying include using a pan that heats evenly, not crowding the pan with too many rolls and cooking and serving the rolls in batches. Cold chả giò is not something you should serve your guests and loved ones but don't worry, they will happily wait for hot, crispy goodness once they've tasted the first batch. To serve you'll need a big plate of green leaf lettuce and some nước mắm pha sauce. Depending on your preferences you could also add some cucumber, cilantro or mint to add to your rolling experience.
cha-gio


cha-gio1
Or if all that's too much trouble, just come on over to my house and I'll be more than happy to share what I can whip up. Not as good as Sun's but a tribute to her cooking just the same.

14 comments:

Making Space said...

Holy crap! On my way! I'll bring the cake!

intuitive eggplant said...

What a great food memory - and you can actually make that dish!

The one time I ever tried to work with those rice papers, things went completely fubar. How lucky you are to have learned about making it from your friend and her family. Diagrams do not necessarily a successful roll make. Learning at someone's elbow - be it pie crust, an Italian red sauce, or a Vietnamese spring/summer roll - there's simply no better way to "get" how to make them.

Thanks, Shamu, for brightening up my Monday already :)

Dani said...

Waaaahhhhhh! I want to be your neighbor! Or your kitchen bitch, either one is good as long as you feed me these.

Susan said...

Did someone say cake ? avec ice cream perhaps ? OMG these look so good I know I could eat 18 or 19* ... at least. xo les Gang

Big Shamu said...

(uh oh, I better start rolling more)

Buzz Kill said...

These remind me of Chinese pot stickers. I buy them already made and frozen because I don't have the time or patience to do it myself.

You had crab feasts in your neighborhood? That is a nice childhood memory. We never did any neighborhood stuff like that when I was a kid. However, this tradition is starting to take root in my current neighborhood. We had a block party last fall and the Mrs and our accross-the-street neighbor are talking about a spring block party in early May. It should have Asian, Jewish, Irish and Italian cooking represented. We'll see how that goes.

Big Shamu said...

We did have backyard gatherings. No fences between most of our neighbors so we brought all our picnic tables together and loaded them down with food. Crabs back then were fat, cheap and plentiful. I could eat a lot of crabs as a little kid. Now you pretty much have to be a corporate lobbyist to be able to afford a crab feast's worth of crabs.

Dani said...

That sounds so awesome Shamy. What wonderful memories you must have!

LaDivaCucina said...

YUM!!! You've spoken to the Asian food freak in me! Ground pork and perhaps ground prawn as well would be good. I love the fresh ingredients you add to Vietnamese food that makes something fried seem healthy! That last shot...NOT FAIR! I always get hungry around 4pm!

The rice paper is very tricky and rips easily, patience is a must but it looks so worth it. Do you remember when I made CHẠO TÔM or Vietnamese prawn paste on sugar cane? It was easier than I thought it would be. I didn't get any sugar cane this year in my CSA....hmmm.....

Eggy's right, it's always better to be shown how to make these ethnic dishes, esp. if it's by someone's mother!

Sounds like you had some nice childhood memories. Because of all the Italian kids in our hood, we used to play soccer just as much as football!

Big Shamu said...

LaDiva, shrimp on sugar cane is my second favorite Vietnamese dish and one I have not attempted yet mainly because of the difficulty getting sugar cane but this summer I will make it my mission. Do I have any volunteer taste testers/Kitchen Bitches?

LaDivaCucina said...

I'll help fo sho. Maybe I can get some sugar cane for you if you can't find it? I was going to send you canistel but my farmer only was able to scavage a few more for the season and they would not have made the trip. But she says I can send them if they are under ripe.

I'll keep my eye out. It's actually pretty easy and so dang good! suckin' on the grilled cane soaked with prawn and garlic is the best part.

Ravenous Couple said...

that's such a cool diagram and lovely looking cha gio! we would really love for you to consider participating in Delicious Vietnam, a new food blog event to celebrate Vietnamese cuisine.

Jessica said...

It must have been such a great experience having so many different cultures around you as you grew up. I think these sound delicious. I've been looking for something to put into the rice papers I bought the other day. Thanks for the recipe!

jessyburke88@gmail.com

Making Space said...

Congrats, Food Gawker!!!! Woot!