It’s the easiest dish on earth but i will describle them the most detailed possible as it will cover some of the most basic things about Vietnamese cooking. Disclaimers: I am not professional cook, I started cooking not so long ago but when you live away from home and mom, you urge to cook, you cook the way mom does and you might end up cooking a lot therefore gaining a bit of experience here and there. I also have this special desire to share my hometown cooking cuisine to my international friends, it’s fastinating how each region use the same ingredients in a completely different ways or how different countries that are so far away from each other share the same mentality in cooking. That’s why I decided to write this journey down, as i, myself, am discovering more and more my own cuisine, to share with you! Some of the tips might do not even sound right to other Vietnameses but there is no right and wrong with cooking and there is no “fomular” in vietnamese cookings, please relax and have your own experience while discovering it with me.
· Rice paper – you can buy in any store, even Monoprix.
The filling includes:
· Cucumber, Carrot + Pinapaple if you are a fan of them and it’s not too expensive, i usually just use cucumber and carrot because they are always on my fridge
· Green salad
· Mint/Basil etc, the more herbs the tastier your Gỏi cuốn going to be.
· Pork belly: you can use any type of pork meat, however, i would recommend those parts with a bit of fat. Lean meat will make the cut quite dry and the rolls less tasty. Vietnameses love fat and skin which you will see in my pictures.
· Bún (Rice noodle): please make sure you get the package that says “Bún” – which means the thin rice noodle, dont confused to another similar-looking noodle called “Miến”.
The dipping: the most important part of the dish.
· Tỏi (garlic), Chanh (lemon/lime), Ớt (chili)
· Nước mắm (fish sauce) – please invest in one if you have the chance because it is the number one ingredient for seasoning, dipping, marinating, you name it, in Vietnamese cooking, in Paris, you can find them in Tang Frere, Paris Store and properly your exotic stores next door. It is salty and sweet which immediately give your dishes the tastefulness. You can simply have a meal with just a hot bowl of rice and few drop of good pure fish sauce, warning – it’s going to be super strong in all senses. Treat your nước mắm with love and care because one drop of it in your table or your clothes would leave the trace for hours… Since I am going to Tang Frere quite often now, i can easily pick up an extra bottle of Nước mắm for those who would like to, no fee of course, I am doing this because this is one of the rare ingredients that is hard to be replaced.
· Step 1: wash all of your vegetables and meats.
· Step 2: boil the meats with a bit of salt, depend on how big the pieces is, the process would take about 15-20’, do not cover the pot, use a chopstick to poke them, if no red juice comes out, your meat is good to go. One of the trick i usually do is even when there is a big of red juice, i still turn off the fire and leave the meat inside, cover the pot and leave them there… till you need to cut them, this way, the meat will cook slowly in the hot boiling water, that avoids overcook as well as undercook. Remove from the water and let them cool down before sliding it. You can use the same water to continue boiling the prawn, this water can be saved to make simple noodle soups for later days because there are full of sweetness of the meat and prawn.
· Step 3: while the meat is boiling, boil the rice noodle. This is similar like boiling pasta, but it takes much less times and i found that the time instruction on the package is not usually accurate. Therefore, i boil and try them too, usually about 5’ then i will tast them, if they are almost cook, i will turn off the fire and leave there for another 3-4’. If they are cooked, remove from the fire immediately. In both case, after remove the water water, please cool the noodle down immediately with cool water, this act prevents the noodle from cooking more (rice noodle is oftern thin and super soft, not like pasta, and we really dont want to have overcooked rice noodle), it also have to keep the noodle seperated. Use pot with holes like in the pictures to let the noodle get rid of the water. You should have your noodle completely cool down before eating, that’s why we do this early on, you can even do this at step 1 before continuing on with others.
· Step 4: peel and cut all the vegetables as in the pictures. Actually the preparation time of this dish often depends on your cutting speed. Yup, Vietnamese cooking 101 (by Hiền) is cutting/chopping/mashing, any sort of breaking into small pieces. You will have to do that almost in every dish.
· Step 5: Slide the meat (you see, you already have to cut more now)
· Step 6: Chop the garlic – if you follow these steps, it will prevent you from having to use 2 cutboard.
· Step 7: the crucial one, mixing Nước mắm. Now, remember Nước mắm from the bottle is pure, you need to mix it with water, sugar, lemon to dip Gỏi cuốn into. The taste is really up to you to decide. North of Vietnam like them light but the South of Vietnam prefer them a bit sweeter. You can start with a portion of 1 sugar – 2 nước mắm – 7 water. Then add the lemon juice at the end. I also found boiling the mixture will give the best taste as well as well disovled the sugar. However, please make sure to turn on the fan and open all your windows in your 1st attempt.
Display, rolling and enjoying:
– All ingredients should be in the center of the table so you pick whatever you want and as much as you want
– Each will help a big plat to use as rolling surface.
– One or more big bowl of water (warm or cool is your choice), It usually takes me more than 30’ for this dish so warm water turns cool at the end anyway. If you have a brush, perfect, if not, your fingers will do the join.
– First you have to wet the rice paper, depending on how thick it is, you can test the 1st few to figure that out.
– Then the big leave come first at a middle of the rice paper but toward you. And the rest can follow without any particular order, i usually put them clock-wise (according to where they are placed on the table to make sure i dont miss any ingredients – trust me, that happens a lot)
– You then fold them like making a present, which means folding the 2 sides in, making sure, your rolls are closed completely. Dip with your delicious, taloired-made fish sauce then go directly to your stomach.
I have not mentioned that this is my favorite lunch dish on weekend because it’s simple and fast to prepare, I can eat as much vegetable as possible (make up for the whole week) and since each will roll their own Gỏi cuốn, we have time to talk and to discuss in between, also to make fun of how big my mom’s rolls are. Despite of how good as a cook she is, her rolls are particularly fatty as she put ways to much fillings, her fish sauce bowl usually ends up with all the noodles and meat and veggies (please let me know if it happens to you too)
There is also a game I play within myself to calculate how to finish all the ingredients and to have all of them in the very last rolls.
If you dont like meat, please feel free to replace with any white meaty fishes (like mackerel, just be careful with the bones) – simply grill them in the oven.