Food Friday: Vietnamese Egg Rolls

My cousin’s mom is Vietnamese. I haven’t seen her in a billion and twenty years, but I remember some of the food she used to make and man, was it ever delicious. She made the best Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had, but the only ingredient I can remember (title vegetable aside) is fish sauce.

My mom and I used to constantly make this chicken she showed us, and it was the simplest thing in the world. You just cook some chicken somehow (no seasoning necessary), then cut it into chunks. Wrap each chunk in a baby spinach leaf, then dunk the whole thing in a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice. It’s the simplest recipe I know, but the flavor was so intense. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Look at you guys, squeezing a bonus dish out of me!

The real reason I bring her up, however, is because of these egg rolls. She used to make the best egg rolls. They’re not like what you find in the local Chinese restaurant, all crammed with cabbage and whatnot. They don’t even look the same. These are mostly whitish, unless you get the special burny ones. Mmmmm. My mom asked her for a copy of the recipe a long time ago, but what she received was a list of ingredients that only vaguely resembled what actually went into them. In fact, nobody got an accurate recipe from her, ever. Fortunately, someone wrote down what she did as she did it one time, and because of that person’s bravery and my friend Sara’s willingness to actually go through all the ass pain of making 90+ egg rolls, my cousin and I get to enjoy them once or twice a year. Delightful!

Sara was gracious enough to write up the whole procedure for me to share with you. This is almost certainly because she knows that none of the rest of our friends will go to all the trouble to make these and steal her thunder if she’s willing to do it twice a year herself.  Her very own recipe and method is after the jump. Thanks, Sara!

The Recipe and Method for making Spectacularly Delicious Vietnamese Egg Rolls that will Impress the Hell out of All of Your Friends and Acquaintances

This recipe makes 96 egg rolls which will feed a party of about 15 people. You will need:
4 one-pound rolls of Jimmy Dean sausage
1 8.5 oz package of bean thread noodles (these are clear noodles. May also be labeled Mung Bean Vermicelli)
3 packages of rice or tapioca egg roll wrappers (They will be called Spring Roll Wrappers or some such and likely have a rose on the front of the package. Bahn Trang brand if you can find) These are DRY and will often be in the noodle aisle at the asian supermarket. The packages should have 32 wrappers each.
1 bag of dried black mushrooms (again in the asian market. may also be called black fungus. Get the ones that are shredded)
2 TB MSG (I did not say these were good for you. Quit whining about migraines you pansy.)
4 TB Vietnamese black pepper (comes in a plastic jar with a red lid at the asian supermarket)
2 tsp Onion Powder (just the regular kind)
2 TB fish sauce (Vietnamese, may also be called nuoc mam)
Giant gallon-type bottle of peanut oil

Sauces (to serve on the side):
Lime or lemon juice
soy sauce
Ponzu sauce
teriyaki sauce
sriracha (v. important)
Sweet chile sauce
hoisin sauce

Cutting board
2 large bowls
vinyl or plastic tablecloth
tea kettle
kitchenaid mixer
cookie sheets
wax paper
silicone baking mat
A few kitchen towels
A deep fryer

Here is what you do:
First, you make the filling.
Boil some water in your tea kettle. Put the bean thread noodles in one big bowl and the black mushrooms in the other. Cover both with boiling water and let sit about 5 minutes.
While you’re doing that, combine all the other ingredients in the bowl of the mixer, except for the egg roll wrappers and the oil. Break up the rolls of sausages as you do it so they are in manageable chunks.
Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Shake the water off then dump them onto the cutting board. You need to cut them up into about 1″ pieces. Just press down hard with your chef knife at 1″ increments both lengthwise and widthwise. Put the noodles into the mixer bowl. Drain the mushrooms and rinse with cold water. Dump them onto the cutting board and cut them up as you did the noodles, then dump into the mixing bowl. Use the beater (not the whisk) attachment on your kitchenaid mixer, and beat until the filling is mixed well.

Set yourself up for rolling:
Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Fill one of the large bowls with hot water, adding a little cold until it is cool enough for you to put your hands in (still quite hot though). Fill the kettle back up and put it on low, as you will need to refresh your hot water.
Put the tablecloth on the table. Put your silicone baking mat on top of that, and have your towels, filling, wrappers, and cookie sheet within reach.

Take a wrapper and put it into the hot water, wait about 30 seconds until it is pliable enough to roll, and when you pull it out put in your next wrapper to soak while you roll. Lay the wet wrapper down on the mat. Take a small handful of filling and form into a bar about the size of a breakfast sausage link. Put it about 1/4 of the way from the bottom edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over it, roll once, fold the sides over, then roll all the way up. Set on the cookie sheet. Repeat this process 96 times.

When your cookie sheet gets full, put a layer of wax paper down and layer more rolls on top. I can usually get 3 levels of rolls on one cookie sheet.

When your water starts to get cool, dump it out and refresh it with hot water from the tap and the kettle.

When you’ve finished, cover the rolls with more wax paper and put them in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook, fill your deep fryer with oil to the max fill line. Heat the oil on the 2nd hottest setting of your deep fryer. When the oil is hot, start frying. You can usually do about 6 at a time. They take between 7-9 minutes to cook. They won’t get totally brown, just lightly golden. Make sure to break open the first one to see if it’s cooked through to make sure you’re getting the right level of doneness.

Serve with all those sauces and you will be everyone’s favorite hostess.

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