I was served these rolls in an Asian Street Food restaurant in a hotel/beach resort in the Middle East recently. They were superb and we kept going back for more. They were called Gỏi cuốn tôm, which translates as “shrimp salad roll” and were served with a peanut and Hoisin sauce and the restaurant's home-made chilli sauce. This chilli sauce was incendiary! But we kept going back for more.
Returning to England, and it being prawn season (a better one than in the past couple of years I am reliably told), I took to finding out more about this dish. One thing I found is that the majority of recipes you come across on the internet, those written by apparently native contributors, are called Gỏi cuốn tôm thịt, and feature shrimp and cooked pork. It turns out it’s as simple as this: Gỏi cuốn means “salad roll”, tôm means “shrimp”, and thịt means “meat”. Another thing I found is that Gỏi cuốn are indeed traditionally served with Tương xào, a peanut and Hoisin sauce or, alternatively (or together with) Nước chấm which translates as “dipping sauce”. One example is a fish sauce-based variant called Nước mắm pha, or “mixed fish sauce”.
I also found that Rick Stein had a more-or-less identical inclusion in the Vietnamese section of his book “Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey”. There he calls it Nem cuốn which I discover is the northern Vietnamese name for the same dish called Gỏi cuốn in Southern Vietnam. I’ve used his recipe for the dipping sauce.
Anyway, Vitenamese lesson over, these are delicious. And though so many recipes contain both shrimp and pork, we are Seafoodies and there is all evidence that it is perfectly in order to omit the pork and just include shrimp. So, I present to you Gỏi cuốn tôm với nước mắm phai.
This isn’t really a recipe, just an idea for something quite pleasurable to do with prawns that we have available on the market stall for such a short period of time in the year. When I first had the idea of posting it I was doing so because I thought it would be an easy one. I thought the trickiest thing about it would be not eating all the prawns while peeling them if you bought them live from the market stall.
In a way it is a simple recipe – you just slice up your ingredients and wrap them up. But, ah! Dealing with these rice wrappers is quite tricky, or should I say, sticky! They stick to everything, your hands and especially themselves, and once they stick they stay stuck - which is good if you can get them to stick in the right places first time. All I can say, is have a few more wrappers to hand (apologies!) than the number of rolls you plan to make. I hold in admiration those soul(s) who were making hundreds of these things in that Asian restaurant. I’m quite sure it’s easy with a bit of practice.
The ingredients I have suggested are not set in stone but, as far as my research has uncovered, are plausibly authentic and a collection of favourite flavours of mine when it comes to a dish such as this. Other perfectly authentic ingredients include shredded carrot, beansprouts and Thai basil. I think the key is to find a subset of all these ingredients that really works for you. One thing I've learnt about making wraps of any kind (including things like cannelloni) is that you need to use much less filling than you think! This couldn't be truer here!
I found it difficult to source the rice wrappers in any supermarkets – Asian supermarkets and online are the ways forward. One thing I did find is a ‘kit’ by Nem Viet, which is available in Sainsburys. I’ve put links below.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that my dipping sauce is far darker in colour than would be suggested by the combination of ingredients that make it up (see Note). OK, I confess, my fish sauce was embarrassingly old! Oh, and I didn't on this occasion add the water, but I do like a dipping sauce quite strong!
Gỏi Cuốn Tôm
Ingredients (quantities per roll)
Rice paper wraps (have some extra handy for ones that go wrong)
Rice vermicelli noodles (50g will fill at least 8-10 rolls)
Cooked and peeled prawns (3-4 if small, larger ones should be cut)
Lettuce leaves (e.g. cos or little gem), shredded (1 handful will fill 4-6 rolls)
Chives, cut into roll-sized lengths (4-6 per roll)
Mint leaves, roughly chopped (1 tsp per roll)
Coriander leaves, roughly chopped (1-2 tsp per roll)
Cucumber, cut into matchsticks (3 matchsticks per roll)
Nước mắm pha, dipping sauce, to serve (see Note)
Prepare the rice vermicelli noodles according to the packet instructions. This usually involves placing them in boiling hot water for about 3 minutes then draining them and rinsing them in cold running water until totally cold. It is helpful to then spread them out on a tea towel.
Get all the filling ingredients ready, either with some or all mixed, or in separate piles or dishes.
Put about 1cm depth of warm water in a sauté or frying pan and put a damp tea towel on the work surface. It's quite a good idea to have a second damp tea towel to one side as finished rolls can be placed on one half with the other half folded on top to prevent them from drying out.
For each roll, put a rice paper wrap in the warm water -when it is ready it will be practically invisible. Carefully lift the wrap out of the water and place on the damp tea towel. Add the filling ingredients in a line in the closest third of the wrap to you. Fold the near side of the wrap over the top, fold in the sides and roll toward the far end of the wrap. Ideally you want these to be quite tightly rolled, but they will tear. Transfer the finished roll to the other tea towel as described in step 3.
Repeat for the remaining rolls you are making and once done, serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Nước mắm pha: Combine 2 tsp lime juice, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp caster sugar, 1 small red bird's eye chilli thinly sliced, 1 tsp finely chopped garlic and 1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger. Stir in 2 tsp water and the sauce is now ready to use.
"Fresh Spring Rolls, Nem Cuon", Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey, Rick Stein (2009), pp. 61: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Far-Eastern-Odyssey/dp/1846077168
"Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, Nuoc cham", Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey, Rick Stein (2009), pp. 30: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Far-Eastern-Odyssey/dp/1846077168