Vietnamese Grilled Shrimp Summer Rolls
The past month here in Durham has been filled with perfect 70°F days basked in blue skies and sunshine. Sitting outside in the beautiful weather, I've watched the barren trees bud, bloom, and now mostly turn green. This onset of spring has also bought with it a desire to transition my diet of heavy and greasy foods into the realm of lighter delights. It's an unusually early change for me, as I'm used to it commonly happening around late May back in New York, but it's certainly welcomed and these Vietnamese grilled shrimp summer rolls are a great way to welcome the bounty of spring.
Although I'm an admitted shrimp naysayer, the freshness of seafood seems more apt in this scenario than the chicken or beef I would normally choose if I were ordering summer rolls in a restaurant. Since the rolls aren't all that huge, I started them off with medium sized shrimp to ensure they wouldn't be so big they would burst out of the seams of the roll.
I used a marinade to begin the introduction of Vietnamese flavors into the rolls. I whisked up a ubiquitous mixture fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic, and black pepper—pretty much the same marinade I'd use for any meat I want to have a distinct Vietnamese flavor.
The sweet and mild flesh of the shrimp don't take long to soak in this potent marinade. So after I placed the seafood in a Ziploc bag and poured in the sauce, I moved straight on to getting all the other required roll components in order.
Quick pickles are a must in my eyes—the tangy crunch of these veggies create a great contrast to the rest of the fresher ingredients. I had actually prepped these the day before by soaking julienned carrots, cucumber, and daikon in a rice vinegar and sugar brine. They only need an hour to be fully pickled, but can be made up to a week ahead of time.
Vermicelli—thin rice noodles—were another piece of the summer roll, and I prepared them by placing the dried noodles in boiling water and cooking them until they just turned tender. I've found boiling isn't totally required though—I've been able to soften this type of noodle fine by submerging them in hot tap water.
After the noodles were drained, I washed all the greens—bibb lettuce, mint, and cilantro—and gave them a spin the salad spinner to dry them out.
It took about 40 minutes to finish the prep of all the ingredients and then go outside and get the grill fired up, which was more than enough time for the shrimp to marinate. To make easier grilling of them, I skewered up the shrimp. This allowed me to flip them en masse rather than having to deal with trying to flip about two dozen individual as quickly as possible, which let me focus my attention on how they were cooking.
Since these shrimp were on the smaller size, they only took a couple minutes per side until they were almost opaque throughout, at which point I transferred them to a cutting board and moved on to the final roll assembly.
This began with soaking a Vietnamese rice wrapper in hot water. You only want to let the wrapper soak long enough until it begins to become pliable—I learned the hard way that if you soak it too long, they become too fragile and soft and either bunch up or tear easily. If you remove them before they're fully softened, they finish up softening outside of the water and it makes for much easier work.
First to go down were the shrimp, followed by a leaf of lettuce, a layer of vermicelli, roughly torn mint and cilantro, and finally some quickly pickles. Then I folded the side of the wrapper over, rolled the whole thing closed, and repeated the enitre process with the remaining ingredients until they were all used up.
These rolls are certainly a nice transition into spring/summer eats. The shrimp had a slight salty and briny flavor from the marinade, with a touch of added sweetness. They served as a light base that got a lot of freshness from the herbs and lettuce, and a contrasting tang and crunch from the pickles. They were fine on their own, but even better when dipped into a peanut sauce I has also whipped up, which heightened their complexity and added the right amount of extra moisture to really make them awesome.
Vietnamese Grilled Shrimp Summer Rolls
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 1 Hour
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 5 Minutes
- Total 2 Hours 5 Minutes
- For the Quick Pickles
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 hothouse cucumber, julienned
- 1 medium carrot, julienned
- 1 small daikon, julienned
- For the Marinade
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic, about 2 medium cloves
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 24 medium shrimp (about 2/3 lb), shelled, deveined, and tails removed
- 4 oz rice vermicelli
- 8 8-inch rice spring roll wrappers
- 1 large bunch fresh mint, washed and dried
- 1 large bunch fresh cilantro, washed and dried
- 1 head Bibb lettuce, washed and dried
- 8 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to use
- To make the pickles: Whisk together vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Place cucumber, carrot, daikon in a jar or container. Pour in enough vinegar and sugar mixture to fully submerge vegetables. Cover and let stand for at least one hour, or transfer to refrigerator for up to a week.
- To make the marinade: Whisk together fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic, and black pepper in a small bowl. Place shrimp in a resealable plastic bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag and place in refrigerator while preparing vermicelli and grill.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add in vermicelli and cook for 3 minutes. Drain in colander and run under cold water. Set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Skewer shrimp and place on grill. Grill skewered shrimp over direct heat until shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer shrimp to platter and remove from skewers.
- Fill a large, shallow bowl with hot water. Place 1 spring roll wrapper in water and let soak until soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Transfer wrapper to a work surface. Place 3 shrimp in center of wrapper and top with lettuce, vermicelli, pickles, a few mint leaves, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Fold bottom of wrapper over filling, fold over sides around filling, then roll wrapper shut. Repeat with remaining 7 wrappers. Serve immediately.