Les nems—Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Ironically, one of my favorite dishes (and one of his) isn’t a high-end, elaborate menu item from Le Bernardin, but are the fried Vietnamese-style spring rolls that his French mother used to make for him, called les nems. “I would eat dozens of them,” he says. “To this day, I can eat 12 of them, no problem.”
Try these spring rolls and you’ll be addicted to them too.
Here, I am sharing Ripert’s original recipe from his book 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line.
However, when I make these spring rolls I tend to use whatever ingredients I have on hand for the stuffing—such as basil leaves, shrimp and such—and you can too.
1/2 lb. finely chopped lean pork
1/8 cup dried wood ear mushrooms
1/2 lb. crabmeat
1/4 cup cellophane noodles
1 large carrot
1 large onion
20 rice papers (11-inches in diameter)
Lettuce leaves for serving
1 tbs. chili sauce (Tuong Ot Toi)
1 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. lime juice
5.5 oz. fish sauce (Nước chấm)
½ carrot, grated
Method for Fried Vietnamese spring rolls
For the filling:
1. Soak the wood ear mushrooms and cellophane noodles in two different containers for 30 minutes.
2. Drain the crabmeat and pick through to remove any shells or cartilage. Carefully mix in pork.
3. Peel onion, chop finely and mix it with crab and pork.
4. Drain the mushrooms and chop finely. Drain the noodles and chop finely. Mix well (using hands) with the crab and pork filling.
5. Peel and finely grate the carrots, and stir in with the filling. Break two eggs and mix the filling thoroughly with a spatula.
For the spring rolls:
1. Fill the sink with hot water. Place a large plate next to the sink. Take a rice paper and dip into the water for a few seconds to soften the paper. Delicately remove from the water, and place on the plate.
2. Put a tablespoon of filling in a tube-like shape on the bottom third of the rice paper. Fold the bottom edge of the paper over the filling. Fold the opposing sides inward toward the center, and finish rolling from bottom to top. Put the nems in a deep dish (not on aluminum foil, as it will cling to the rice paper).
3. The secret is not to roll the nems too tightly and not to use too much filling. The air will remain in the interior of the nems, which will make them crispier.
Cooking the nems:
1. Put peanut oil in a pan (about 1/3 inch of oil), and place the nems in the cold oil. Starting with cold oil is essential for perfect cooking.
2. Start cooking on high heat; when nems begin to brown, turn them. Turn down the heat, and continue cooking over medium heat. When the spring rolls are crispy, remove from the oil and place them on a dish (you can line the plate with paper towel to absorb the oil).
3. With a knife, cut each roll into 5 pieces. Serve with fish sauce, lettuce, and some fresh mint on the side. Spring rolls are eaten with the hands, each piece in a little envelope of lettuce and mint that is dipped into the chili sauce just before eating.
For the sauce:
1. In a bowl, mix the sugar and chili sauce. Then add the lime juice, grated carrot, and fish sauce. Mix all ingredients and serve in small individual bowls.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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