Wikipedia has a good description of this delicious dish:
A summer roll (...literally "mix salad rolled") is a Vietnamese food consisting of pork, shrimp, herbs, rice vermicelli, and other ingredients wrapped in rice paper. Unlike Chinese egg rolls or spring rolls, summer rolls are served cold, and are not fried.
Summer rolls are normally dipped in either a simple sauce consisting of hoisin sauce, garlic, peanut butter, and water which are boiled until well blended or a combination of fish sauce, garlic, sugar, lime, and carrot.
Goi Cuon are a mix-and-match kind of dish. You lay out a variety of ingredients, and diners can choose whatever combination they want in each roll that they make. The sauce in step 2 and the rolling technique in step 8 are key, but feel free to change or substitute any of the items described in steps 3-7. It's also a good idea to get a bunch of individual steps going at once, since some (like waiting for big pots of water to boil) don't require all of your attention. Do things in parallel; as you'll see from the photos in this Instructable, getting friends together to prep can be a lot of fun.
More to the point: Summer rolls are one of my favorite traditional dishes from my childhood, and they've become popular with my friends. We sometimes have huge dinners at my house, and I'll make Goi Cuon for thirty or forty people. The beauty of it is that everyone rolls their own: All the chef as to do is prep, essentially. And if people don't like how a roll comes out, you can blame them for their rolling skills!
(Thanks to Alison Bank for taking most of these photos. If you see a crappy photo, it's one I took. The beautiful shots are hers.)
Step 1: Get Ingredients
Below is a sample shopping list, serving 35. We go big when we do dinner parties at my house. I've also attached an excel file that you can use to adjust quantities (just change the number in cell A25.) And again, feel free to substitute whatever you think will taste good. Experiment!
For the Rolls:
- 3.5 heads of soft lettuce (Romaine/red leaf/butter/not the regular salad type)
- 7 cucumbers
- 5.25 bunches of coriander(cilantro)
- 5.25 bunches of hung que or basil
- 1.75 bunch of green onion
- 1.75 pineapple or
- 7 star fruits or both
- 2.63 package of dry rice noodles (bun)
- 3.5 dozens large eggs
- 3.5 large bricks of tofu for frying
- 3.5 lbs large shrimp
- 5.25 packages of rice paper (about 8" diameter)
- 3.5 cups of peanuts
- 43.75 oz. peanut butter (either smooth or chunky is ok)
- 43.75 oz. of hoisin sauce (dark smooth sauce in glass jar)
- 1.75 bunch of garlic
- 3.5 limes
- hot sauce if desired
Step 2: Get the Peanut Sauce Started
The peanut sauce really makes the dish. From my mom's recipe (Excel file in Step 1):
Sauce: combine 18oz peanut butter. 1 1/2 jars hoisin sauce, 1 quart (4 cups) of water as hot as possible, minced garlic from 1/2 of a bunch. Stir on medium heat until smooth and blended. Boiling is not necessary, but getting it very hot helps the blending process. Sauce should be slightly thick, will thicken further when cooled down. Taste and add salt if needed. Add peanut butter if too thin, hoisin if too bland, water if too thick. When remove from stove, add juice of the two limes and mix.
2lettername reminded me that Sriracha hot sauce (or your preferred chili sauce) is a great addition to the peanut sauce. I usually add a tablespoon or two to a pot this large. Taste as you add, and leave some on the side to be safe; your guests can add more directly to their rolls, themselves.
Step 3: Prep Veggies
Most of the contents of a summer rolls are fresh, crisp greens and veggies. They need to be in manageable pieces, though, so they won't tear the rice paper when they're being rolled.
Slice harder veggies like cucumbers into thin spears. Chop up lettuce into smaller bits. Chop up the peanuts, so they can be sprinkled onto the rolls and the sauce.
Step 4: Fry Up the Tofu
Golden, browned tofu. Tender, but with a bit of crisp to the outside. Yum...
Dice up the tofu into 1/2"-3/4" chunks. Put a quarter cup or so of canola oil in a pan. Add a dash of sesame oil, if you want some flavor. When the oil is nice and hot, add just enough tofu to cover the bottom of the pan and let it sizzle. Dash some salt over the top (a couple teaspoons), for more flavor. Flip them around, occasionally until most of the tofu chunks have two or three sides browned.
Repeat in batches one layer deep on the pan until you've fried it all.
Step 5: Cook the Noodles
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then drop in your "rice stick" (thin, straight rice noodles.) These cook in only a few minutes, so stick around and tend them. Don't wait for the noodles to become totally soft. While they're still al dente, take the pot off the stove and pour the noodles through a strainer.
Rinse the noodles with cool tap water, since they shouldn't be served hot.
Step 6: Fry Up the Eggs
Another good ingredient is egg. You basically make scrambled eggs, but with a dash of seasoning. You can add salt or soy sauce, just to bring out some of the flavor.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Dash in the soy sauce or salt for flavor. Using a fork, mix the yolks in, coarsely. Then, fry a quarter or half-inch layer of the egg mix in a pan at a time. As the bottom of the egg layer solidifies, use a cooking spoon to scramble the eggs until they're all in solid, bite-size pieces.
Repeat with the eggs until you've cooked them all.
Step 7: Prepare the Shrimp
Shrimp are a great addition to Goi Cuon, and can be cooked in a number of ways. This is my preferred method.
Peel and de-vein your shrimp (or buy peeled shrimp to begin with.) Then, brine the shrimp so that they have that nice "pop" when they're cooked. To brine shrimp, add salt to water in a mixing bowl until it's about seawater-salty, and add the shrimp. Then, add a bunch of ice cubes to chill them and put the bowl in the fridge. Let the shrimp brine for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, get a pot of water up to a boil. When the shrimp are ready, drain out the brine from the mixing bowl and dump the shrimp into the boiling water. Shrimp cook in just a few minutes, so keep watch over your pot. When they start changing to a lighter color, start pulling one out now and then and see if they taste cooked. As soon as they're close, take them out and strain them; overcooked shrimp develop a tough texture.
In a mixing bowl, toss the boiled shrimp with chopped cilantro or basil and two limes' worth of lime juice. Salt to taste. Done!
Step 8: Rolling!
There are some photos of the rolling procedure below. I also found this great video on YouTube, by user chubbypanda:
Dunk the rice paper once into a pot of warm water and lay it on your plate. Don't soak the rice paper; it will soften while you add ingredients. Add your veggies and other ingredients, then roll it up. You can tuck in the ends mid-roll if you want your goi cuon to be really neat, but that's not necessary. Sauce can be added in the roll, or you can dip it as you eat.
Step 9: Eat!
If possible, please try to have better table manners than me and my friends...