This dish has three components: the spring rolls, the dipping sauce and the greens. While the spring rolls by themselves are already delectable, you don’t want to miss the total experience by ditching the dipping sauce and the greens. Those two are what transform the spring rolls into a dish that deserves a standing ovation.
The proper way to enjoy these shrimp spring rolls: Lay a mustard or lettuce leaf (or both) flat, pile on some basil and mint then place a spring roll on top. Roll up, dip in the sauce and take a bite.
I emphasize the greens and the dipping sauce because, at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, there was an American woman at the table beside ours and we noticed that she ate her spring rolls without touching the greens and dipping sauce they were served with. It was so tempting to walk over and instruct her but that would have been uncalled for and rude. Well, her loss. I don’t want my readers to make the same mistake.
Now, about making the spring rolls. You’ll need large shrimps for these spring rolls. You also need to peel and devein them as though you’re making tempura. That ensures that they will stay straight, rather than curl, during frying.
The peeled and deveined shrimps are seasoned with cilantro, calamansi juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chilies before they are wrapped.
Because the shrimp tails are left on, there’s a different way of wrapping the shrimps. The tail is left exposed during wrapping. That was how we were taught to do it at the cooking school in Vietnam so that was how we did it at home.
The wrapped shrimps are deep fried in batches. Because it is a bad idea to overcook shrimps, make sure that the oil is sufficiently hot so that the wrappers turn golden and crisp at the same time that the shrimps reach the just cooked through stage.
Shrimp spring rolls
For the dipping sauce
For the spring rolls
- mustard leaves
- lettuce leaves
- Thai basil
- mint leaves (we used spearmint)
Make the dipping sauce
- In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients until the sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in 4 tablespoons water. Set aside to infuse.
Make the spring rolls
- Shell and devein the shrimps; leave the tails on.
- Cut off the root ends of the cilantro and discard (you may use them for some other recipe but not for this one). Roughly chop the cilantro and place in a mixing bowl with the cleaned shrimps.
- Add the calamansi juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chilies to the shrimps and cilantro. Mix thoroughly.
- Take a piece of spring wrapper and lay flat. Place a shrimp on top; allow the tail to protrude on one side. Top with a few sprigs of cilantro.
- Wet the edges of wrapper. Fold the edge nearest you over the filling. Fold in the side opposite the tail then roll until the filling is fully enclosed. Repeat with the rest of the filling and wrappers.
- Heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of about two inches.
- Fry the spring rolls, in batches if your frying pan is on the small side, until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Serve the shrimp spring rolls
- Arrange the fried shrimp spring rolls on one side of a serving platter. Pile on the mustard leaves, lettuce, Thai basil and mint on the other side.
- Serve the shrimp spring rolls and vegetables with the dipping sauce.