I love fresh Thai rolls. Love them. I could eat them as an entire meal for any meal of the day and be happy. But making them kinda sucks. They're not terribly difficult, and in fact it's probably the thought of making them rather than the actual process that sucks, since once I get going it never seems as bad as I thought it would be. Problem is, getting going is the hard part. (Kind of like writing new posts for this blog; I've got plenty of stuff in mind, but actually sitting down to do it never seems to happen.) Anyway, for me the hardest part about making them was always the spring roll wrappers- you dip them in hot water to soften them, but then they always end up folding over themselves or sticking to the work surface with lots of ripples in them, or whatever; basically the wrapper part was always just a pain in the ass. But then I found out one day that it was because I was soaking them for too long (too long being about 5-6 seconds, total). Seems pretty obvious, but for some reason I never caught on, and anytime I talked to someone else who made them, they always had the same problem. It doesn't help that a lot of the recipes you see out there tell you to soak them for too long anyway- I just saw one over on About.com that said to soak them for 30 seconds! Better to go with the one over on Allrecipes.com that says to just dip it in the water for 1 second. That really is all it takes- you basically just want to get it wet, because when you take it out and set it on the table, it's going to keep absorbing the residual water and soften up to just the right amount to make it easy to roll. And, since it'll still be somewhat stiff when you take it out of the water, it'll be completely flat when you lay it on the table, no wrinkles or ripples, no moving the edges around in an effort to get it 'right.' And that's pretty much all I'm going to say about that, because this post isn't exactly about how to make Thai spring rolls- it's more like how to make a Thai spring roll salad. That's right, sort of a cheater's Thai spring roll. I was making myself some one day, marveling at how much easier they were to make now that I wasn't over-soaking the wrappers, when it occurred to me to just mix it all up in a bowl like a salad- everything's exactly the same, just a whole lot quicker and easier to make! I haven't looked back since. I make this a lot now, far more than I ever made actual spring rolls. The following is the recipe that I came up with and tend to always use (I really like it a lot) but there's tons of Thai spring roll recipes all over the internet, so tweak away- there's no 'one' right recipe to make a spring roll. A lot of recipes I've seen call for bean thread noodles, but I like plain old rice noodles in mine; some call for shrimp, I use chicken (more work, but it's cheaper); I typically don't use cucumbers, but they go well in this. Whatever you like. If you've never made fresh Thai rolls before, this recipe should be a good start, though. I think you'll like it.
This is also kind of a large recipe, since we ended up putting the salad on our banquet menu at work. So I had to come up with something to be able to feed a lot of people, and this is it. (I admit it, I'm too lazy to bother sizing it down for just a few people. Usually when I make it for just myself, I don't even follow the recipe anyway, as far as amounts go- I just mix it all up until it tastes how I want. But for the purposes of this blog, and to make it easier for folks who've never tried making these before, here you go) :
Thai Spring Roll Salad
8 oz rice noodle (dry)
1lb boneless chicken breast
1lb chopped romaine (Napa cabbage is also good)
(cilantro is good too, but isn't part of the recipe)
1c rice vinegar
1c fish sauce
1c + 2T water
1-2 t crushed red pepper
1T fresh lime juice
2T chopped garlic
1 lg or 1 1/2 medium carrots, shredded
1/2 onion, sliced very thin
The way I typically do this is to use warm-to-hot water to dissolve the sugar and salt quicker. Then just add everything else to the bowl and mix it up good. Also, you may want to set some marinade aside for extra dressing for the salad.
Cook the chicken breast on a sheet pan in a 350 degree F oven in a sugar/salt water brine (just dissolve equal parts sugar and kosher salt in some water. I don't have an exact amount as I tend to go by how it tastes- just slightly salty/sweet- but I think 1/4 to 1/2 cup each per gallon of water is somewhere in the ballpark). When it's done let it cool a bit, but while it's still warm pull/shred it and toss into the marinade and let set for 1-2 hrs.
Soak the rice noodles in hot water (+/- 190-200 F) until soft (white) about 5-7 minutes, then chop them up as big or small as you like. (They tend to be pretty sticky, so I sometimes add a little oil to lube things up, but only a tiny bit- just the bare minimum.) Add to bowl with the romaine, drain the chicken, mix into salad, toss in mint, basil, crushed peanuts (in whatever amount you like. I didn't really see the point in trying to come up with an amount for this recipe. I like fresh herbs, so I tend to use a lot. Whatever works for you).
(pic taken with my cell phone camera...)
And that's pretty much it. Use the extra marinade as a dressing, if you like, but keep in mind that it tends to wilt the lettuce pretty quickly, so if you're making this awhile ahead of time you'll want to hold off on that (as well as be sure and really drain the chicken thoroughly).