Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cha Gio Recipe - Good Things Come in Pairs

Back in the Sichuan hot pot posting, I explained a little about Chinese 'hot air' and how you should balance out the scalding hot food with cool drinks. The chinese feel it is a sub-category of the 'yin and yang' ideology – that everything has a complementary opposite. If you're tormenting your body with fried chicken on a hot, blistering day, your body is going to whine and moan... "give me a freaking cold drink right now." If not, you won't be doing the body any good. There are endless things that work well in pairs in our universe. But the only one I, and you as a food blog-reader, really care about is food. And the 'yin and yang' ideology somewhat applies. What's a peanut butter sandwich without jelly, carne asada tacos without a
Jarritos bottled-soda
, franks without beans, a chili dog without a roll of toilet paper, etc.

This brings us to one of my favorite sidekicks of Vietnamese pho. At places like Golden Deli or Saigon Flavor, it is rare to see a table occupied solely with piping hot bowls of pho. Sharing the real estate is 'cha gio' of course, Vietnamese egg rolls. Eat one egg roll, eat some pho, eat another egg roll, kill the bowl of pho. It's a rollercoaster ride of delicious food. Oh the joy.

I've been wanting to make 'cha gio' for a while but could never find the right skin at the markets. The only kind available to non-chefs were Chinese-style egg roll skins. When these are fried, you don't get the nice bursting skin on egg rolls I've grown to love. After a few minutes of staying out in room temperature, they become flat and soggy. Not so good. Golden Deli, Saigon Flavor and Vietnam House are all San Gabriel-based sister restaurants which make my favorite egg rolls. Pho 79 in Alhambra is damn good too. I think most pho restaurants make the majority of their profit from egg rolls because the ingredients are cheap.

One day while I was at Golden Deli, I decided to approach the owner and ask him. I had heard before that the recipes within these three restaurants were cryptic and top-secret. You basically had to marry into the family to get your hands on the blueprints. I can see it already... a big, cult-like ritual inducting a new family member in. Heart-pounding bongos and drums banging... the tempo increasing as the main event nears, flames rising from pits, snakes wrapped around vines, people with face paint circling around you in attack mode. The whole nine yards. For these egg rolls and pho recipes, it might even be worth a big chicken-bone-through-the-nose piercing and a ritual neutering.

Me: "Excuse me?"
GD Guy: "Yes."
Me: "Do you guys make your own cha gio skin?"
GD Guy: *stares at me*
Me: "These are the best. I'd like to --"
GD Guy: "It's rice paper."
Me: "Oh. I thought you guys made your own skin."
GD Guy: "No, just soak the rice paper in some warm water for a few seconds. Let it air really quickly, and roll your filling."
GD Guy: "Nice."

Quite painless. For a minute, I thought I had struck a wrong nerve. He knew very well that I wouldn't be able to replicate his prized dish. Course not. But it wouldn't hurt to try.

I headed over to 99 Ranch and bought 1.5 lbs. of ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, bean thread vermicelli, romaine lettuce, red/green chilis, mint and rice paper (7" size). Total cost... under $10. You can make at least 25 of these.

Party time:

(1) First soak the bean thread vermicelli and wood ear mushrooms in separate bowls of water. Both come in dried form, water rejuvenates them. Should be ready to go in 10 minutes. Chop the bean threads into 1/4" to 1/2" cuts and roughly mince the mushrooms.

(2) Use salt and white pepper to season the ground pork. Add a little bit of Shao Xing rice wine in to tenderize the pork. Add vermicelli and mushrooms (carrots are optional) and mix everything well. Let them sit and party for about 10 minutes.

(3) Prepare a bowl or pot of hot water for soaking the rice paper. Dip the rice paper in for at least 10 seconds and pull it out, laying it flat on a cutting board. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling on the rice paper and fold it like origami. Bring the sides in, bottom over the filling and keep rolling. Lost yet?

That's why I've prepared a quick "Cha Gio For Dummies" instruction manual. The phallic/fecal-shaped representation of the pork filling is purely a combination of midnight blogging and lethargy.) Everyone knows the Japanese are masters of Origami, but its the Vietnamese that have adapted clever techniques of making paper cranes into digestible food. That's good thinking. I'll take an egg roll over a heart-shaped dollar bill any day.

"Cha Gio For Dummies" Manual

Figure A - This is based on 7" rice paper. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling and shape it into a rectangle as shown in the diagram.

Figure B - What appears to be an angry baseball with eyes and eyebrows is actually Figure B. Grab A and B flaps and fold them right where the filling is placed, as straight as possible. Careful not to mash the filling.

Figure C - While holding A and B with your fingers, use your thumbs to grab part C of the rice paper and fold it over the meat and A & B flaps. Tuck flap C right under the filling, making sure the rice paper isn't loose.

Figure D - As you start to roll everything, make sure you're tucking the filling into the skin. The egg roll shouldn't be loose nor super-tight. Because your soaking the rice paper in water, there is no need for an egg wash because the rice paper will adhere to itself.

Back to the cooking.

(4) Heat up a pan, pot or deep fryer with vegetable or canola oil over medium heat. Never use EVOO – too low of a burning point. Make sure the oil is hot enough by dropping in a piece of soaked rice paper. If the oil is TOO HOT, air will fill in the egg roll and separate the rice paper from the filling and you'll lose the familiar shape of an egg roll.

(5) These take a long time to cook, probably 12 minutes. The skin may still be somewhat white yet edible. If you can achieve the golden look, all the better.

These tasted so good. The skin was super crispy and the filling had a good ratio of meat to mushrooms/vermicelli. I've left out a few things in my original recipe that are unnecessary, like fish sauce and sugar in the filling. The condiments should be doing all the work. Next time, I will try adding grated jicama and minced shrimp. I simply wrapped them in romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber, mint and dipped it in freshly made 'nuoc cham' (fish sauce mixed with water, sugar, chilis, garlic and lemon). I ate about 8 of them and suffered minor blistering on the roof of my mouth because they were so damn hot. Well worth the agony. Thanks for reading.


Jeni said...

Thanks for making the OG cha gio's for me. I looooooooooooooove fried rice paper!


The passionate pursuit of cooking perfection. Sweet.

Hey, did you realize that the title of your blog comes from a Bible verse? However, you have left off the most important part: that statement is actually made by a fool in the parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21. The man amassed all this wealth, but died and was unable to enjoy any of it. So, too, with all of us, death will untimely rip from our hand everything that we hold dear.

Why will we die? The Bible says that it is because of sin. Adam's sin brought death, suffering, and disease into the world, and we have been under the thumb of death ever since. Not that we care too much, because we willfully sin every day. Don't think so? Take the test and see just how good a person you really are.

You'll probably score the same way I did.

Daily Gluttony said...

awesome post w/ the diagrams & all--i am sooooo going to try & make these now! i agree--rice paper makes for a much better egg roll than regular chinese egg roll skins. you prolly got a little "yeet hay" from eating these, huh?

btw, a dead giveaway that you are chinese is that you call the wrappers "skins". i do it too; once i even caught myslef calling a tortilla a "skin." LOL!

The Guilty Carnivore said...

Awesome diagram.

I remember cia gio frying day in my house, as I'd hover next to the frying pan, waiting for fresh bounty to be delivered to the paper towel lined plate. I too, burn my mouth due to my own impatience.

I like the rice paper for wrapping in lettuce, cuke and mint (shiso in addition to spearmint), but for snipping with scissors and eating with rice noodles a la bun thit cia gio, the flour skins do hold up well. I'm torn between both - my mom has veered towards flour wrappers of late because they are easier to roll and fry.

We also add jicama and carrots to the mix, and ground shrimp. For my wife and sister-in-law (who don't eat shrimp and the sister who is vegetarian), we up the carrots, jicama, bean thread, and sub think julienne of baked tofu. It turns out really well - I think I like them almost as much as the real thing.

Like the french frying method, double frying them is a good technique and an effective to way to batch them up. Par-fry just so they start to brown, then remove, cool, freeze and store. You can pull them out and fry up in an instant whenever you get a hankering.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, no problem at all. We can't eat these too often. They are cholesterol cookies.

Joshua S. Black, I didn't realize that about my blog name.

DG, thanks. haha you're right too. I just caught myself calling them 'skin' (pei). wonton pei. gao zhi pei. tortilla pei. For sure I got yeet hay. I would freaking eat the egg rolls right out of the pan. you can still see the oil bubbling underneath the rice paper. How good is that.

Guilty, I think i remember reading your blog and you had a posting about jicama. I left out the carrots out of the recipe b/c i was just too lazy to grate them haha. jicama would add a nice taste to the filling. I'm with you, rice wrappers for goi cuon for sure, but i'm no longer using flour wrappers for fried egg rolls. once you get that nice blistered skin, you can't be using the chinese Twin Dragon brand. Good call on the french fry method... i should do that. I like the idea of par-frying them and freezing them so i have a little snacky snack. great insight, thanks for stopping by.

Blogger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blogger said...

you can make 25 for $10 . . . i've got a 20 in my pocket . . . let's have a snack!

elmomonster said...

Sweetness. That's the one thing I learned from our trip to Quan Hy: the best cha gio uses rice paper. And now that you have cracked the code by that sly interrogation of the GD Guy, we all get to try our hand at making proper cha gio!

Hilarious post by the way!

Jason said...

dang, that's a great recipe! I'll need to try that recipe.

Do you think they would taste just as good if they weren't fried, as "goi cuon" (or however you spell it)?

2nd-favorite said...

Everything tastes better fried. Why mess with it?

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Blogger, taco trucks are huge in LA. cha gio trucks the next big thing??? With all that deepfry oil in the truck it'd be quite dangerous driving it around.

elmo, lemme know how it goes. i didn't tell anyone this, but i am missing a finger now. the Golden Deli guy doesn't give free lunches.

jason, either standard goi cuon or cha gio is delicious. Same wrapping technique, different sauce/filling. But like 2nd favorite says, everything does taste better deep fried.

2nd-fave, we both have short lives ahead of us.

2nd-favorite said...

Which is precisely why every moment needs to be lived to the fullest. Deep fried breakfast cereal anyone?

Chubbypanda said...

Heh. I'm with you guys on the deep fried bandwagon. My friend, Elonweis, just got a book on Shouin Ryouri (Japanese Buddhist cooking). Seasoned natto wrapped in shisou and deep fried anyone?

- Chubbypanda

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

This is a great post - full of detail. It must have taken you practically all day! It's inspiring to say the least.

One Food Guy said...

Wow, sounds so easy I may have to try making some. I like the "Cha Gio For Dummies" Manual, great post! Thanks.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Cp, i'll eat natto but i don't enjoy it. looks like snot.

Scott, thanks. It did take me a while to make the egg rolls. I kept testing the oil and rolling at the same time to ensure that the taste was right.

Onefoodguy, i hope the dummie manual works well!

Passionate Eater said...

I thought I left a comment before! Darn you Blogger Beta (or regular Blogger)!

I was just going to say that I love your take on the classic Vietnamese fried rolls. Yum... Also, next time, you don't have to ask the cook at the Vietnamese restaurant for those tips, ask J, me, or J's mom! (We could have told you about the rice paper!) You are my go-to-guy for tips on Thai cooking, Chinese cooking, French cooking, ... Okay, for all cooking!

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