AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: Rice Paper DATE: 2/05/2010 01:55:00 AM ----- BODY:
I arrived in Hong Kong at 6pm, bleary-eyed from a 24 hour flight but also fully aware that I should get a bite to eat and try to stay awake until 9pm. I headed down Wanchai Road in search of food and adventure.

One of the first windows I peered into, a woman was steaming rice-noodle rolls. The next had a man hand-pulling la mein noodles. And if you have never seen this, you should, it’s amazing!!

I was intrigued since I had never seen such culinary action in the US. And so the quest began to learn how to make these two dishes. The la mein has been a long saga without a happy ending, so I won’t regale the details here. The rice noodles on the other hand…

I took two cooking classes during my trip to mainland China, but had to wait until my trip to Vietnam to see the rice paper/noodle in action. As I explored various cooking school options, I focused on a course that would teach me had to steam rice paper or rice noodles.

A woman in the Mekong Delta making rice paper

In the class at Red Bridge Cooking School, we learned how to steam the rice paper for fresh summer rolls. The chef gave us instructions for making the batter… soaking raw white rice in water over night and then pureeing it with 4 parts water for 7 minutes. The batter was already made for the students to then steam on the steamer-contraption they had set up. Imagine a tambourine (without the jingle) with a taut, translucent fabric set over a steamer. The batter is poured onto the drum and smoothed out with a ladle; I made one rather successfully. As I started to make a second, the instructor stopped me… “No, no, no. Only make one.” I was disappointed but also felt I had enough resources to try again when I returned home.

Attempt #1 was an unmitigated disaster. I tried to fashion a steamer-drum using a cotton napkin and an extra-large rubber-band. I soaked the rice overnight and then put it in the blender to puree. And puree. And puree. The batter never became smooth enough to make the thin crepe-like batters, but I tried cooking a few anyway. The napkin smoldered around the burner, the batter seeped through the napkin leaving the grainy rice on top. I was defeated and didn’t think about it again until I saw the recipe for steamed rice rolls on Ravenous Couple’s blog.

For their batter, they used rice flour and tapioca starch. This seemed doable to me. So I set out again to make the rice paper. Making a steaming device remained the unresolved challenge. But then the flash of brilliance passed before me just long enough to realize that a silk screen (typically used for making art and t-shirts) might also work.

Did you know that silk is flame-proof? I learned this in the Arab markets in Jerusalem. If the salesperson claims the fabric is pure silk, ask if you can take a match to it. If they say okay, they know that the silk won’t catch fire. If they say no, then fabric is probably made of polyester or other flammable material.    This was a useful factoid to remember as the silk of the steamer dangled precariously above the burner.


At the local craft store, I bought a sheet of silk (though I could have also bought the whole silk screen set up, the size didn’t seem right for me) and a large rubber band. I wrapped the silk around the bamboo steamer. Success #1.

I then made a filling of pork and mushrooms to go inside the eventual rice papers. Pretty straightforward, and another check in the success column.

Batter…. Easy. I measured out the flours and mixed with water. Check.

Cooking the batter was a bit of challenge, but after a few attempts I was able to successful ladle the batter onto my steamer-drum, fill it with the pork and roll it up.



As I was photographing the final dish, I thought to myself, “Self, this was good, but I don’t think it’s good enough to go through the effort. Glad I tried it.” And then I tasted it and thought, “Well, okay. That was pretty damn tasty. Let me think of an occasion when it would be appropriate.”


And then I started to clean the kitchen....

Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls with Ground Pork

4 oz. rice flour
3 1/2 oz. tapioca flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups water
plain oil
filling (see recipe below)
dipping sauce (see recipe below)

1.  Mix together flours, salt and water.
2.  Put silk-steamer over a water bath.  Bring water to a boil.
3.  Brush oil over silk.  Brush oil over cookie sheet.  Brush oil over spatula that will be used to turn noodle.
4.  Ladle a scant quarter cup over silk-drum.  Spread the batter so it's very thin.  Cook for 2 minutes, or until it begins to look translucent.
5.  Sprinkle pork on top of noodle, and use the spatula to roll it up, starting from the edges.
6.  Gently remove from steamer and placed on greased cookie sheet until ready to serve.
7.  Serve with dipping sauce, garnish with scallions and fried shallots.

Filling

1/2 lb ground pork
8 shiitake mushrooms, steams removed, caps chopped
1 shallot, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 tbs fish sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. oil
pinch salt and pepper

1. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add the oil. When oil is hot, add shallots and garlic.
2. Season pork with salt, pepper and sugar.  Add to the pan, breaking up the meat.  Cook until there is no more pink.
3.  Drain excess fat.  Season with fish sauce.

Dipping Sauce
2 tbs. sugar
2 tbs. fish sauce
2 tbs. mirin
2 tbs. rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/4 lime juiced

Mix Everything together.



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----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Ravenous Couple DATE:2/05/2010 02:28:00 AM kudos for your ambition and success and so glad that we inspired you to try this!! The next time we see one of these banh cuon pots, well reserve it for you! It does cut down on the time! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) DATE:2/05/2010 07:18:00 AM For me, this would go into the same column as making pita bread -- do it once, check it off the life list, and get thee to a store to buy some rice paper rounds! I love seeing the photo of your screen contraption, but don't envy you the clean-up job! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Anonymous DATE:2/05/2010 10:53:00 AM Maybe stretching the silk over an embroidery hoop would be easier than the rubber band over the steamer. You could trim the silk so it doesn't touch the flame.

I don't think I'd test your claim that silk doesn't burn. I found a few fire department web sites that said silk burns hot! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types DATE:2/07/2010 06:55:00 AM Very impressive! From the class to your home attempts, I know much more than I ever did. ----- --------