How to Make Perfect Rice Paper Rolls at Home

Andrea Nguyen guides us through the process of assembling rice paper rolls and suggests some dipping sauces.

In our latest F&W Cooks video, Andrea Nguyen reminisces about making rice paper rolls with her family while she was growing up — everyone competed to make the best-looking rolls and show superior technique. Now, she's imparting that wisdom with viewers to give a step-by-step guide for making rolls on your own. Throughout the video, she explains the optimal way to prepare fillings and avoid punctured rice paper; she also provides a helpful tip for wetting your rice paper without over-soaking it, which makes it difficult to work with. Once you've mastered the technique, Nguyen suggests making a social event out of it, whether you invite friends over for a roll-your-own party or share the technique with kids. Curious? Check out her tips below.

First, make your fillings

Here, Nguyen fills her rice paper rolls with English cucumber, pressed tofu, carrots, baby greens, herbs, and shrimp. But this combination is not set in stone: by all means, get creative — just remember to swap in fillings that are thinly sliced or relatively soft (thicker and firmer ingredients tend to puncture the rice paper). Cooked rice stick noodles or crunchy mung bean sprouts are classic alternatives to tofu, or you can go further off-script and add sautéed shiitake mushrooms or thin slices of garlic-brined pork.

Nguyen likes to use an English cucumber because the thinner skin means you don't have to peel it. She uses a teaspoon to quickly scrape out the seeds and then cuts each halved portion into thin slices, aiming for 1/8-inch thickness.

For protein, Nguyen opts to add tofu. She uses doufu gan (pressed tofu) because its firm texture makes it easy to slice paper-thin, making it perfect for rice paper rolls.

Cooked shrimp is a pretty popular filling for rice paper rolls; however, large shrimp are often too thick to fit in the roll. Nguyen shows a Vietnamese technique of placing the shrimp on their sides and cutting them horizontally into two thin slices, using her fingers as a guide. This also helps you make the most out of your shrimp and feed more people.

As you prep each ingredient for the filling, Nguyen suggests keeping them in separate, covered bowls and storing them in the refrigerator until it's time to assemble the rolls.

Use the right rice paper, and wet it properly

Rice paper used to be made with just rice, water, and some salt, Nguyen explains, and it took forever to soften. Now, she says modern brands include a little tapioca in the paper. She prefers the Three Ladies brand, which you can order online or find at Asian markets and retailers like Cost Plus World Market. Nguyen sets up a shallow bowl (at least as wide as the paper, if not wider) with "bathtub warm" water in it so she can wet the rice paper. Her recommended technique is to submerge each round of rice paper halfway and rotate it quickly, followed by a quick dunk. If the paper soaks in the water, it won't behave well, she explains.

Build the rolls

The rice paper rounds have a smooth side and a rough side. Nguyen places the smooth side down on the workspace, and then lets it sit until it gets tacky and "puckery." Nguyen uses soft, pliable baby greens and tops them with cucumber strips and carrot matchsticks. After that, she adds basil and mint leaves, followed by the thinly sliced tofu. It's all compartmentalized on the lower portion of the roll. It may look like a lot, but once you start to roll, the stack of ingredients starts to compress. Nguyen folds over the rolls once, then adds some shrimp on top, which she says is a "peekaboo" trick to show off using that ingredient. Finally, she rolls everything over once more and seals it up. Nguyen serves the rolls with Nuoc Cham for dipping.

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