Our Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe is a classic gỏi cuốn recipe resulting in fresh, fragrant spring rolls that can be served as a light appetiser, part of a shared family-style meal or as finger food for a Vietnamese feast or barbecue.
It might have made more sense for me to kick off our series of Vietnamese spring roll recipes with this classic gỏi cuốn or Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe – rather than the slightly more complicated phở cuốn Hà Nội, which requires you to work a little hard to learn how to make the pho noodle sheets (if you can’t buy them locally, that is).
But I’d just returned from Hanoi, Vietnam, where I’d ended the inaugural 22-day Vietnam Culinary Tour I hosted and those wonderful springs rolls were still very much on my mind – and taste buds! By the way, I’m currently tweaking that itinerary and locking in dates for another Vietnam food adventure that we hope to schedule very soon.
In the meantime, here’s our Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe – which is for a very classic gỏi cuốn, not a modern fusion version. This is a recipe for the traditional gỏi cuốn we ate for the first time in a Vietnamese restaurant in inner city Sydney many years ago that made us fall in love with Vietnamese food.
Vietnamese Fresh Prawn and Pork Spring Rolls Recipe – Classic Gỏi Cuốn Recipe
This Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe is a classic recipe for traditional gỏi cuốn – which is a cold spring roll of cold cooked prawns, unseasoned pork belly, cold vermicelli noodles, and fresh aromatic herbs, wrapped in damp dry rice paper sheets. They’re light, zingy and refreshing.
Just to clarify, as I often get asked what the difference is between ‘spring rolls’ and ‘summer rolls’. We’re calling our Vietnamese gỏi cuốn ‘spring rolls’ – which is what we’ve called them our entire eating lives and what you’ll see them translated to in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia, where they’ll be written up as ‘fresh spring rolls’ in contrast to ‘fried spring rolls’.
For our North American and British readers, yes, these are the same spring rolls that are best known as Vietnamese summer rolls in the UK and USA. I haven’t researched the history of the ‘summer roll’, but I suspect the name came about to differentiate them from the hot, fried spring roll. I’ll find out.
But Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls is what you’ll more often than not see them called on most English language menus in Vietnam, whether you’re trying a delicate version at a high-end restaurant in Hanoi or sampling roughly-rolled renditions on the Saigon streets from the Lunch Lady, who Anthony Bourdain made world-famous. Her spring rolls are lovely, by the way.
I’ve prepared the pork in a classic style, which is fairly plain, to let the natural sweetness of the prawns shine and not to overpower the aromatic greens, as these classic spring rolls are meant to be fresh and light.
However, I’ve seen some contemporary recipes that marinate the pork before stir-frying, braising and even roasting it, as Terence does in his wonderful recipe. Some cooks also stir-fry their prawns in an array of spices.
While those spring rolls are probably incredibly delicious and I will give them a try, they’re not your traditional gỏi cuốn and I really just wanted to share the classic Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe here. I’ve got more spring rolls recipes to come.
Our Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls are ideally served as a light appetiser or as part of a shared family-style meal. They’re also perfect finger food for a Vietnamese feast or Asian themed barbecue, and Terence has a new series of Cambodian barbecue recipes coming very soon.
- 15 pieces dry rice paper sheets (22cm/9in)
- 300 g pork belly
- 1 tsp salt
- 15 jumbo/tiger prawns (shrimp)
- 200 g Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles
- Small iceberg lettuce (15 leaves)
- 1 large cucumber
- Coriander (cilantro) (75 leaves)
- Mint (45 leaves)
- Garlic chives (30 pieces)
- Chop your pork belly into chunky pieces.
- Boil water in a medium sized saucepan (filled to halfway) until you have a rolling boil then add a teaspoon of salt and the pork belly pieces.
- Cook for the pork belly pieces for no more than 10-15 minutes. This will depend on how thick you cut your pork of course, so test a piece by piercing the pork or pressing it with a chopstick – you don’t want to see any pink juice running out but you want to ensure it doesn’t dry out.
- Remove the pork, let it cool, cut it into thin slices, and set it aside.
- Boil another pot of water for your rice vermicelli. Follow the instructions on the packet, however, note that they should take no more than a few minutes. Try a noodle to ensure it’s perfectly cooked then drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.
- Boil a final pot of water and when boiled, use a medium sized stainless steel strainer, skimmer or deep-fry colander to dip your raw prawns into the boiling water to poach them until they turn orange, then remove and let them cool.
- Once your prawns are cool, peel them, removing the tail, head and deveining them, then carefully slice each shrimp lengthwise into halves and set aside.
- Rinse your lettuce and fresh herbs, drain, and dry them.
- Break the lettuce into pieces that will fit neatly into your rolls and remove the coriander and mint leaves from the stems.
- Peel your cucumber and cut the cucumber lengthwise into very thin slices. Some recipes call for the cucumber to be de-seeded, but we think that’s a personal choice.
- Make your classic Hoisin dipping sauce by heating 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a small sauce pan on medium to high heat, then frying 1 tbsp of a finely chopped clove of garlic until the pieces are golden brown. Add Hoisin sauce, vinegar and stir as it simmers on low heat for a few minutes until thick. Pour into small dipping bowls then top with finely sliced, de-seeded, fresh birds eye chillies and crushed peanuts.
- Organise your ingredients in dishes in the order that you will arrange them in the dry rice paper rolls. I like to start with fresh coriander leaves, prawns, pork, rice vermicelli, the rest of the fresh herbs, cucumber, and lettuce.
- Next, put some cold water in a flat pan or big plate that is large enough and deep enough to allow you to completely submerge a single rice paper sheet.
- Ready a large cutting board to assemble your rolls, then prepare to work fast.
- Quickly dip a sheet of rice paper into the water so that it is thoroughly damped but not completely wet. This should take no more than two to three seconds.
- Shake off any excess water, lay the rice paper sheet on the cutting board, then imagine a horizontal line across the centre of the sheet and just below this place three big coriander leaves in a line and then in between them place your two prawn halves horizontally.
- Lay a couple of pork slices horizontally upon these, then a lump of your rice vermicelli which you should spread out, then a sprinkle of the fresh herb leaves, a few slices of cucumber, then a lettuce leaf, and a couple of garlic chives.
- Using your lettuce leaf to hold everything in place, pull the bottom of the rice paper up over the whole mass of ingredients to create the first semblance of a roll.
- Quickly pull in the right side of the rice paper to partly cover the ends, then the left side to do the same, then firmly roll it all up to the end, so everything remains tightly in place. When you turn it over you should see the coriander leaves look pretty between the prawn halves.
- Serve attractively piled on a plate or platter at the centre of the table but provide individual dipping sauces for your guests. If you’re serving these at a party or barbecue you can slice them diagonally in half.
- Serve the rolls within an hour or so after making them. If you’re going to serve them later than this, then you’ll need to wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and put them in an air-tight container in the fridge, otherwise they will dry out.
How to Roll Spring Rolls
If you do need a little extra assistance so you can get the hang of the rolling, I like this video on how to roll fresh spring rolls although I do prefer the order that we arrange our ingredients and roll our goi cuon, above. I think it works better if you roll the bottom up, then either side, then roll up to the top, and I also think it’s prettier to place the coriander and prawns as I’ve described. The video nevertheless gives you a good idea of how it’s done.
More of our Vietnamese Spring Roll Recipes
Fresh Hanoi-style rice noodle rolls – phở cuốn Hà Nội recipe
How to make fresh rice noodle sheets for phở cuốn Hà Nội
Deep fried Hanoi-style spring rolls – classic nem rán Hà Nội recipe (these are the fried spring rolls that are used for bun cha)
More Spring Roll Recipes
You’ll find more spring roll recipes in these terrific cookbooks.
Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl – the former owners of Hanoi Cooking Centre and authors of several Vietnam cookbooks have ten Vietnamese spring roll recipes in this book, which is one of our favourites. When we last met Tracey she was talking of writing a book 100% dedicated to spring rolls. Fingers crossed.
The Songs of Sapa, Stories and Recipes from Vietnam by Luke Nguyen – the Aussie-Vietnamese chef who splits his time between Sydney and Saigon and owns the excellent GRAIN Cooking Studio has half a dozen different Vietnamese spring roll recipes in this beautiful book that charts his discovery of dishes during his travels through Vietnam.
Street Food Asia by Luke Nguyen – you’ll find some spring roll recipes in this cookbook on street food snacks from Vietnam and beyond.
As usual, we’d love to hear from you if you make our Vietnamese fresh prawn and pork spring rolls recipe. Please let us know how it turned out in the comments below and share a pic with us on Instagram.
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