If you live in Australia and love Vietnamese cuisine, you cannot miss a Rice Paper Roll class by Miss Chu, the queen of Vietnamese street food.
The last one took place at the fantastic deli: Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria. But for the next one, follow @misschutuckshop on Instagram.
Nahji Chu aka Miss Chu arrived from Laos with her Vietnamese family as a refugee on the Australia shores in the seventies. Passionate about food she worked in a big bank to then realise that she could promote her culture through food and make a business out of it. She started a home-based catering, then opened her first high quality Vietnamese “Tuckshop”. Now she has six stores in Sydney, one in Melbourne, more than 280 staff and turned over $20 million last year.
The key to this success is the very good quality of the product. Nahji managed to do what only a few people have managed to do in the World: mass-produce rice paper rolls. It is a tricky one as they have to be extremely fresh and therefore the time between making them and eating has to be extremely short. She managed to do that and not your average soggy spring roll but mini work of arts with an exceptional taste.
If you wanna learn, better learn from the best!
First we were welcomed with a fresh juice of young coconut. It was delicious. Why don’t I drink that more often?
Nahji Chu aka Miss Chu had prepared things beautifully.
There was an impressive number of herb bunches and an incredible variety of it. I had sent an Instagram message to Nahji beforehand asking her if she knew where to buy saw tooth coriander and she was kind enough to bring some for me. There was also purple perilla also called shiso, large rocket leaves, Vietnamese mint, coriander, mint, dill, garlic shoots, etc. It was a luxurious abundance which made me feel happy. The smell was beautiful and soothing.
Each participant had a marble board, a water bowl, lots of herbs, cucumber sticks, rice noodles, roasted ground rice and many more ingredients.
We were given a course on rice paper quality, which brand to buy and why. It was very interesting!
Look at this beautiful setting! I loved the large rocket leaves you can see in the first bowl. They were spicy and delicious.
Miss Chu, the queen of rice paper rolls in Australia, business woman extraordinaire and fantastic chef, is equipped with microphone and explains the program of these two hours.
First we learned how to prepare a banana flower to make a salad or as an ingredient for rice paper rolls. Then she explained how to make her famous sauces to dip the rolls in. After that we were taught how to make one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes I used to eat at least once a week in France: nems or deep fried spring rolls. The second part of the course took place at the table where we will learn how to prepare 3 different types of fresh rolls: duck, tofu and tuna sashimi.
So here it is! A gorgeous banana flower with the baby bananas hiding under the petals. I have had banana blossom salad in many restaurants all over Sydney. My favourite one was Spice I am. I will never forget my first one :)
Once the flower is naked, it is chopped quickly and soaked in lemony water. It oxidises immediately and becomes black if you don’t keep it in water. The first taste is very tart. The water and lemon help soften the taste.
It needs to soak for a while…
Only the heart of the flower is used.
It will then be squeezed to get the water out and placed in rice paper rolls or mixed with coconut milk, the Thai way for a salad.
This was the second step: “How to make Miss Chu sauces”. The key to the sauces are the ingredients. It is very easy to get lost in translation when walking in the aisle of supermarkets such as the giant Asian IGA of Market City in the heart of Sydney’s China Town. So many brands, so many languages you don’t understand…
Nahji was very helpful and advised us to use our phone and photograph the cans she uses for her restaurants and simply use the same brands in smaller pots.
Her recipes for the sauces are pretty simple and the result is exactly what you get in her famous tuckshops.
The third step was the making of nems or Vietnamese spring rolls. Pork, crab meat, glass vermicelli, dry prawn, herbs and eggs dropped with great panache.
Then hand tossing. I love this part!
We needed a whole course on the rice paper dipping as this is where most cooks and chefs alike fail miserably!
Of course there is the question of the brand. If you buy cheap, badly made rice paper it will break and get soggy quickly.
Now the pupils’ turn!
Look at this nem mix! We had the option to use wheat ultra fine sheets or the fair dinkum rice paper. I prefer rice paper. It tastes more like Vietnam.
Very focused students were applying the rules with great success!
We learnt how to roll the rolls… in a very different way from the one you usually see online or in books.
Look at those gorgeous nems ready to be deep fried by Nahji’s assistant.
Our table was now ready to start making the cold version, the rice paper rolls.
Placing the ingredients on the rice paper is key.
This was the tofu, rice noodle, ground rice and shiso one. I am not a huge fan of tofu but believe me this was delightful.
This is Miss Chu’s vertical wrapping technique. The result of her different techniques, rice paper soaking, ingredients, filling position and wrapping make a perfectly firm, not soggy at all, and not dry roll.
Miss Chu’s signature roll is a bit of a flower arrangement. The extensive use of herbs makes it a wonderful gustatory experience.
See the little bouquet on top of the roll?
And voilà !
Now, our turn to roll….
This was the sashimi tuna with lovely ingredients such as wasabi. It was a true surprise this one. I loved it.
Add a bit of marinated seaweed, pickled ginger, a secret sauce and you get a culinary work of art.
The direction in which you roll is very important.
See these beauties?
Now back to our miniature herb garden on the table, it is our turn to try.
Students were very thankful for Nahji’s generosity and her precise technique.
I took home 3 plastic containers full of rice paper rolls and wonderful bunches of herbs, generously given by Nahji before I left. I let one branch of Shiso in a glass of water and it is making cute little roots. I will be planting this delicious herb very soon.
Nahji is on the verge of launching her own range of condiments and sauces. The real deal! Keep an eye on that space. I’ll talk about it soon.
There will be other courses. The next one, in November, will teach you how to make dumplings. It might get booked out on the day @misschutuckshop announces it. Be quick! (I will be there!)
NOTE: this post is not sponsored