Vietnamese Recipe: Sugarcane Shrimp (Chao Tom) Spring Roll

Of the many cuisines I encountered around the world, this is one of the rare recipes that I enjoy making as much as I enjoy eating. It is a fun process and a very interactive dish. The end product is a fresh spring roll with shrimp. It takes a bit of work – about an hour – but it is totally worth it! The real recipe calls for pork fat, but since we don’t eat meat we used an egg instead.

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Vietnamese Dipping Sauce: Nuoc Cham

1 lime
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Thai chilies (3 if you like it spicy!), minced

You will also need:
1 lemon or lime squeezer
1 ramekin or small serving dish

  1. Begin by cutting the lime in half and squeezing all the juice into a small ramekin.
  2. Add the sugar and water to the juice and stir to dissolve the granules.
  3. Add the fish sauce, garlic and chilies to spice up the mixture.

Vietnamese sugarcane shrimp (Chao Tom) spring roll, serves 4

Ingredients (for paste):
1 foot-long stick of sugarcane
1 ½ pounds raw peeled shrimp
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ large yellow onion, quartered
3 shallots, halved
3 garlic cloves, quartered
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder

Ingredients (for rolls):
1 package of rice paper
1 bunch of scallions, diced
1 bunch of cilantro, diced
1 bunch of mint, diced
1 head of romaine lettuce, shredded

You will also need:
1 colander
1 food processor
1 machete or meat cleaver
1 steamer basket
1 pot (large enough to accommodate your steamer basket)
1 large pan
1 sheet of parchment paper
1 pair of kitchen scissors

  1. Rinse the peeled shrimp (always wash any seafood before cooking) in a colander and shake off extra water.
  2. Put shrimp into food processor and pulverize.
  3. Add salt, cornstarch, sugar, pepper, fish sauce, egg, garlic, onion, and shallots, and blend the mixture into a puree.
  4. When the paste reaches a homogenous blend, spoon out into a bowl and refrigerate for 15-25 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F
  6. Take the sugarcane and machete and split off sticks that are 6″ long and a half inch wide.
  7. After the shrimp paste has firmed a bit, take it out of the fridge and wrap 3-4 tablespoons of the paste around the middle of each of your sugarcane sticks.
  8. Fill a pot half-full of water, place the steamer basket inside, and cover it with parchment paper so the paste doesn’t stick to the steamer basket.
  9. Steam the shrimp paste-covered sugarcane sticks for 5 minutes or until they change from grey to pink and are no longer sticky.
  10. Place steamed sugarcane sticks on a large cookie sheet, and stick it into the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes. They are ready when they start to turn a golden brown. Take them out and let cool.
  11. Dip both sides of the rice paper into a plate of shallow water and then lay it on a flat surface.
  12. Using your kitchen scissors, cut off chunks of the cooked paste onto your rice paper.
  13. Add diced scallion, cilantro, mint and lettuce. Then roll it up and eat using the dipping sauce.

2 responses to “Vietnamese Recipe: Sugarcane Shrimp (Chao Tom) Spring Roll

  1. This was one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes from our local restaurant when living in Nashville, but unfortunately I never came across it when we were in Vietnam proper. (Much to my disappointment!) At least I’ll know how to make it once I have a kitchen of my own! 😀

    • Bummer on not seeing it in Vietnam. We first experienced it in Hanoi and then again in Ho Chi Minh City (we traveled north to south). I personally can’t get enough of it. And you get yummy sugarcanes to chew on afterwards as an added bonus.

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