ChefSteps Family Meal: “Vietnamese Subway” Edition

We like to eat. And even more than we like to eat, we like to cook. And even more than we like to cook, we like to cook together. That’s why we drop our TPS reports every Friday afternoon and gather in the kitchen for family meal. At restaurants, “family meal” is a venerated tradition where staffers gather together before service and eat a hearty meal, usually prepared by the kitchen staff and served buffet-style to the rest of the employees. At ChefSteps, we turn that tradition on its side: one or more of our chefs pairs up with a non-kitchen employee (a writer, perhaps, or a videographer, or a software developer) to make something amazing for the rest of us. Why do we do it? Because we believe that cooking and eating together makes us better at our jobs, and better at life. And we’re holding tight to that belief. (I mean really, can you blame us?)


Last week, development chef Nick Gavin paired up with software developer (and home cook extraordinaire) Huy Nguyen to serve choose-your-own-adventure Vietnamese spring rolls (aka “Vietnamese Subway”). Huy’s been making spring rolls since birth, so he knows a thing or two about how to do it right. Read on for his tips on how to roll your own.

Quick Dip

Start with a rice-paper wrapper dipped quickly in warm water. It’s tempting to soak it for a few minutes, but trust us—just a quick dip will do. After you dip, lay it flat on your plate.

Lettuce First

Add green lettuce first, for structure and color, then vermicelli noodles, green onions, basil, mint, cucumbers, and whatever other fresh ingredients you want.

Level Up

Next, poach raw beef or bacon in one of two simmering mixtures: one made of beer, vinegar, and fish sauce; and one made of butter, lemongrass, and onions. (Dipping the beef in beer and vinegar is a Vietnamese tradition called bò nhúng dấm, by the way, and it literally means “beef dipped in vinegar” in Vietnamese.) If you’re feeling ambitious, as we were on this occasion, set up a binchotan (a Japanese charcoal-grill) and add charred shrimp and squid to your spring rolls. (We used octopus instead of squid because it looked nice and fresh.) If you’re not feeling ambitious, make sous vide chicken or pork belly and use that instead.

chefstep_spring roll

Roll On

Once your wrappers are filled with delicious treasures, roll those babies up tight. They key is to work quickly and confidently: pull the edge closest to you over the top of your fillings, then fold in the sides, and roll tightly until you have a nice little burrito. And hey, if you end up with a spring-roll massacre, just grab a fork. It’ll still be yummy. Make a simple dipping sauce out of lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, and water for dipping, and voilà! You, sir or madam, are the Vietnamese spring roll master.

What should we prepare next Friday? Add your suggestions in the comments below!

17 thoughts on “ChefSteps Family Meal: “Vietnamese Subway” Edition

  1. Can you only do the wrappers one at a time? Any hints on doing the rolls for a crowd besides everyone doing their own?

  2. Brand of rice paper?
    was it sold in that rectangular shape?

  3. Stephen Paulson

    I like to dip my wrappers in singha and a little evaporated cane sugar gives a great added flavor and texture to my spring rolls.

  4. Different tartars…fish, meat (veal, beef) veggies, and a fruit one!!!

  5. Traditional beef tartare from Swiss master chefs is always SCRAPED from a piece of beef fillet with a sharp knife to produce a finely pureed result while at the same time retaining texture and releasing maximum flavour.

  6. Fried Tilapia on a bed of stemed rice n grilled veggies then topped with some Sweet Chile Sauce… My fave is to fry the fish with cornstarch instead of flour or cornmeal.

  7. ok looks like fun for all , even those who do-not know what they are doing, question where do you get the rectangle rice paper for spring rolls.

  8. sheryl landers

    Pizza Party!! Different crusts, sauces, toppings. Why do you ask? March 14th is Pi Day (3.14). This year is extra special because the date has the first 5 digits of Pi. (3.14.15). I am a math teacher planning a school-wide (K-12) celebration… I’m hoping the kids might be able to make (and measure) so they can find Pi in the pies. Pizza pies, dessert pies, whoopie pies etc. In my school we have some students that are gluten free and/or vegan. It would be great if you have recipes for those students. I’ve tried to make a gluten-free pizza crust before and it wasn’t very successful. Thanks!!

    • I think I should have had you as a Math teacher Sheryl! Would love to see something around a gluten free crust. Or anything gluten free!

  9. Banh Mi. How to make those tasty slices of beef om a baguette.

  10. Easiest to start with a slice of raw, best quality fillet, trimmed of all conective tissue and fat. Scrape across the grain with a sharp knife to produce a finely pureed result. Once the whole portion has been processed mix with other ingredients, including a fresh raw egg yolk which has been separated in the kitchen and be waiting in its half shell. Form into a patty shape using the back of two forks. Fill th empty half egg shell with cognac and nestle in the top of the patty before presenting the finished dish. The eggshell must of course have been pre-washed just beforehand. The whole operation should be carried out with great care in front of the diner.

  11. Thank you very much! Much appreciated!

  12. You’re very welcome. Enjoy!