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Food Week: Venison and Shrimp Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Venison Spring Rolls-055

Those of you who read the magazine have probably realized that I am the “foodie” out of the bunch. I love to cook with wild game, and I have most fun creating new recipes or incorporating it into everyday dishes that people eat around the world. I’d even say that I enjoy cooking with wild game more than I do shooting it. I don’t care to sit in a blind for too long– forget it if it’s cold. But how I do relish taking game apart!

For me, the real fun begins when an animal is taken down. Piles of delicious steaks and roasts appear before my eyes as I carefully work my knife around the meat and bones in zen-like concentration, feeling the animal’s every muscle and ligament. It’s a deeply satisfying and intimate experience, and it becomes rewarding when I get the opportunity to later share dishes with loved ones and friends who have never had wild game before.

As a wild food blogger (www.foodforhunters.com), I am on a mission to show the versatility of wild game. I want to show hunters that they don’t always have to wrap venison in bacon. And to not throw those wild turkey legs away! To the skeptics and non-hunters, I am determined to win you over by feeding you (or at least showing you how to make) fresh, delicious meals that’s made from ethically killed game that’s better than the stuff you buy at the grocery store.

I must confess that I’m not a very good Vietnamese cook. I suppose it’s because I ate it all the time while growing up that I took it for granted– so I never learned. Now that I don’t live in Southern California anymore, I find myself missing Vietnamese food more and more everyday.

Here’s a simple recipe that I’ve mustered up. Anyone who has tried Vietnamese food will probably find this familiar– either this, or a beef noodle soup called pho. Spring rolls, sometimes called summer rolls, are aptly name. It’s like a salad wrapped in rice paper, eaten cold on a hot day with a citrus-y and salty dipping sauce called “nuoc cham.” There are regional differences when it comes to spring rolls. I wish I can tell you the differences, but I really don’t know. I just see it as something you make with whatever you have on hand. The version I am giving you is very basic, but has all the essential flavors of what Vietnamese spring rolls should taste like. And instead of pork, I’m using venison– which I think tastes just as good.

If you live in Omaha or Lincoln, you should be able to find all these ingredients at your nearest Asian grocery store. Of course, one can find anything on the internet these days.

Venison Spring Rolls-076Servings: 3-4 appetizers, or 2 meals
Prep Time: about 1 hour
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
– 1 pound of venison tenderloin or steaks
– half a package (5 ounces) of fine rice sticks/Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodles (It might say “bun giang tay-shoi no” on it.)
– about 20 raw shrimp, deveined and shells removed
– 2 small persian cucumbers (or mini cucumbers)
– a bunch of mint leaves
– spring roll wrappers (about 14-16)
– 1 tablespoon of olive oil
– salt and pepper, to taste
Dipping Sauce
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 2 tablespoons of sugar
– 2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
– 1/2 cup of water
– 1 teaspoon of Sambal Oelek ground fresh chili paste, or to taste (I think I got mine at Hy-Vee. From Huy Fong Foods, same makers of Sriracha sauce)
– juice of half a large lime, or juice of one small lime

1. I would suggest cooking rice noodles at least half an hour before you start assembling the rolls. Rice noodles take a long time to dry. When they’re just cooked, they are too wet to eat and work with. They come in a variety of packages. No need to be exact– they all taste the same. As long as its made of rice.

Cook noodles according to package directions, usually 4-5 minutes in boiling water. Drain noodles in a colander and unlike pasta, rice noodles need to be rinsed under cold water. Rice noodles release a starchy substance that need to be rinsed off. Just run water over the noodles under the faucet and allow to drain at room temperature for at least half and hour. You will notice that the noodles will become dry and sticky.

2. Remove all silver skin and fat from venison (fat makes it taste gamy). Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook venison up to medium. I like medium-rare.

Steak 101: Always allow meat to come to room temperature before searing or grilling for even cooking. Once cooked, allow venison to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into it. This will allow the meat to reabsorb its juices.

Boil a pot of water and add shrimp. Boil shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You can buy pre-cooked shrimp, but do not buy frozen pre-cooked shrimp. They are watery and tasteless.

3. Cut cucumbers into matchsticks and pick mint leaves from stems. You can even scoop out the seeds in the cucumbers to only eat the crispy part.

See photo in gallery for Persian cucumbers. They were marketed as “mini cucumbers” at Walmart. Persian cucumbers are thin skinned and crispy. I don’t like commonly used cucumbers because they are limp, watery and their skin leathery.

4. Slice shrimp in half lengthwise. Then slice venison thinly against the grain and into small bite size pieces.

5. Assembly time! Fill a large container with warm or hot water. Quickly wet spring roll wrappers, shake off excess water and lay on a clean flat surface. Wait until wrappers are pliable, then add some rice noodles, cucumber, venison and mint leaves towards the bottom. Add three pieces of shrimp towards the middle, pink/stripy side down for presentation. Then fold over the sides and the bottom over the filling. Next, tightly roll up the filling. Think dainty burrito.

6. Combine all dipping sauce ingredients and mix well. Serve rolls with sauce on the side. These can be made ahead of time, but keep them covered so the wrap doesn’t dry out.

About Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

NEBRASKAland Associate Editor Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and moved to the United States with her parents in 1992. She graduated from Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, California, in 2008 and completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 2012. Wheatley was editor-in-chief for her high school newspaper and continued to write in college, freelancing for various publications, the Tiger Woods Foundation and writing for her blog FoodForHunters.com. After graduating college, she moved to Nebraska in early 2013 to join the Commission as Regional Editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine. She then became associate editor in 2015. Wheatley enjoys hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and wild game cooking.

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