Fresh and Easy Tilapia and Pineapple Spring Rolls

published Aug 19, 2022
summer
Tilapia and Pineapple Spring Rolls Recipe

Flaky tilapia fillets and juicy slices of pineapple take center stage in these refreshing spring rolls.

Serves2 to 4

Makes8 rolls

Prep10 minutes

Cook15 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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tilapia spring rolls on plate
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Despite living on the Gulf of Mexico during my childhood, it took me longer than I like to admit to come around to seafood — especially fish, in its all flaky-silky texture and sea-kissed taste. But of course, it was inescapable, especially because my mother and stepdad loved to fish on the pier in the early mornings. On the weekends, they’d often pull me out of bed to join them.

We’d gather up the gear and hop in my stepdad’s old work truck, tossing in some kind of breakfast sandwich to eat as we bumped along the road down to the water. When we arrived among the scattering of dedicated fishermen with their blistered tans and cargo pants, my stepdad set us up with our rods and the bait. For an hour, maybe two, we’d wait for the telltale tug of the line, mostly in yawning silence as the sun began to warm the cold ocean water. Sometimes, we’d return home empty-handed, clothes smelling of salt and ankles crusted with sand. But other times, we’d come back with a cooler full of silvery fish — pompano and ladyfish, mackerel and a rare snapper or two. Those were the bountiful days.

While my stepdad was the fishing expert, my mother took full charge of the fish gutting and cleaning. She set up her cutting board and cleaver outside on the deck, where she could toss the fish guts into the plant beds for fertilizer. Our avocado and kumquat trees were lush and heavy with fruit, thanks to our morning catch. I never liked sticking around for the cleaning part, but I dutifully admired the clean fillets she’d bring back into the kitchen on her big blue plate. From sea to land, in the course of an hour. 

Mom liked to fry the fish with a light coating, or braise the heartier catches, like catfish, in a caramelized kho sauce with heaps of pepper sprinkled on at the end. But my favorite preparation will always be her spring rolls. She used whitefish for its lightness and texture, then added fresh herbs from her garden, and the unexpected ingredient of thinly sliced pineapple.

The sweetness of the fruit married perfectly with the fish and greens. Instead of the normal peanut-hoisin sauce that accompanies spring rolls, she made a light nước chấm dipping sauce, laced with fish sauce, lime juice, and chiles. Together, all this made for the ultimate Vietnamese-Floridian fusion of tropical, umami flavors. It was a near-perfect dish for summertime — especially after spending a hopeful morning on the shore, waiting for a tug of your line. 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Now when I make this dish, I’ll use whatever whitefish is handy. Usually, that means tilapia, but you can substitute with sea bass, snapper, or any other fish available from your local monger. I’ve also seen this made to great success with squid. Spring rolls are so wonderfully versatile that you can customize them entirely to your tastes. For herbs, you can mix Thai basil, lettuce, chives, and mint. Thinly sliced cucumber or red pepper would also give these a nice, fresh bite. The trick to these particular seafood spring rolls is to maintain that delicate balance between sweet, sour, and spicy (if you choose to add chiles to your dipping sauce). 

When you make tilapia and pineapple spring rolls for yourself, you can close your eyes and imagine the lapping of the water on the coast, the cry of gulls, and the start of a day that promises both peace and comfort, in equal measure. That’s what these spring rolls have always done for me.

Tilapia and Pineapple Spring Rolls Recipe

Flaky tilapia fillets and juicy slices of pineapple take center stage in these refreshing spring rolls.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Makes 8 rolls

Serves 2 to 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the nước chấm dipping sauce:

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 1/3 cup

    water

  • 2 tablespoons

    fish sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1 clove

    garlic, minced (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon

    thinly sliced fresh Thai red chile (optional)

For the spring rolls:

Instructions

Make the dipping sauce:

  1. Squeeze the juice from 1 medium lime until you have 1 tablespoon. Place the lime juice, 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in 1 minced garlic clove or 1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh Thai red chile if desired.

Make the spring rolls:

  1. Cook 4 ounces thin dried Asian vermicelli noodles according to package directions. Drain in a colander and run them under cold water until cooled. Drain again. Pat dry with paper towels and fluff with your fingers to separate any dense clumps.

  2. Pat 10 ounces tilapia fillets dry with paper towels. Season all over with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the fish and cook until cooked through and browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

  3. Drain 1 (20-ounce) can pineapple slices in juice and cut the slices in half. Cut 2 large green or red leaf lettuce leaves lengthwise into 4 pieces each.

  4. Fill a shallow, wide bowl or pie plate with about 1-inch warm water. Lay out 8 rice wrapper wrappers. Divide the fish and noodles into 8 portions each.

  5. Assemble the rolls one at a time on a work surface or large plastic cutting board right before serving: Submerge 1 rice paper wrapper in the warm water for 5 seconds. (Don’t leave them in too long or they will be hard to handle. They’ll soften on the work surface.) Place the rice wrapper on the work surface, making sure it sits flat.

  6. Arrange the following across the wrapper about 2 to 3 inches from the bottom, stacking them on top of each other: Lettuce, 1 portion of the fish (break up the fish as needed) and noodles, and 2 to 3 pineapple pieces. Fold in the left and right sides over the filling. Fold the bottom of the wrapper up over the filling and continue rolling up very tightly and slowly until you reach the other end of the wrapper.

  7. Place in a single layer on a platter, make sure the spring rolls do not touch or they will stick together. Serve with the dipping sauce. Spring rolls are best eaten fresh.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The dipping sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.