Recipe and photos by Tom Hudgens
Not in the mood to cook? Check out Tom’s Albuquerque tour of Bánh Xèo.
Bánh xèo combines the comfort of a pancake and the fresh, aromatic flavors emblematic of Vietnamese cuisine. Made with rice flour and studded with onions, pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, the dish is served with greens, pickled and fresh vegetables, and an array of herbs. Diners combine the elements into small bundles and dip them in nước chấm sauce.
The pickled vegetables are best prepared a day ahead. The remaining elements can be prepared the day you intend to serve the dish, before combining the ingredients with the batter. Cooking the pancakes themselves only takes a few minutes.
PICKLE THE CARROTS AND DAIKON (preferably one day ahead)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into long julienne
- 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into long juliennes
- 2 cups hot tap water
- 1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 heaping teaspoon sea salt
Place julienned vegetables in a glass jar. Blend the hot water, vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved, then pour over the vegetables and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, drain well and blot any excess moisture dry.
MAKE THE NƯỚC CHẤM (dipping sauce)
- 1 1/2 ounces palm sugar
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce, such as Red Boat brand
- 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 to 3 teaspoons (or to taste) sambal oelek (Asian hot
red pepper paste)
Put the palm sugar in a heatproof bowl and pour the water over it. Let sit, stirring and mashing the sugar against the sides of the bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, and sambal oelek. Taste for a balance of flavors, adjusting as necessary. To serve, portion the nước chấm into individual dipping bowls.
COOK THE PORK
- 1/2 pound fresh pork belly
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese cooking wine
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
Place the belly in a saucepan with water, salt, wine, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Let the pork cool in the broth, then drain and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick. If preparing ahead, refrigerate until ready to cook the bánh xèo.
PREPARE THE SHRIMP
- 10 ounces peeled, deveined jumbo shrimp, cut in half lengthwise
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
Marinate the shrimp in the salt, sugar, and cornstarch for at least 1 hour. If preparing ahead, refrigerate until ready to cook the bánh xèo.
STEAM THE BEAN SPROUTS
Place 4 cups mung bean sprouts in a steamer with 1 cup water, and steam for 1 minute. Turn out onto a kitchen towel to drain and blot dry. If preparing ahead, refrigerate until ready to cook the bánh xèo.
PREPARE THE ACCOMPANIMENTS
- 1 head butter lettuce
- Several mustard green leaves, trimmed, washed, and dried
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- 1 small bunch Thai basil
- 1 small bunch mint
- 1 small bunch perilla
- 2 or 3 scallions, trimmed
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, sliced lengthwise
Trim the lettuce, wash, and spin dry. Cut squares of mustard leaf and wash and dry thoroughly. Pick carefully through the herbs, making bundles of small sprigs of each type. Dip in a bowl of cool water briefly, then drain thoroughly.
MIX THE BATTER
- 1 1/2 cups rice flour (not sweet rice flour or glutinous rice flour)
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (13.5 ounces) full-fat unsweetened coconut milk, well stirred
- 2 cups plain sparkling water
Sift the rice flour, cornstarch, turmeric, and salt together. Scrape the coconut milk into a large, deep bowl, and blend in the sparkling water. Add the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes.
COOK THE DISH
Have on hand at the stove:
- About 8 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
- The cooked pork
- The bánh xèo batter
- The marinated shrimp
- The cooked bean sprouts
Have ready on the serving table:
- The lettuce, greens, cucumber, and herbs, at room temperature, in serving bowls/platters
- The pickled carrots/daikon, in a serving bowl
- The nước chấm, in individual dipping bowls
Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet on medium high. Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. When it shimmers, add one-quarter of the onions and one-quarter of the pork belly. Let them cook a moment, then give the batter a good stir from the bottom and ladle batter over the onion and pork (enough to cover the pan with a thin layer). It should give a nice, audible sizzle. Immediately scatter one-quarter of the shrimp over the batter, then one-quarter of the bean sprouts. Lower the heat to medium, and cover the pan loosely. Check the bottom of the pancake to ensure it doesn’t get too dark; adjust heat if needed. Remove the lid for the last few minutes of cooking.
As soon as the shrimp has turned pink and the batter is cooked through (about 8 minutes), fold the pancake in half, turn onto a wooden serving board, and keep in a warm oven. Cook the three remaining pancakes the same way.
Serve the bánh xèo immediately, with all the accompaniments. To eat, bundle the pancake wedges with the lettuce, mustard leaves, cucumber, pickled vegetables, and herbs. Dip in the nước chấm and enjoy.
Tom Hudgens is the author of The Deep Springs Cookbook and The Commonsense Kitchen. A former chef, he works at Central New Mexico Community College, where he supports academic programs and shares recipes with his coworkers.