Bún chả (Vietnamese grilled pork with rice vermicelli noodles)
Timing: 2 hours
In our favourite Bún chả establishment as you sit down a smiling lady places a plate of white rice vermicelli, next to another plate overflowing with freshly-washed greens: coriander, mint, lettuce, and about five other twisted, stemmed, leaves,grasses and herbs. They nestle next to the bowl of sliced chillies and minced garlic already on the table. then a small bowl of dipping sauce and one with sliced pickled carrots and green papaya. Immediately out comes the main event – the rissoles and slices of pork in a broth.
Put some of the rice noodles on your bowl, spoon some of the broth and dipping sauce over them, tear up some lettuce, herbs, scatter some chilli, pickles and garlic and add either a rissole or pork slice and go for your life.
Vietnamese Caramel Sauce
70gm (5tablespoons) sugar
150ml hot water
1lb/450gm pork shoulder or pork belly (choose a fatty piece to prevent the meat from drying out while being grilled however note that Pork shoulder is less fatty than belly but still has enough fat so it doesn’t dry out)
1lb/ 500gm minced pork (choose minced pork with at least 10% fat)
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
3-5 cloves garlic
1 egg lightly whisked
1 tablespoon Fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon Oyster sauce
500g pork mince
1 garlic clove
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 cup green shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
400 gm green papaya, carrots
25 gm (2 tbsp) sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) rice vinegar or lemon juice
¾ tsp salt
Fresh herbs to serve: coriander, mint, something called perilla, lettuce, Vietnamese balm,
Dipping sauce (nước chấm nem)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1 clove garlic minced
3 chillies, thinly sliced
3/4 cup water
Check the sauce has the perfect balance – essential to Asian food of salty-sweet-sour-spicy. You’ll need to taste because some fish sauces are saltier than others.
1.5 kg fresh rice vermicelli noodles or 0.5 kg dried rice vermicelli noodles
Marinating and Grilling the Meat
The traditional bún chả has a combination of grilled pork rissoles (chả băm) wrapped in lalot (betel) leaves and grilled pork slices (chả miếng)
Vietnamese caramel sauce is used as a food colouring to give the meat a golden brown colour – to make simply boil sugar and water together.
The pork is best grilled over charcoal fire – charcoal grilled pork has a great smoky flavour compared to oven grilled pork….but…
If you are using the oven, put the meat over a wire rack or a pizza pan – surfaces that allow the meat itself to be exposed to the heat from the top and the bottom. This will prevent the pork from drying out. The meat is more tender as the heat is distributed evenly throughout.
Bake in oven at 400 Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Make sure to flip and rotate for even cooking.
Making the rissoles
Combine the minced pork, garlic, egg, shallot, chopped mint, fish sauce and pepper in a bowl. Roll into 16 small balls. If you can get betel leaves (!) wrap around the rissoles. (If you can’t I’d use mint leaves pressed into the rissoles). Gently pat to flatten into patties.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the rissoles in 2 batches for 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cooked through.
Pickles and Vegetables
Pickles are made fresh. It’s a lighter more fragrant taste. When you make the fresh pickles, it is important to add sugar first rather than salt, as it will make the pickles crunchier. Adding salt first will make them a bit tough to chew.
With fresh rice vermicelli you just have to poach it in hot water to warm it through. If you don’t live in Vietnam chances are you’ll be using the tougher-than-steel dried stuff. Disregard the instructions that say just soak in hot water. Boiling it (like pasta) and checking if ready is the best method so the noodles expand properly. You can cook these beforehand and just run some hot water to warm them through at the last moment if you want.
When added into nước chấm, the garlic (and chilli) should float on the surface – it looks more visually appealing rather than chunks of garlics sinking at the bottom. Here are a few tips to achieve this:
Mince the garlic very finely, but don’t crush it. The dipping sauce should be warm when you add in the garlic.
Soak the garlic in a little bit of vinegar and sugar before adding it to the dipping sauce.