Bánh cuốn is a Vietnamese specialty made with a very thin, steamed, loosely rolled, rice flour crêpe. The recipe is not that complicated but assembling the rice rolls can be delicate. Unlike French crêpe, the batter is made from combined rice flour, tapioca starch and corn starch, which makes bánh cuốn very flimsy and harder to manipulate. The first rice flour crêpe is never perfect, and I usually thin the batter with more water as I cook them, so they don't turn out too thick. The filling remains exposed since the rice roll is nearly transparent.
This time, I made a meat version with chicken. You could always make the rice flour crêpe with a vegetarian filling if you prefer. I tucked into each rice roll a filling of seasoned ground meat (I used chicken), wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and dried shallots. Typically, bánh cuốn is sprinkled with fried shallots (or onions) with nước chấm (fish sauce). I served shrimp cakes and fried taro cakes on the side along with mounds of steamed soy bean sprouts, combined with cilantro, Vietnamese mint (rau thơm), shredded cucumber, lettuce, lime wedges and green Thai chiles.
It's not the prettiest meal, but it's a flavorful, earthy (thanks to the mushrooms), light meal dish. If you want to improve the presentation and avoid tearing, drizzle the rice roll with a little oil and expose the smooth part of the bánh cuốn on top to hide the wrinkly side.
Servings: 8 servings
8 shallots, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons canola oil, as needed
½ pound ground chicken
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon red chili powder
6 fresh wood ear mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
½ cup canned water chestnuts
, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (see tips)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular table salt)
1-½ cups rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch
½ cup corn starch
6-¼ cups cold water, as needed
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups soy bean sprouts, steamed
3 cups combined cilantro, Vietnamese mint (rau thơm), shredded cucumber and lettuce
1-½ cups nước chấm
The day before:
In a saucepan, heat the canola oil. Add the shallots. Pan-fry until golden. Transfer to a plate (don't drain). Let cool. Set aside.
Place the ground chicken in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons fried shallots. Mix well. Add the grated ginger and red chili powder. Season with ½ teaspoon mushroom salt and pepper. Using food service disposable gloves, mix the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the remaining shallots from the oil and reserve separately.
The following day:
In a pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved shallot-flavored oil. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden. Add the ground chicken mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the shiitake and wood ear mushrooms and water chestnuts. Stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add 2 more tablespoons of fried shallots. Taste the meat. Season with more mushroom seasoning salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.
Making bánh cuống batter: In a bowl, whisk the 3 flours together with the water. Season with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir well; make sure there are no lumps. Add 2 tablespoons of oil.
Using a silicone brush, coat a flat, non-stick pan with the reserved oil. Stir the batter one more time and ladle a thin layer (count about 3 tablespoons of batter) into the pan. Lift the pan and then tilt and rotate it until the batter is evenly spread and forms a nice, very thin disk. Drizzle with a little oil. Cover with a lid and let it steam for a few seconds. Once the color becomes slightly transparent-white, place a little mound of the chicken-mushroom filling and delicately, loosely fold opposite ends toward the center (where the filling is). You want to make sure not to over-fill the rice roll; otherwise the bánh cuốn might tear or the excess filling might burst out of the sides while folding. The rice sheet should be shiny in texture and the rest should look wrinkly. Transfer to an individual serving plate, inverting the bánh cuốn, so the filling is still seen through the rice roll and exposed and the top of the rice flour crêpe looks smooth.
Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and repeat the same procedure until all the ingredients are used. Pour a little more oil into the pan before beginning the next bánh cuốn. Stir the bánh cuốn batter as you go for uniform consistency (and thin the batter with more water if necessary).
Sprinkle the top with the reserved fried shallots.
When ready to serve, serve the bánh cuốn with steamed bean sprouts, combined cilantro, Vietnamese mint, shredded cucumber and lettuce served on the side and drizzle with nước chấm sauce.
This recipe yields about 40 rice rolls. I usually count 5 per person.
I like mixing 1 part chicken breast with 1 part dark meat (chicken thighs). I find the result to be more moist, as dark meat is more flavorful and has more fat than chicken breasts. I usually grind the meat using the attachment of the KitchenAid. Just make sure to remove all the bones prior to grinding! You could also add shrimp to the filling.
Fresh Wood Ear Mushrooms.
You can find wood ear mushrooms in any Asian store. I was pleased to find that my local Asian market now carries fresh wood ear mushrooms (I usually use the dried version). They're grown locally in Half Moon Bay (CA) and they're sold in 6-ounce packages. They're flavorless but they give an interesting, chewy texture to the filling.
I used water chestnuts for a crisp, crunchy contrast with the ground chicken. You can find water chestnuts sold in flat little cans in any Asian stores.
You can buy rice flour at the stores but I prefer grinding my own, so I know all the nutrients are preserved. I use the Nutrimill brand mill. If you cook a lot, this machine might be very useful to make any kind of flour.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the filling. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. If you live in the Bay Area, check out Marina Foods, 10122 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, CA 95014.
Little reminder on how to make freshly grated ginger: Clean the ginger root and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife (or the edge of a spoon). Grate the ginger with a fine mesh Microplane. Gather about 1 teaspoon of grated ginger root.
Another common side for this dish is chả lụa. I sometimes add chả lụa gà (Vietnamese-style chicken ham; it's a thick cold sausage that is tightly wrapped and steamed in banana leaves). It's sold in Asian stores in San Jose. Our family friend Jeannie steams her own at home. It's delicious!