Tiny Steamed Rice Cakes with Shrimp and Crispy Pork Cracklings

Bánh Bèo

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Each country in Southeast Asia has some delicious version of small rice pancakes. These bite-size cakes represent a blank canvas to create a myriad of snacks upon. A slight variation, such as small grilled shrimp with chili sauce, or minced pickled veggies make excellent choices. Be creative and make up your own version.

These Vietnamese steamed rice flour discs have little flavor of their own. The dish’s flavor comes from fried shrimp and crisp pork cracklings, which are sprinkled on top. Piquant lime-chili sauce provides lively contrast. These are mớng, the savory version. The sweet type is known as Bánh bèo ngọt. The steamed cakes can be prepared ahead and kept at room temperature for a few hours, before adding the shrimp topping.

You’ll need 24 dipping-size cups to steam these individual cakes. You may already have some small dipping sauce dishes that will work. If not, go to a restaurant supply store or Asian market to pick up two dozen inexpensive tiny bowls.

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Ingredients

Cakes

  • 1 cup Rice flour
  • 1 tbsp. Tapioca starch
  • tsp. Kosher salt
  • cups Water
  • 2 tsp. Vegetable oil or rendered pork fat
  • 12 to 24 Small dishes, about to 2 inches (3.8 cm. to 5 cm.) wide and at least ½ inch (1.3 cm.) deep

Shrimp Topping

  • 2 tsp. Vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. Minced shallots
  • ¼ lb. (113 g.) Small shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into ½-inch (1.3 cm.) pieces
  • ½ tsp. Fish sauce (nước mấm)
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. Granulated sugar
  • ½ recipe Scallion oil
  • ½recipe Nước Chấm dipping sauce
  • 1 recipe Pork cracklings, broken into ¼ to ½-inch (.6 cm. to 1.3 cm.) pieces (0.6 to 1 cm.) or store-bought chicarrones (available at Latino takeout places)

Method

  1. Prepare the batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca starch, and salt. Add water and oil; whisk until batter is perfectly smooth (it will be very thin, like milk). If there are any lumps, strain through a fine wire mesh sieve. Set batter aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare shrimp topping: Heat a small skillet or wok over medium-low heat. Add oil and shallots; cook until translucent. Increase heat to medium-high; add shrimp, fish sauce, salt, and sugar. Mix well. Stir-fry until shrimp are cooked, excess moisture evaporates, and shrimp begin to brown. Shrimp will be well-done (some would call this “overcooked”). Transfer to bowl; allow to cool, uncovered. 15 minutes. Transfer to food processor; pulse until roughly chopped (or chop well by hand); set aside
  3. Steam rice cakes: Set a steamer over boiling water at the highest heat possible. Place small cups into the steamer trays or baskets. Cover; steam to pre-heat for 2 minutes.. Whisk batter to re-distribute settled flour. With the cups as level as possible, carefully ladle 1 to 2 tablespoons of batter (depending on the width of the cups; you will need to fill them ¼ to ½ inches or 0.6 to 1.3 cm. deep. Cover, and steam 8 to 10 minutes until they are firmly set (the center should bounce back when prodded). They should appear opaque. Carefully remove tray or basket from steamer; set aside to allow cakes to firm up at room temperature for a few minutes.
  4. Loosen from cups: When cool enough to touch, loosen them around the edges with the tip of a small knife, so that they’ll slide more easily from their dishes. Brush top of each cake with scallion oil. Keep covered until all cakes are cooked. If needed, clean cups and steam another batch in them.
  5. Assemble the Cakes and Serve: Serve in cakes in their individual cups, or remove them from the cups and arrange them on serving platter. Place ½ teaspoon of shrimp mixture atop of each cake. Finish each with a piece of pork crackling. Serve with Nước Chấm sauce for dipping or drizzling (¼ tsp. each).

Each time I visit the city of Huế, in central Vietnam, I make a pilgrimage is to Quán Bánh Bá Đõ Restaurant for their exceptional bánh bèo. If you visit Vietnam you must go taste them.

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