For the past few weeks Kandi and I have been craving for Banh Xeo, or commonly known as sizzling Vietnamese crepes. This weekend, mom was nice enough to oblige our request and we spent Saturday night satisfying our cravings and watching Batman Begins!
The Filling: You'll need one julienne white onion, a cup of minced shrimp, and about a pound of ground pork (depending on how many people you'll be serving). Feel free to substitute the ground pork for minced pork butt or even finely diced pork belly. If you're not a fan of pork you can use chicken too. I find beef is too heavy for this dish though.
My mom sautés the ground pork in some vegetable oil and a tiny bit of garlic oil*. You want the temperature in between high and medium making sure to quickly sauté it and avoid steaming/boiling it. Next, add the shrimp and finally the onions. You don't need to caramelize the onions, just cook till they're soft. She flavours the filling with a bit of sugar, salt and pepper. You don't want it too overpowering because you'll have the flavour of the crepe as well as the sweet fish sauce to compete with.
Afterwards mom pushes everything to one side of the pan and leans it on an angle so all the excess moisture and grease from the pork drips to the bottom. She makes me spoon out all the liquid so you're left with a dry mixture. The drier the better, so you don't get a soggy crepe.
The banh xeo batter is similar to a french crepe recipe with just a few substitutions. Instead of all purpose flour you'll need rice flour. Coconut milk instead of regular milk, turmeric instead of sugar and green onions instead of butter. The consistency of both batter stays the same.
Remember to add the liquid a bit at a time; it is always easier to add than subtract. Mom uses about three quarters of the bag (a little over three cups) adds three eggs, one large can of coconut milk, a handful of green onions, a table spoon of turmeric (only for colour) and adds one cup of water at a time, mixing as she goes. She keeps on adding water till she gets the right consistency.
If you've never made crepes before, you're looking for a watery mixture - nothing like pancakes. You want it to be thin and smooth. Because it's a savoury crepe, mom adds a pinch of salt as well. Feel free to make a practice crepe to check the flavours.
Poor Ted patiently waiting for something to drop on the floor so he can quickly devour it.
Alright! Now you're ready to whip up some banh xeo! Make sure you have everything close by.
My moms trick is to use a non stick pan. Pour one ladle of the banh xeo batter into the hot pan and keep swirling/tilting the pan to ensure there are no holes in the batter and that it evenly coats the bottom of the pan. Stop swirling the pan once all of the batter has set. She adds in a few drops of oil each time to ensure the batter doesn't stick and to lightly fry the outside of the banh xeo.
Next you add the raw bean sprouts. Cover it with a lid so the bean sprouts are steamed. Wait a few seconds, add the pork filling and cover it again, this time to ensure the remainder of the batter is cooked. Remove the lid and finish cooking the banh xeo uncovered. Depending on how crispy you like your banh xeo, you can either immediately remove it once the batter is cooked or allow it to keep building a crust. This entire process should be about a minute and a half. Take your time the first couple pours, eventually you'll get into a rhythm and it'll come naturally.
I like the edges to be crispy and thin. This means the batter is thicker closer to the centre of the crepe. To start the next crepe, make sure you wipe the pan down with a paper towel so there's no residue left over from the previous crepe. You want a little bit of colour on the outside of the crepe.
A successful banh xeo station has everything close by. Once you've mastered the basic technique you can really have fun and tweak it to your own pallet. You can try keeping the shrimp whole, or adding the filling to the batter completely and going that route. Whatever you decide, invite me over so I can have some too!
Feel free to put a couple on one plate, making sure to put either parchment paper or foil in between each crepe so they don't stick together. Along with the banh xeo you'll also need the accompanying "salad". You know the usual - lettuce, cucumber, herbs etc. Anything that floats your boat! The sauce for the crepes is the same sweet fish sauce we used for the summer rolls, minus the hoisin.
There are two ways to eat the banh xeo. I like to rip apart the banh xeo, put it into a bowl, rip up some lettuce, mint, cucumber and pour the sauce overtop and add a few squirts of siracha - kinda like a salad. My parents like to make it into a wrap. They take leaf lettuce, add herbs, pieces of banh xeo and wrap it up like a taco and dip it into the sauce. Do whatever you gotta do to get this yummy goodness into your mouth!
*garlic oil is something my mom makes and keeps on hand for pho, stir fries, noodles, pretty much anything you fancy! You start off with a pot of oil, then add raw diced garlic. Cook it on low and stir it often. Once the garlic pieces start to brown, make sure to turn off the heat and remove it from the stove. While the oil cools down, it'll keep cooking the garlic till you get a crispy brown colour. The oil and crispy garlic bits are a great addition to marinades and sauces as well.