One of the great benefits of celebrating the Lunar New Year is all the food that’s around the house. I made six banh chung, Vietnamese Tet sticky rice cakes last week. Several went into the freezer. One was gifted to my friend Mike who made the wooden banh chung mold for me. My husband and I ate the others over the span of a week.
When banh chung is firm from refrigeration, I reboil it to a soft warmth – just like when it came out of the pot and was allowed to cool for a couple of hours. Before eating, I the banh chung with string into wedges, the shape that allows each portion to have a little bit of everything; the sticky rice is too sticky to easily and cleanly cut with a knife. Then we savor the soft banh chung with a little sugar, pickle and Vietnamese charcuterie (coincidentally the same sausages and headcheese that you’d put into banh mi).
Since each of my 5-inch (12.5-cm) square banh chung feeds 4 people, Rory and I have leftovers. That’s where panfried banh chung comes into our lives. The sticky rice loses its banana leaf perfume as its texture goes from soft to crisp chewy. The pork renders its fat to fry into a carnitas like texture; in the soft banh chung, the fat retains an irresistible fragrance from the black pepper, beans and leaves. The mung beans’ starch also gets transformed into a little crisp bits wherever its exposed to the skillet’s hot surface. All that from a handful of ingredients. Amazing. Here's how I do it:
The banh chung at the top of this page was fried a second time on the top-facing side. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that because the rice got a little too hard. Note the light colored spots. My husband said he enjoyed that but I didn’t. Up to you.
Panfried banh chung is eaten just like soft and warm banh chung – with sugar (sprinkle or put some on your plate and dip the banh chung in the sugar before you take a bite. Pickles cut the richness and lends tang. The ones here are my family’s version of dua gop, a mixed vegetable pickle that we have around all the time for eating with cold cuts, especially for Tet; the recipe is on page 194 of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. The sausages are homemade chicken silky sausage (gio lua ga) and beef and dill (gio bo) – the chubby sticks that I boiled in my banh chung pot!
It’s hard to decide which we like more – soft and fragrant banh chung or crispy chewy banh chung. That’s why I eat both this time of the year. When all the cakes are gone, we look forward to next year’s Tet celebration and making banh chung.
If you’re a Chinese joong/zongzi eater, you can likely do the same kind of panfrying with the savory renditions of the dumpling. Banh chung and joong sound like they are cousins, no?
Panfried Tet Sticky Rice Cake
Banh Chung Chien
Yield: Makes 2 pancakes
- 1 Tet sticky rice cake (banh chung), unwrapped
- 2 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
- Use a knife to cut the rice cake into thick slabs. Set aside.
- For each pancake, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Arrange half the slices in the skillet as close as possible, breaking them up if you have to. Fry, undisturbed for about 6 minutes, until the rice has softened.
- Use a spatula to press and mash the chunks to form a pancake. When the underside is crispy and golden, 5 to 6 minutes, flip the pancake with a quick and confident jerk of the skillet handle (or slide the pancake onto a plate and invert into the skillet).
- Raise the heat to medium high and fry the other side. If things seem dry, drizzle in more oil from the side. The pancake is done when the other side is crispy and golden, about 4 minutes. Slide it onto a plate, cut into wedges and then serve. Enjoy with a sprinkling of or dip in sugar. The savory sweet combination is divine.
Related post: How to Make Banh Chung Vietnamese Tet Rice Cakes