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: