Monday, 2 March 2015

Banh xeo pork belly pancakes

This week at work there has been a lot of chat about unassuming and totally pointless interview questions. As we are constantly recruiting, the interview process does tend to get a little dull, and we were thinking of idiotic questions that would keep us amused and see how interviewees reacted. A couple food for thought questions such as 'Why don't we eat turkey eggs or drink pig's milk' are totally pretentious, but you would get to see a reaction and their ways of thinking to try and respond...(FYI, we don't ask these questions and if we did, we wouldn't want the correct answers we would just want the most creative ones. We're not all wankers in the ad industry, promise). Our whole office is consumed by this 'white and gold/black and blue' dress question (STILL)- if you haven't seen it already, you're obviously not at one with the INTERNET as everyone is talking about it.
I ask myself the same, infuriating question this time every year. We get all in a hubbub about Pancake day, everyone loves it and happy smiley faces stuffed with lemon and sugar, nutella, condensed milk and peanut butter (anyone? it's damn delicious) are all around. As I'm tucking into my umpteenth pancake, I always always always say...'Why don't we eat pancakes more often? They're so goddamn tasty'. It's not just about the inefficiency and low return on investment on my beautiful copper pancake pan for its annual outing, its the fact that every farmer's market, brunch menu or street food stall throughout the year I just seem to forego the pancake option and eat something else. BUT WHYYY??? We should have a bi-monthly Pancake day - raising awareness for pancake craved bellies. Maybe I could be one of those charity muggers on the street, but encouraging people to save the Pancake and its meagre one day of fame a year. As I write this I realise I've officially gone mad and this is way too into my odd train of thought for anyone reading this to care about. So I'll just stop there and talk about one of my favourite savoury pancakes from Vietnam.

Banh xeo. A 'sizzling crepe' of sorts, which is normally filled with thin slices of pork, prawns and beansprouts and is a staple on the little stalls and markets in Vietnam. Beautifully coloured to a warming yellow sunshine from a touch of turmeric, this pancake is made with rice flour, water and coconut milk. This should be as thin as a crepe, crispy on one side and light - and shared out between friends and eaten in a little hand roll of a lettuce leaf, mint and nuoc cham dipping sauce. Sensational. For this recipe, I decided to forego the beansprouts - I feel they are a little necessary for this dish (apologies for my lack of respect for the original...)  and had some caremelised pork belly to go in its place. Quick and easy. Lemon squeezy.

Ingredients (makes about 4-5 large pancakes depending on your pancake pan size!)

100 grams rice flour (available in Asian grocery stores - try the Thai brands if possible)
200 ml of carbonated water
110 ml of coconut milk (If you have the coconut milk which separates between the water and the cream, make sure to mix this thoroughly to get an even mixture)
2 spring onions, chopped into rounds
1 tsp turmeric
pinch of salt

3 slices of pork belly slices
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

Handful of mint leaves and baby gem lettuce

Basic nuoc cham dipping sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
2 tablespoons of lime juice/lemon juice
a pinch of fresh chillies or dried chilli flakes
3 tablespoons of boiling water
2 tablespoons of sugar

In a mixing bowl, add the flour, turmeric, salt and spring onions. Pour in the water, then coconut milk whilst hand stirring constantly to beat out any lumps. The consistency should be quite thin and runny, think more French crepes vs American pancakes. Leave to rest for an hour if you can.
Meanwhile, cut your pork into bite sized thin slices and marinate with the fish sauce for 10 minutes. Flash fry for 3 minutes on a high heat with a little oil (in the widest pan you have, as we will use this for the pancakes) and at the end add the sugar and stir constantly until there is a nice glaze on each piece. Set aside to rest.
To make the nuoc cham, add lime juice, hot water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and you're good to go.

Keep the oil and juices from the pork in the pan and add an extra tablespoon of oil on a high heat. You want to hear the sizzle as you pour a ladle of the pancake mix into the pan. As soon as you've put this on the pan, you want to tilt the pan as quickly as possible to spread the mixture out and keep the consistency thin (just as you would a crepe). Fill in any holes with extra batter if you need. Wait 2-3 minutes until the sides are curling up and there is a slight char on the underside. Add in your pork belly to the pancake on one side and gently fold in half in the pan and serve immediately with lettuce and mint.

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