Banh Beo — Vietnamese steamed rice cakes with shrimp
Banh beo, oh how we love to slurp up your delicate rice cakes topped with minced shrimp and crispy pork rind bathed in a spicy nuoc mam cham…We smile with satisfaction as we pile empty banh beo bowls upon bowls, one on top of another, ten high on the table. One of our absolute favorite appetizers, banh beo originates from the central regions of Vietnam and Hue and can be served in variety of ways including in a “chen,” a small condiment size bowl or loose, stacked on a “dia,” or plate. There is even a variation where it’s served in a larger rice bowl, yielding a much larger rice cake with a big dimple in the center for the toppings. Also, in the mien bac (Northern viet nam), mung bean paste is also swiped onto the cake before the other toppings.
For convenience, we just use the pre-packaged banh beo rice flour. But if you were to make it without any alterations you’ll find that it doesn’t have the right texture–rice flour by itself is rather soft and can be mushy. You need to add some tapioca flour/starch to this mix in order to get the right soft, yet slightly chewy consistency.
To make a large quantity, there are modes such as these that you can buy in the Vietnamese markets for about $2. However these are fairly large so make sure you have a big enough steamer and several of these trays so you can steam multiple trays at once. We have a 4 chambered steamer so we use multiple modes at once. If you’re making less just halve the quantites below and pour them in the small condiment bowls–but you’ll need a lot so buy them at the Asian restaurant supply store if you can.
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If you’re using the small condiment bowls, the same concepts apply except that you don’t need to grease these since it’s a one time use. We prefer a thin banh beo so we typically go light on the batter, but use as much batter as you like according to your taste.
When ready to serve, top each banh beo with minced shrimp, scallion oil, and small pieces of pork rinds. Serve with some spicy nuoc mam cham. The banh beo (with out the toppings) can stay soft overnight un-refrigerated so you can make this in advance. Any longer than that then we recommend refrigerating it and then warming in microwave.
Do you think we were too overly dramatic in our affection for banh beo? No, not really? Because you feel the same way right? :)
Banh Beo Steamed Rice Cakes with Shrimp and Pork Rinds
1 package of rice flour mix such as above
3 tbs tapioca flour
5 cups water
1 ts salt
2 tbs oil (neutral tasting)
1/2 lb medium shrimp cleaned
small bag of pork rinds/chicharrones
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
3 tbs cooking oil
salt and pepper
nuoc mam cham
extra cooking oil to grease the banh beo mode
You can make the shrimp topping ahead of time. We keep this really simple. Season lightly with salt (or fish sauce if you like) and pepper and quickly sautee in a bit water until done. Drain and set aside to completely dry. In a mini processor or by hand, mince the shrimp and set aside.
Heat a small sauce pan with 3 tbs of oil and when hot, add the scallions, stir and remove from heat and set aside.
Fill your steamer with water and bring to boil. In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl, combine water, rice flour mix, salt, tapioca flour, and neutral oil and stir well.
If you’re using the mode, it’s important to grease each little chamber using a towel or large cotton swab tied to a chopstick. You don’t have to do it every time and only when the rice cakes begin to stick as you’re removing it — you may also need to wipe of any stuck on rice cake after each round. Stir the mix before each use and carefully fill each chamber without overflowing and steam for about 3 minutes. You will see that the banh beo will become opaque when done (see above). Remove and allow to cool for about 2–3 minutes. This step is important because if you try remove the rice cakes when still hot and wet, it may break. Use a blunt ended butter knife and carefully remove each rice cake. Stack in overlapping fashion in a container until ready to serve.
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