Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vietnamese Crêpes (Bành Xéo) for a Crowd

Another wonderful evening just filled with fun and good food with my Swiss relatives. A sure winner that never fails to please a crowd when I'm having guests over for dinner is the famous Vietnamese crêpe (Bành Xéo). It's fun to make, but I must warn you, it's not the type of main course that can be easily prepared in batches way in advance. Vietnamese crêpes are best served and eaten freshly made straight out of the pan. I have yet to discover an efficient way to prepare these southern Vietnamese delicacies to a big crowd so that they remain warm and crisp as I serve them. If anyone out there knows a way, please do let me know!

For now, the technique that I use to serve these fresh is to incite my guests to prepare their own crêpes. I know it sounds a bit odd to some of you, but
a) it breaks the ice
b) it animates the evening
c) it creates a fun cooking experience for everyone
My aunt who hardly ever cooks when she's home back in Geneva, had so much fun making these crêpes that she insisted on making the entire batch for the whole crowd. She wanted to master the technique of crêpe-making so that she can import the experience to her "unused" kitchen. She even blurted out "I think I'll get myself one of those", holding a spatula. How funny is that? The crêpe-making event became such a competition that everyone was striving to make the best looking crêpe of the evening. Now that's what I call a real kitchen party.

Edges are thin and crispy...
For dessert, homemade banana sorbet with a warm dark chocolate sauce and shaved coconut (my next post!)
There's really no secret to making great tasting Vietnamese crêpes. Just like any other crêpe recipes, it takes practice and a great batter. This being my 5th attempt to making this dish (really, one of my favourites) I can attest that this is the best batch I've made. It all comes with experience. I have followed many different recipes but that last one, which I pulled out of a $3 vietnamese cookbook from vietnam, is truly authentic. It calls for raw rice instead of rice flour. This makes the crêpes crispy and slightly chewy, just like in Vietnam. If you follow this recipe carefully and you've had a decent dose of crêpe-making practice, you might surprise yourself...

I'm the type who likes to keep things simple and easy, so I prepare the crêpe batter and marinate the crêpe filling the night before.

Preparation: 30 minutes (not including soaking the raw rice), Cooking time: 5 minutes per crêpe
Makes about twelve 9" (23 cm in diameter) crêpes.

Recipe "au pif":
1 1/2 cup raw jasmine rice (or long grain rice)
3 tbsps cooked rice
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground curcuma or tumeric (adds yellowy lemony colour to the batter)
1 3/4 cup water
2 stalks scallions/green onions sliced in rings

Soak raw rice in water for 3-4 hours. Then discard water.
Blend all incredients (except the scallions/green onions) in kitchen counter blender. Pulse
several times until the batter reaches a yellowy lemony colour.

Pour the batter in a fine strainer and discard the solid residues (rice).

Stir in the scallions/green onions and let it sit and refrigerate overnight in a well sealed tupperware.

Crêpe filling:
3/4 lb (about 25) medium-sized shrimps or prawns (shells removed and de-veined) - I used frozen shrimps and mixed in ginger juice to remove fishy smell
1/2 lb lean boneless pork chops, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp finely minched garlic
1/2 tsp fish sauce
small pinch salt
pepper to taste

Season shrimps with salt and pepper.

Season pork with garlic, fish sauce and pepper. Let sit overnight.

Day of making crêpes:
Heat oil in wok, on high heat until wok starts to smoke a little. Stir in the pork for about 2 minutes, then stir in the shrimps for about 1 minute, until shrimps are plump and juicy (not overcooked). Put aside to fill the the crêpes.

Fresh coriander
Fresh mint
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

Crêpe preparation:
9 inch flat cast iron pan
vegetable oil for cooking

Give the batter a good stir with a ladle.

Heat about 1 tbsp oil in pan on high heat for about 2 minutes, until the oil is hot enough (but pan is not smoking) to sizzle an onion on contact.

Pour in about one ladle-ful batter into the pan and swirl the pan around to cover the bottom. The batter should sizzle on contact as you swish it around. Let the crêpe cook for about 2 minutes until the edges turn golden brown. This is a good sign that the crêpe is getting crispy.

Throw in about 1/2 tbsp of bean sprouts and 1 tbsp of shrimp/pork filling. Let cook uncovered for another minutes. With spatula, fold one half over the other. Carefully lift the crêpe with the spatula and let is slide onto a serving plate.

Garnish with coriander, mint and drizzle with a bit of dipping fish sauce.

Repeat the above steps until you run out of batter.

Serves 4-6 people.

My relatives have said that these crêpes tasted just like the ones in Vietnam. This deserved a nice pat on my shoulder.


Rachel said...

Wow these look absolutely stunning - really light, tasty and different!

Cynthia said...

My sincere apologies for only now coming to visit your beautiful and delicious blog! I am excited by the things I will learn here.

Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by my blog and the encouraging and kind comment you left. Thank you very much.

White On Rice Couple said...

Wow, your photographs are beautiful and your dishes are delicious! We just love banh xeo and eat it at least 6 times a month. Each time, we eat about 2-3 in one sitting too, so you can imagine how much that adds to in a month! We've even got a banh xeo video coming soon.
Serving these for a party is always fun, but lots of work. We have served these for a big crowd, but there are two of us at the stove, with four pans going. People eat them faster than we can make them. But eating them hot like this is best.
I have know many Vietnamese who make them ahead of time and serve them cold. But that definitely takes away from the uniqueness and crispness of the banh xeo. So good luck to you and maybe you can talk some friends into helping you behind the stove!