bánh flan

my friend’s birthday is coming up and I asked him what his dream cake was and he said, “my dream cake has always been Vietnamese style flan the way my mother used to make, a lot of sweet and **bitter** caramel.” WOW, the way his mom used to make it?! that’s a tall order! that’s normally a pretty intimidating thing to hear but i like a good challenge, especially one that involves me and my pots and pans.

i grew up eating homemade flan too. it almost feels like just yesterday my siblings and I as children were gathered around in the kitchen while one of my sisters flipped the big round flan onto the dish and we watched in amazement as the watery caramel oozed all over the flan. a lot of people are ok with sitting back and reminiscing while licking their lips and salivating over thoughts of the past but not me, i’m not all that interested in salivating over my food memories, i’d rather be licking the caramel off the back of my spoon.

there are many different types of flan and of course they are all a little different. the French, Japanese, Vietnamese and Spanish speaking countries all have their own versions where the ingredients, textures and colors all vary. the last time i made a flan it was for my Spanish tapas party so naturally i followed a Spanish recipe but honestly i wasn’t all too pleased with the results because i was expecting it to taste, look and feel like the version that i grew up with. after analyzing a dozen or so of bánh flan recipes, I found that this one made the most sense. in order to achieve the texture for Vietnamese flan, you must use the steaming method.

set up the steamer and turn on heat.

caramel:

  • 1 cup suger
  • 1/4 cup water

place water and sugar in a little pot and bring to a boil , allow to bubble for 5 minutes while swirling the whole pot…DO NOT insert any utensil into the caramel or the sugar will crystallize. turn the heat down to medium for another 2-3 minutes until you obtain a golden brown color note that the darker the color, the more bitter it will be. add another ½ tbsp of water. (sugar can also be added if there is insufficient caramel.). pour into large mold and set aside.

custard:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 eggs
  • 4-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)

mix milk with sugar and heat up until it’s warm, ensuring that its not too hot as high heat will make the eggs curdle. beat the eggs yolks and egg together, and add to the warm milk in a slow steady stream and whisking briskly. add vanilla extract. place mold in the steamer (the water should be barely simmering). NOTE: when pouring the custard into mold, bubbles often form. I tap them lightly with a mini strainer and they disappear very quickly.

put the lid on but do not completely cover to allow some air out. the heat should be set at low. cooking slowly at a low temperature ensures a smooth consistency. cook for 30 minutes or until it is no longer watery and just slightly jiggly. cool down. run a knife around the edge to loosen and flip the custard onto a plate.

Gastronomo adapted recipe from Miss Adventure

bánh giò (steamed tamales)

my love and obsession for banh gio started up when I was 12.  my mom had a friend who specialized in this treat and one day she gifted us with a large bag of it. but i grew up in a big family and leftovers in cases like this were hard to come by. one taste and i was instantly in love…but the bad news is that it was also a hit with my siblings. i begged my mom to ask her friend to make some more for us. so then the next time she came over, she had another bag for us.  but easy comes and easy goes.  my mom knew she had to start supplying the demand for this new beloved dish for our family so she got the recipe from her friend. but they would continue to disappear quickly. and poor me, i was not even close to feeling satisfied. my appetite for banh gio was insatiable. THEN it hit me, i could make it myself AND hoard it if i wanted to. it was the perfect solution and my mom was happy to oblige, she supplied me with all the  ingredients and handed over the recipe. and ive been making it ever since…

 

filling:

  • 1 large onion
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb of ground pork
  • 1.5 cups of wood ear mushroom, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

batter:

  • 2 cans of  chicken broth
  • 4 cans of water
  • 1 box of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • banana leaves, thawed (can be found at Vietnamese markets. In NYC, you can find at Tan Tin Hung on Bowery in Chinatown)
  • dipping sauce: freshly ground thai chili pepper and fish sauce

 rinse banana leaves and set aside.

coat the bottom of a large sauté/braising/wok pan.  add onions and sauté until slightly wilted and turning translucent over medium-high heat. add pork, mushrooms, salt & pepper and fish sauce and stir for a few minutes until pork is fully cooked. turn off heat and set aside.

combine broth, water and cornstarch in a pot and stir until cornstarch has fully dissolved. turn heat to medium-high and stir constantly, the batter will go from liquid to a thick translucent batter after approximately 7-10 minutes. once this starts, it will happen very quickly, continue to stir until all liquid has taken on this new form, turn off heat immediately.

cut down banana leaves to desired size, this will require some experimentation. i have my own makeshift style of folding the banana leaves that I don’t necessarily recommend.  i do however, recommend that you either hit up your grandma on her techniques or youtube. the basic assemblage is: banana leave. batter. filling. Batter. you can adjust accordingly, it really depends on the size of the banana leaf that you have prepared/cut. i would say a good portion would be approximately ½ cup batter, ¼ cup filling, ½ cup batter.
 

steam for approximately 10 minutes. allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving/eating. 

homage to bánh

i am crazy about bánh so this is my own personal homage to it. i have been stuffing my face with bánh for as long as i can remember. you just cant avoid bánh in Vietnamese fare. 

bánh loosely translates in english as bread or cake. there is a wide range in variety and it comes sweet or savory and is cooked by steaming, baking, frying, deep frying or boiling. bánh also refers to varieties of noodle/noodle dishes. varieties of bánh are named by a descriptive word or phrase, sometimes literal and sometimes metaphorical. here i will explore all the traditional varieties as well as the more obscure that will require some personal pioneering. i will attempt to cook every single variety in existence and every dish with the namesake.

some samples of typical varieties:

  • noodles: bánh canh (literally means “soup cake”), bánh phở (the ride noodle in the famous phở soup)
  • dumplings: bánh bao (a dome shaped dumpling filled with pork, egg, mushroom and sausage)
  • panckakes: bánh xèo (savory pancake/crepe)
  • rolls: bánh cuốn (steamed rice roll)
  • rice paper: bánh tráng: (used for making summer rolls or fried spring rolls
  • sweet: bánh tiêu (hollow doughnut), bánh khoai mì (cassava cake) 
  • special occasion: bánh chưng (holiday Tết cake, steamed glutinous rice filled with mung bean and pork)
  • bánh mi (french baguette sandwich)

this is going to take forever so i hope you enjoy it much as i know i know i will. 

during my last trip home, my mom spoiled me with these treats:

bánh cuốn

bánh xèo, bánh bèo and bánh bột lọc