I may be in the minority here when I say this, but I don’t like bacon as much as most other people do. I don’t swoon over it, and I’m envious when I hear someone exclaim “everything’s better with bacon!” because I wish I enjoyed something so much that it made whatever I was eating instantly better. As an outsider looking in, bacon is the MSG of meats.
It should come as no surprise then that I’ve always preferred my breakfast eggs with sausage because I enjoy the spices typically found in breakfast sausages. Bacon always seemed like a crunchy strip of salt to me. So when I learned that the second CharcutePalooza challenge would be pancetta, a cousin of bacon, I was somewhat deflated. However, I saw this as a chance to give salt cured pork belly a shot at winning me over as my preferred egg accompaniment. Immediately, I knew the egg dish that I wanted to make: bot chien, or Vietnamese fried rice flour cake. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve used an Italian ingredient for a Vietnamese dish.
Bot chien is by far my favorite savory egg dish. Sadly, I was only introduced to it a few years ago at Tan Tan Restaurant in Houston. The first time I had bot chien, I loved it so much that I angrily asked my mom why we never ordered it in the past or why she’d never made it at home. According to her, bot chien is a rarity in the States and to some extent Vietnam. She reminisces about having to hunt down bot chien vendors in dingy back alleys of Saigon for an afterschool snack.
Essentially, bot chien consists of fried rectangular pieces of steamed rice flour cake bound together by eggs and topped with fried shallots, dried radish, and raw scallion. It’s served with a side of soy sauce mixed with vinegar for dipping to which I usually add some Sriracha, sambal oelek, pickled pepper, or old dry mom sauce to (David Chang recently declared old dry mom sauce as the best sauce on No Reservations, and I couldn’t agree more). The resulting bite is a symphony of texture and flavor.
You get sweet and sour from the dried radish, salty and sour from the dipping sauce, sweet from the fried shallots, savory from the egg, bright and pungent from the raw scallion, and spicy from the hot sauce or pickled peppers if you’re so inclined. If that wasn’t enough to seal the deal, you get crispy from the fried rice cake and fried shallots, crunchy from the dried radish, spongy from the egg, and slightly chewy from the inside of the rice cake.
I thought it would be worth mentioning that I used black radish and pickled them with some carrot in place of dried radish. I saw black radishes at the market and had never used them before, so I thought I’d give them a whirl. They turned out to be very similar to daikon in flavor and got the job done well.
The process of making the CharcutePalooza meat of the month was again very simple and straightforward: salt and season, wait a while, rinse, hang, wait a while, enjoy. One thing that I found funny was the presence of nipples on my pork belly. I’ve worked with pork belly many times in the past, but only noticed the nipples this time. However, upon closer inspection, it looks like the pork belly I used for thit kho also had nipples.
My spare bathroom paired with a humidifier was once again used as the meat hanging area. Due to unforeseen time constraints, I decided to make the flat version of pancetta as the time required to hang is considerably less than that of rolled pancetta.
For my bot chien, I substituted the crispy fried shallots with crispy fried lardons of pancetta. The rendered fat from the lardons was used to fry the rice cake and eggs and added an extra layer of flavor. As for the actual pancetta, I could distinctly taste the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and pepper that went into the cure. This wasn’t simply a piece of salt disguised as meat like I was accustomed to.
Overall, I would say the pancetta itself and the bot chien with crispy fried pancetta were both great successes. The pancetta turned out much better than I expected. It’s climbed up to the number 2 spot on my breakfast meat list and bumped up bacon’s spot in the process as well. Thanks to CharcutePalooza, I see nothing but a bright future with pancetta in my life.
Steamed Rice Flour Cake
Mise En Place (makes enough for at about 4 bot chien)
- 113 g rice flour
- 25 g tapioca starch
- 1 Tbsp. oil
- 414 g (1.75 C) water
- 2 g salt
- 2 g sugar
- Mix all ingredients and place into a heatproof vessel such that the depth of the slurry is about half an inch.
- Steam over medium heat until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
- Let the cake cool and firm up.
Banh Bot Chien
Mise En Place
- 100 g steamed rice flour cake cut into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles
- 55 g pancetta lardons
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Handful of diced scallion
- Your favorite pickled condiment
- Soy sauce
- Your favorite hot sauce (optional)
- Crisp lardons in a pan over medium-low heat. Set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.
- Fry both sides of the rice cake over medium-high heat until golden brown.
- Add eggs to the pan, agitating slightly to distribute the egg.
- Flip the bot chien once the bottom has coagulated enough.
- Plate the bot chien and garnish with the pancetta lardons, scallion, and your favorite pickled condiment.
- For the dipping sauce, mix soy sauce, vinegar, and hot sauce (optional) to taste.