Bun cha, Vietnamese grilled pork patties with rice vermicelli, salad, and pickles, is a favourite dish of mine because of its emphasis on fresh ingredients. I’ve eaten different versions of it so this is a combination of memory, though the base recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen. The grilled pork could have been dry but dipping it in sauce for a few minutes before serving immerses the pork in flavour and anticipation. The salad and quick pickles provide extra relish for the chewy noodles, but I could barely restrain myself from pouring more sauce over all.
Bun Cha (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
Yield: 4-6 servings
Noodles and Salad
6 oz/170 grams rice vermicelli
1 head/8 oz lettuce, shredded
1 English cucumber, peeled, halved and sliced on the bias, optional
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded (roll up leaves and shred crosswise)
1/2 cup daikon white radish, cut into matchstick size pieces
1/2 cup carrots, cut into matchstick size pieces
1-2 Thai chilies, stemmed and minced
3 tablespoons sugar
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup hot water
5 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 large limes
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
400 grams ground pork
Make noodles and salad. Boil a large pot of water. Add the noodles and cook until just tender, 4-5 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse in cold water until cool. Drain noodles well, spread noodles out on a baking tray double lined with paper towels, then let stand at room temperature to dry, turning occasionally. Arrange lettuce, cucumber, if using, cilantro and basil separately on a large platter. Refrigerate until needed. Arrange dry noodles on a plate.
Make the sauce. Put chilies, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and garlic in a mortar and pound to a fine paste. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the hot water and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add fish sauce and lime juice, stirring until combined. Set aside.
Make the quick pickles. In a medium bowl, soak matchstick vegetables in hot water until softened. Drain. Pour 1/3 cup of sauce over the vegetables and marinate for 5 minutes. Remove the pickles from the sauce and arrange them on the plate with the salad. Keep the sauce for the meat patties.
Make the pork patties. Combine the shallot, fish sauce, sugar, baking soda, and white pepper in a medium bowl. Add pork and mix well. Shape pork into 12-14 patties, each about 2.5 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick.
Heat griddle over medium-high heat. Brush lightly with oil. Cook patties until browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer grilled patties to the bowl with sauce and toss gently to coat. Let stand 5 minutes.
Transfer patties to a serving plate, reserving the sauce. Return reserved sauce to the remainder of the sauce. Serve noodles, salad, quick pickles, sauce, and pork patties separately.