Vietnamese Grilled Meat (Thịt nướng)
Grilled meats are used in a number of Vietnamese dishes that are simply variations around the same theme. There is no standard sauce though it usually involves fish sauce, sugar, and lemongrass. I like to use some oyster sauce but really this is something you tailor to your tastes.
- 2 parts oyster sauce
- 1 part fish sauce
- 2-4 parts minced lemongrass (I like a lot)
- 1 part sugar (or caramelized sugar)
- Garlic chili paste to taste
You can use this mixture on pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu. And perhaps other proteins, but that's what I typically use. You can use smaller cuts and put them on skewers for grilling or even stir-fry them if you don't want to break out the grill. In restaurants when they just have "thịt nướng" on the menu it usually means pork (thịt means meat). Sườn nướng is specifically a pork chop. Just marinate whatever protein you are using and grill, pan-fry, or broil.
Vietnamese grilled pork chop with rice (Cơm sườn nướng)
The first major variation of the grilled meat is the rice dish. Just assemble on a plate:
- Rice. You can use regular rice or use broken rice (cơm tấm). Broken rice is just what it sounds like, grains that were broken during processing. It gives a bit of different texture to the dish.
- Grilled pork (or other protein if you wish)
- Raw vegetables of your choice, at least sliced cucumber, maybe lettuce and tomato
- Pickled carrot and daikon radish
- Chả trứng (Sort of like a frittata, see below)
- Bì (Thinly shredded pork and pork skin tossed with ground roasted rice, see below)
- Drizzle with scallion oil (see OP)
- Serve with prepared fish sauce
- If desired also serve with a small bowl of broth (canh). Just a rich chicken broth with some chopped scallions would do
That line-up is what you might call "the works." You do not need every element to make this dish.
Vietnamese rice noodle bowl (Bun thịt nướng)
The second common way grilled meats are eaten are with rice noodles. There are even variations of rice noodles but we'll start with the standard rice noodle bowl. To assemble, layer in a bowl starting from the bottom:
- Salad mix, any combination of: lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, herbs (basil and mint are most common, Vietnamese balm or perilla may also be used for a twist)
- Boiled rice noodles that have been cooled to room temperature
- Grilled meat
- Drizzle meat and noodles with scallion oil
- Pickled carrot and daikon radish
- Sprinkle with ground peanuts
- Serve with prepared fish sauce: pour a generous amount into the bowl and mix everything up
Rice paper rolls/Summer rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
The last variation uses the same ingredients from the rice noodle bowl wrapped up in rice paper. Rice paper is sold as dry sheets and come in a few different shapes and sizes. The round paper about 8 inches in diameter is what you're looking for.
To use the rice paper, just wet it and wait for it to soften. I like to fill a pie plate with warm water and submerge the rice paper. Do not be impatient and soak the rice paper in water or it will become too soft and break easily. Just a quick dip for a few seconds and a couple minutes of waiting should be good. Just be sure you wet the entire surface of the rice paper or you might get a few brittle edges. In the following picture you can see how it is more translucent when wet and will look a bit wrinkly when it's soft. Do not stack them on top of each other unless you know what you are doing, they will stick! Once you have a better idea of how much water exposure is needed to soften the rice papers you can try just dipping one surface in water and both sides of just the edge and then stack the papers in a staggered manner with wet surface to dry surface. Then you should be able to carefully peel them off each other.
You can go ahead and start filling the roll before the paper softens completely. By the time you are ready to roll, it should be soft. Again, the filling is pretty much the same elements as found in the rice noodle bowl:
- Protein. Place this down first so that it is on the outside. Since the rice papers are translucent you can see what is inside. Shrimp make for particularly attractive rolls because of the color. The classic gỏi cuốn contains steamed/poached shrimp and pork. You can use grilled meats for a bit more flavor. Bì, the pork and pork skin in roasted rice powder, makes a great roll filling.
- Bit of lettuce and some herbs, usually basil or mint. The classic gỏi cuốn contains garlic chive as the herb. The chive is cut so it is just a bit longer in length than the roll so that it sticks out.
- Some sort of crunch, often cucumber, sometimes bean sprouts. You can even put some carrot and daikon pickle if you like that.
- Boiled rice noodles
Do not fill your roll too much or it will break when you roll it. Use a generous amount of noodles. Since they are soft and pliable, they will compress when you roll, allowing the roll to be firm and have some structure. This picture is a pretty good level of fill though the filling should be a bit lower on the paper:
To roll, just start from the bottom, like a burrito, rolling tightly.
Fold the sides in once you've rolled up to the center and then finish rolling all the way.
Make sure the rolls are as tight as possible so that the rice noodles are compressed and the roll is firm. When you pick one up it should hold its shape well and not flop over, so that you can dip it and eat. Having enough rice noodles in the roll helps ensure that after you bite into it, the filling still stays intact enough to continue dipping and eating.
Serve with prepared fish sauce and/or hoisin dipping sauce.
Rice paper rolls are a pretty fun communal food. Put out a big spread and enjoy wrapping different combinations with friends.