Vietnamese Prawn and Pork Pancakes (Banh Xeo)

13 May

B’s meal on the grill looked so very tasty. I love the idea of shaved marinated asparagus, cooked or not.

The prawns with salad reminded me of this Vietnamese dish, which is a pancake scattered with flavoured prawns and pork that you then break up and wrap generously in lettuce and herbs.

The word Xeo means the cracking sound generated when you cook the Banh- the pancakes. I have never cooked them before and was honestly surprised by the flavours. I am not sure why I didn’t think coconut milk and rice flour pancakes would be so… umm… coconut ricey.

It took me a few attempts to perfect the pancake cooking. I have read that many homes keep a special pan just for this dish. It is a bit of an art as the pancakes are sticky and delicate until crisped up. I found that I needed a good layer of oil in the pan, and by not lifting or checking it too much until it was crisp on the base, I was able to keep it in one piece. I have used a mix of recipes to develop this one.

You need quite a few ingredients to make these… but if you have a good Asian grocery it might be one stop shopping.

The pancake batter is made with rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, cold water and salt.

I put all of the batter ingredients in to a bowl and mixed well. This needed to be set aside for at least an hour, but overnight is great. You will need to give it a stir before using it.

I then prepared the prawns and pork to allow them to marinate a little before cooking.

I sliced up the pork fillet as thin as I could, and shelled the prawns and then sliced them in half long ways. This also makes it easy to devein them. Then into a bowl I put the garlic, fish sauce, salt and sugar and mixed them up, along with the pork and the prawns. I left this to marinate for half an hour in the fridge.

Fish sauce is a staple in South East Asian cooking. It is quite pungent, as it is made from fermented anchovies. It is inexpensive and adds a distinctive flavour. I like Golden Boy brand. If you would like to read more about fish sauce, here is a link to a wikipedia article.

Next I made the nuoc cham dipping sauce which is very simple. I mixed some lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and water. Then I added some chopped up chilli and you can also add minced garlic if you like that extra bite. I mixed it until the sugar dissolved, and then tasted to check that the sauce was strong enough and that I could taste a good balance of the sour and sweet.

I  loaded up a serving platter with cucumber sticks, a pile of lettuce leaves, Vietnamese mint and coriander (cilantro).

Next I cooked the pork and prawns.

I started by slicing some onion lengthways and sautéing it in a hot pan with some vegetable oil. When it was cooked to transparent I added the marinated pork and prawns and stirred it constantly until the meat was cooked through, the prawns were pink and the pork was pink no longer.

I set the meat aside in a bowl close to the stove. I also filled two small bowls with bean shoots and chopped spring onion and had them at the ready stove-side.

I put  a layer of oil in a pan, and heated on medium-high heat. When the oil was hot, I poured in a small ladle of pancake batter and swirled the pan to coat it with a thin layer. I sprinkled the batter with spring onion, bean shoots and some of the pork and prawn mix. I left it to crackle away and cook until it was browned and crispy on the bottom.

When it was cooked, I folded it over in half and put it on a plate.

To eat… start with a lettuce leaf, and break off some pancake and place it inside, then load up with herbs and cucumber to your liking. Dip it in the sauce and hey presto.

Crunchy, fresh, warm, a bit gooey, sweet, sour, salty, and a little spicy in each mouthful.

I don’t think we have discussed much Asian food before B. Curious to know where you will take this. Over to you!

Vietnamese Prawn and Pork Pancakes (Banh Xeo)

pancake batter ingredients
1 3/4 cups rice flour
300ml (half a pint) coconut milk
300ml (half a pint) cold water
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients in a bowl to a smooth batter and allow to rest a minimum of one hour. You can leave overnight.

pork and prawn filling
250g (1/2 pound) pork fillet, sliced thinly
250g (1/2 pound) prawn meat, cleaned and deveined
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small onion, sliced thinly lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat, and sauté the onion until transparent. Add the prawns and pork along with their marinade and cook until the pork is no longer pink, and the prawns become pink.

for the pancakes
3 spring onions (scallions), chopped
a big handful of bean shoots

to serve – arrange on a platter for the table
1 iceberg lettuce
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), washed
1 bunch Vietnamese mint, washed
2 cucumbers sliced in to sticks

To cook the pancakes, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium high heat, and pour in a thin layer of batter, tilt the pan to spread the batter to make thinner.

Scatter with some bean shoots and spring onion, and then a small handful of the cooked pork and prawn mixture.

Cook over a heat that gives you a gentle crackling noise (medium-high in my case), and when the base starts to crisp up, you can move in the pan by shaking it a little. Be careful not to lift with an egg slice until the base is crispy.

When the base is cooked, fold the pancake in half and slide, or lift, on to a plate.

They are best served straight away, but if  you want to cook a number at once, place on warmed plate, cover with foil and put in a slow oven to keep warm until you have as many as you need.

To eat, break some of the pancake off and place on to a generous layer of iceberg lettuce, then top with herbs and cucumber. Dip in the nuoc cham sauce and eat.

dipping sauce –  nuoc cham
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small chilli chopped
optional: 1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all of the ingredients together and taste for balance.


2 Responses to “Vietnamese Prawn and Pork Pancakes (Banh Xeo)”

  1. James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly 13/05/2012 at 9:39 am #

    Great photos! I love banh xeo. I recently moved to Ho Chi Minh City and love that I can get a delicious, crispy, huge one for barely over a dollar and save myself all the work! There’s a restaurant that specializes in it with a ton of different varieties, including a weird but tasty salmon banh xeo. By the way, the dipping sauce is actually spelled “nuoc cham”, “nuoc” being Vietnamese for “liquid”. Cool blog!

    • Alice 14/05/2012 at 8:08 pm #

      Hi James! I am insanely jealous you can have this as street food. And thanks for the spelling correction.
      If I make it to Ho Chi Minh I think I will be hunting down every banh xeo stand, purely for comparative purposes.


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