Why It Works
- By borrowing from both southern Vietnamese and central Vietnamese traditions, this recipe is ideal for home cooks, producing bánh xèo that are pan-fried instead of deep-fried but also a manageable size.
- Par-cooking the beansprouts removes moisture, helping the bánh xèo stay crispy.
- Cooking the bánh xèo until they pull away from the side of the pan ensures they will be a crispy success.
You can’t walk 100 feet in the food markets and eateries in Vietnam without encountering a dish made with rice flour, and one of the ones you'll see the most is bánh xèo. Named for the sizzling sound (xèo) produced as the rice batter hits the hot pan, it’s one of my favorite dishes to make at home, and a favorite street food to seek out. It’s often described as a savory crepe or pancake filled with meat and vegetables, but those descriptors don’t do it justice. It’s much thinner and not fluffy at all like pancakes, and much more crispy than any crepe. I’ve always thought it had much more in common with a crispy taco.
Rice flour dishes are everywhere, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, yet they are never exactly the same. Rice flour can be steamed, fried, baked, and fortified to take on any number of textures and forms. Bánh xèo is enjoyed throughout Vietnam, but it can vary in appearance, cooking method, and fillings depending on the region. Generally speaking, southern-style bánh xèo is a sight to behold. Fried in large woks or pans, they are huge yet thin, with lacy, crispy edges overflowing the plate, and often meant to be broken apart and shared.
My only issue with this style is that the fillings are often unevenly distributed in the center and can be unwieldy to make at home. In the central region around Huế, it’s even called a different name—bánh khoái—and it is much smaller, slightly thicker, and pan-fried. I find deep-frying cumbersome, so I like to blend the two styles together to get the best of both worlds: small and compact like the central Vietnamese version, yet thin and crispy like the ones found in the south.
How you enjoy bánh xèo is just as important as how you make it. A big platter of greens and Vietnamese herbs and nước chấm are a must. What you do from there is your own personal adventure. I love to roll it into lettuce and herb wraps while my wife loves to roll hers in rice paper to form spring rolls. Our kids just eat it straight up or put everything in a bowl.
6 ounces (170g) rice flour
1 tablespoon (8g) cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided (for table salt, use half as much by volume)
1 1/2 cups (355ml) water
7 fluid ounces coconut milk (200ml; 175g)
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts (from about 2 bunches)
1/2 pound (227g) thinly sliced pork belly, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound headless small shrimp (roughly 60 shrimp per pound), peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
Cooking oil, for pan-frying
1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces; 227g), thinly sliced
1/2 pound (227g) bean sprouts, microwaved for 1 minute
Vegetable and herb platter composed of any of the following: lettuce (such as red leaf or Bibb), mustard greens, sorrel, Vietnamese perilla (can substitute shiso if unable to find), Vietnamese coriander (or cilantro, if unable to find), peppermint
Rice paper (see note)
For the Batter: In a large mixing bowl, mix together rice flour, cornstarch, turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon salt, water, coconut milk, and green onions. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
For the Filling: Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, combine pork belly, shrimp, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and fish sauce, and set aside.
To Cook: In an 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon cooking oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add several strands of sliced onion, about 5 pieces of pork belly, and about 5 pieces of shrimp, then fry, stirring occasionally, until opaque, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir batter to mix well, then ladle about 1/3 cup (50ml) batter into pan in a swirling motion. (You should hear distinct sizzling that tells you you’re at the right temperature.) Immediately swirl batter around pan to form a thin, even layer that spreads up the side of the pan; make sure the batter mostly gets under the solid ingredients to prevent holes from forming around them.
Cook, undisturbed, until edges begin to pull away from side of pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a small handful of bean sprouts to one half of the bánh xèo.
Continue to cook until bánh xèo is crispy and golden brown with small charred bits, 5 to 6 minutes longer. Gently slide a wide silicone spatula underneath and fold in half over the beansprouts, then transfer to a wire rack. Repeat steps 3 to 6 with remaining ingredients, stirring batter each time before ladling. Bánh xèo are best eaten right away as each is ready, but you can also hold them on a wire rack in a 200°F (95°C) oven until ready to serve all together.
To Serving: Serve bánh xèo right away with a platter of vegetables and herbs and/or rice paper (the lettuce and rice paper can be used to wrap around the bánh xèo and herbs), and nước chấm for dipping.
You can use two nonstick pans at a time to speed the cooking process.
You can use an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet, adjusting the amount of batter and filling ingredients as appropriate.
This recipe scales up well, if larger batches are desired.
If using rice paper to make rolls, set a shallow dish of warm water on the table when serving; diners can dip a rice paper round in the water to soften, then form a roll.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The batter and fillings can be prepared up to 1 day in advance.
Refrigerate any leftover bánh xèo in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat in an unoiled nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until hot and crispy on both sides, about 5 minutes, or bake in a 350°F (175°C) oven until hot and crispy, about 10 minutes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||25%|
|Total Carbohydrate 28g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 7mg||33%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|