Sizzling Rice Crepes

These crepes are yellow and folded over like an omelet, but don’t contain eggs; they’re crisp like the bottom of paella, but no rice grains are visible. Bánh xèo rice crepes are in a class of their own. The southern Viet charmers are named for the sizzling sound they make while cooking and typically contain pork, shrimp, mushroom, and bean sprouts. Snipped or broken into pieces and eaten as lettuce-and-herb wraps with nước chấm dipping sauce, the crepes hit all pleasure centers.

For years, I soaked and ground raw rice or used its equivalent, Thai rice flour, to make velvety batters. Supermarket white rice flour yielded gritty results until I tried making the batter with super-hot water. Bingo! The rice starch softened enough to yield finer-textured crepes. Compared to the traditional ones, these are crunchier and heartier—and wonderfully delicious in their own right. Weigh the flour for precision, but play with the filling. Use sliced red cabbage when beans sprouts are unavailable or look sad. See the Notes for a meatless option.

Cook the crepes in a nonstick or well-seasoned carbon-steel skillet (cast iron will make it hard to swirl the batter; use two skillets for efficiency). Fry/steam/fry is the approach, so be ready to adjust the heat. If available, use a burner with about 12,000 BTUs to ensure sufficient heat. Set up a DIY crepe station for a fun party.

BATTER

4¼ ounces white rice flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric

¾ cup tepid water mixed with ¾ cup freshly boiled water (rest boiled water 1 minute and then measure), plus more water as needed

⅓ cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk (shake or stir before using)

FILLING

10 ounces ground pork (85% lean), chicken thigh, or beef chuck, roughly chopped to loosen

8 ounces small shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 medium white mushrooms or fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems included

½ small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced

Fine sea salt

3 cups bean sprouts

Canola or other neutral oil for cooking

Leaves from 1 large head soft-leaf lettuce (such as butter, Boston, or red or green leaf)

1 small handful mint, basil, or other soft-leaf fresh herbs (except cilantro)

1 small handful cilantro

1 cup Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce (this page)

To make the batter In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice flour, cornstarch, salt, and turmeric. Whisk in the water and then the coconut milk. Let the yellow batter sit, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of half-and-half (it will be slightly gritty from the flour). Whisk in more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin out the batter if needed (when I have to add water, it’s usually no more than one tablespoon). The batter may be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before using.

To prep the filling In order to cook efficiently with less mess, pre-portion the filling components. Divide the pork, shrimp, mushrooms, and onion onto six small pieces of parchment paper, creating a pile of goodies for each crepe. Sprinkle each portion with a pinch of salt. Set on a tray or baking sheet and keep near the stove with the batter and bean sprouts.

Place a large cooling rack on a baking sheet for the cooked crepes. Preheat the oven to Warm or to its lowest setting.

To fry the crepes In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm two to three teaspoons of the canola oil. When the oil is very hot and shimmering, add a portion of filling and stir-fry for 45 seconds, breaking up the meat with a spatula until it no longer looks raw; the mushrooms will probably look moist. Make a line down the middle to divide the ingredients into two half-circles; this will ensure the crepe later folds over easily. Lower the heat slightly if you feel things are out of control; you can always turn it up later!

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