I hung up the phone and sank into my office chair, rubbing my temples in anticipation of the stress from the reality of what I had just done. I just accepted an invitation to cook at the 4th annual Field to Table Dinner at the North American Rendezvous. I’d be cooking alongside some of the best chefs that I knew of. I am an extremely talented eater, I told myself, not a chef.
My initial thought was to make a bò kho (Vietnamese beef stew). I figured you can’t screw that up. The one-pot-wonder was seasoned similarly to phở bò with star anise and cinnamon. Everyone loves pho, right?
After days of running my recipe ideas past everyone that would listen, I trained my thoughts on the meals I might have enjoyed on my many trips to Vietnam. It was important I bring my Canadian-Vietnamese heritage to the table.
Memories of wrapping bite-sized fatty sausages in rice paper filled with fresh herbs, pickled carrots and vermicelli noodles came to mind, but I had no idea what the dish was called. I soon discovered that these lemongrass and 5-spiced sausages are typically reserved for special occasions and that the recipe is passed on verbally. Measurements are described as pinches and handfuls and are seldom written down. Each family adds their own twist.
These are served alone as a tapas drinking dish, washed down with a cold pilsner. For a more complete meal serve them on a bed of vermicelli noodles or wrapped in rice paper with fresh mint, cucumbers, pickled carrots and roasted peanuts and fried shallots for an extra crunch!
I am happy to report that my dish was a hit at the annual dinner and am so grateful to the many friends who helped make it a success. Here, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this cherished recipe and pass on a bit of my Vietnamese heritage to you.
Vietnamese Caul Fat Sausages
Servings: Makes approximately 30-35 bite-sized sausages
Sausages (Bò Nướng Mỡ Chài)
- 2-3 lbs of fresh grind (try it with elk, caribou, bison, moose and goose)
- 1 lb. of coarse grind pig fat or pork belly
- 1 half a medium shallot
- 3 tbs finely minced lemongrass
- 2 stalks minced green onion
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tsp 5 spice powder
- 2 tsp fresh grind black pepper
- 2 tbs sesame oil
- 2 tbs sugar
- 1 tbs salt
- 1 tbs msg (or use more salt)
- 1 tbs of Lee Kum Kee Chicken Bouillonpowder
- 2 lbs of caul fat (I used pig but any game works)
- 3 tbs of toasted and crushed peanuts
- 3 tbs of fried shallots
- 4 tbs of green onion oil
- fried shallots
Nuoc Cham (Dipping Sauce)
- 1 cup of warm water
- 4 tsp of unseasoned rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 6 tbs of fish sauce (preferred brand is Red Boat)
- 6 tbs of sugar
- 2 large cloves of minced garlic
- 1 Thai chili minced (deseeded for less spice)
- 1/4 cup of matchstick-cut carrots (use a mandoline)
- In a large bowl mix all the sausage together. I add MSG at this stage because it makes it taste a million times better, but you can omit it completely and just use a touch more salt.
- Roll sausages to be round or roughly the length of your thumb then wrap each sausage in caul fat. I leave the sheet of caul fat whole, place my sausage on the fat, roll it until the sausage is nicely coated, cut it from the main sheet, and fold in the ends. Remember to roll it generously in the caul fat because it will tend to unravel a bit when frying.
- Fry the sausages in a non-flavored oil. Canola, sunflower or peanut oil works best. A cast iron pan works great for this. Make sure there is enough oil to cook the sausages in an even layer. I find this method keeps the sausage juicy, but you can also use a coal BBQ for that smoky flavor!
- Take them out of the oil as soon as they start to brown and let them rest for that juicy and fatty bite. They will continue to cook as they sit and cool down
- Top sausages with green onion oil, toasted peanuts and fried shallots before serving. There are no true measurements; just add to your preference in taste.
- To make green onion oil, simply chop up green onion, add it to hot neutral oil and add a pinch of salt. Take it off the heat right away. Brush it on the sausages to give them a glisten and extra flavor. Use the oil generously. The bright green onion also adds a nice pop of color to the dish.
- To make the dipping sauce, simply combine all ingredients listed under nuoc cham. Taste and add more sugar or fish sauce to your liking. Add thinly sliced carrots to add some more variety of color and texture to the dish.
Photos by Alex Kim (top) and author (bottom)