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Feb28

A colorful new batch of bánh tét

We can’t seem to stop making bánh tét. Lamp likes bánh tét a lot and he came up with the idea of making bánh tét with stripes (like a caterpillar). I am not a big fan of bánh tét, but the idea sounded so cool and challenging that I was persuaded. Plus, there are enough friends who like our bánh tét that we weren’t afraid of having to eat bánh tét for the rest of the year. 😀

Working from a caterpillar photo, we knew we needed 3 colors: green, orange and black. Green and orange colors were easy: pandan leaf extract and gấc (spiny bitter gourd) are 2 common Vietnamese natural coloring ingredients. Black was a bit more challenging. We gravitated toward squid ink to color the sticky rice black, but we were worried about introducing a seafood taste to our bánh tét. Our other option we decided on was nếp than (black glutinous rice).

Ingredients for caterpillar bánh tét

The ingredients were laid out in the above photo (from top left, clockwise): sticky rice with pandan leave extract, black glutinous rice, chickpea paste, sticky rice mixed with squid ink and sticky rice mixed with gấc.

Sticky rice was soaked overnight and then divided into different portions to be mixed with various natural coloring agents. Black glutinous rice already had the desired color, so we only soaked it overnight. All the sticky rice portions were then stir fried for ~20-30 minutes to partially cook them. We wanted the rice to become sticky and stay in place while being rolled into a bánh tét. Black glutinous rice was harder, so I cooked it longer and with added water until it achieved a softness similar to the rest of the sticky rice. Black glutinous rice didn’t turn sticky, though.

Since the rice was partially cooked, we only needed to cook bánh tét for 3-3.5 hours instead of the full 6 hours. However, that short cooking time meant we also had to pre-cook the meat before rolling bánh tét to make sure that meat will achieve the same level of tenderness as when it’s cooked for 6 hours in a regular bánh tét. Of course, there wasn’t 1 type of meat in this batch (how could we let such a big experiment go to waste?) Here are the different combinations for these bánh tét:

  1. pork belly with fish sauce & pepper (traditional)
  2. pork belly with kecap manis & pepper
  3. beef shank with fish sauce, curry & pepper
  4. beef shank with kecap manis & pepper
  5. lamb shoulder chop with kecap manis & pepper

With all the ingredients prepared, it’s time to roll our bánh tét. Lamp laid down a piece of foil between the banana leaves and the sticky rice to prevent the green color from the leaves to bleed into the colored sticky rice.

rolling caterpillar bánh tét

Another technique we tried was a different method for tying up the bundles. Lamp read about the lost art of cable lacing from Boing Boing and Make Blog and filed it away for future use in electronics projects. Who knew it’d make itself useful instead in streamlining our bánh tét rolling. Specifically we used a 12 foot long length of twine to secure the bánh tét via a telephone hitch and four lock stitches.

Bánh tét secured as if it were a bundle of electrical wires.

And here’s what that bánh tét sâu bướm (caterpillar bánh tét) looks like after cooking:

Cooked colorful bánh tét

We were reasonably pleased with the result. Our biggest worry had been that the colors would bleed into other layers and we’d get a confused mess for a bánh tét. We were happy to see that the colors stayed where they were supposed to. However, the sticky rice grains moved a bit during rolling so the stripes weren’t as well defined as we’d like them to. Next time, we should definitely work on making the borders sharper when we laid down the grains before rolling.

Another concern was that if one sliced bánh tét before unwrapping the leaves, our hard work making caterpillar stripes would be unnoticed. But the bánh tét slices by themselves were still quite fun and colorful. And Lamp for one has no problem making jokes no one else gets.

Whoa... I can taste the colors

Of the two methods to make black rice, we found the squid ink to work better. Nếp than was very fragrant but unfortunately its colorful husk prevented it from forming a solid shell like milled sticky rice. The squid ink rice on the other hand behaved glutinously, held its vivid color without bleeding (unlike nếp than) and also did not contribute a noticeable seafood flavor to the bánh tét. (Then again, why not a seafood bánh tét? …)

More colorful caterpillar bánh tet slices - note bleeding of nếp than on the top slices

Finally, next time we roll bánh tét, we’ll have a mechanism to make sure the paste surrounds the meat – we’ll pre make bundles of chickpeas and meat rolled tight in saran wrap. It’ll probably have the effect of streamlining the rolling process too.

Previous posts : How to make bánh tét (method), cooked bánh tét (results), discussion & future directions.

This is our contribution to March Delicious Vietnam food posts round-up started by A food lover’s journey and Ravenous Couple.

Comments

  1. SO fun and colorful!!! Great job! :)

  2. Love your creativity! Why the caterpillar design? How did the pandan and squid ink taste? Nice!

    • Hi Julia, thanks for the visit and comment.

      I kind of wanted a striped banh tet when we were figuring out how to make xoi gac (sticky rice colored and flavored with the red spiny melon). Maybe with a dark enough green I could make a Freddy Krueger banh tet? And then somewhere along the line that idea got refined into a caterpillar, with 3 colors, cute spots and so on.

      Pandan leaf has a sweet leafy smell and is great partnered with coconut in many dessert dishes. Banh tet is one of the few savory applications of the pandan leaf + coconut combination.

      Squid ink normally lends a briny, seafoody flavor to dishes like Arròs negre/paella negra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arr%C3%B2s_negre The squid ink doesn’t contribute much to banh tet besides color.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Mountain View, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.: The dynamic team of Rau Om shares Caterpillar Bánh Tét (Bánh Tét Sâu Bướm). They […]

  2. […] be offering up slices of our Bánh Tét Sâu Bướm (Caterpillar Bánh Tét) as donations fodder for the All Hands Active Art Show and Auction fundraiser. Pictures when we […]

  3. […] sent slices of our bánh tét sâu bướm /caterpillar bánh tét to feed the patrons of the AHA Shop Art Show. We had some leftover so we did what we always do with […]

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