Making Vietnamese Steamed Shrimp Rice Cakes with Light Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

by Ramona on February 17, 2010

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I’m really getting into cooking Vietnamese Food! I can’t believe that it has taken me so long to discover that I love Vietnamese food and I love cooking it too! Husband and chief food taster David says “I love this food. We could be Vietnamese, Mexican and Italian too!”

With the freshest of ingredients used in Vietnamese cooking, I’m feeding my family and guests health food and they don’t even know it!

Right now, I’m into Sauces and Condiments and what dishes they go with. I didn’t know where to start cooking Vietnamese food, so I started from the beginning. I’m exploring one sauce or condiment at a time, and then preparing the dish that goes with it.

The dipping sauce is a lite Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and it goes really well with any dish. I have read that you don’t want to leave out a single ingredient in Vietnamese cooking because the flavors are layered perfectly. I didn’t understand this theory until I got into making the sauces. I’m with you on the weird ingredients….Fish Sauce, Fermented Soy Beans, Oyster Sauce, Raw Shrimp Shells and Serrano Peppers doesn’t sound too bueno, but believe me, you don’t want to leave out a single drop if the recipe calls for it.

But here’s a tip: Don’t take a whiff of the Fish Sauce or get in on your hands….yes you WILL smell fishy. By itself, the fish sauce tastes salty and fishy. I’m not a big fan of real fishy flavors, but you really can’t taste the FISH in the sauces that you create.

Today’s recipe is just another interesting adventure. Some of the ingredients I’d never heard of, let alone cooked with. I had purchased all my ingredients including the Rice Flour. There are different types of Rice Flour too. Jason of Mama Nida’s Asian Market asked me what I dish was making and pointed me in the right direction. The Rice Flours were all in the same looking bags, so I’m glad he advised me.

I started with making the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce because you can set it aside. I was really nervous because it calls for 1 cup raw shrimp shells. Uh, oh…. I had to read that ingredient again…did they have a typo and mean 1 cup shrimp? Nope, they meant 1 cup raw shrimp shells.

This is already off to an interesting start. Okay, I’m game, I’ll try it their way. David came into the kitchen to film me making the sauce and he had to take a second look when he saw the empty shrimp shells in the pan…he thought that I was so excited that I put the shells in the pan instead of the shrimp meat! I told him, this is a Vietnamese delicacy and it’s customary for the head of the household to eat the shrimp shells! He said he could probably do it if he had enough Lone Star beer to wash ’em down with.

I cut up the shrimp and put in my Mortar and Pestle.  I have never used one of these things before, but here goes.  Now the recipe says to pound the shrimp.  By the looks of a Motar and Pestle, I would have assumed that you would somehow go in a circular motion like you were stirring except possibly a little harder.  I tried to be gentle and go in a circular motion, but that wasn’t doing a thing to the shrimp but moving it around the bowl.

Okay, it says pound, so pound it will be! Bang, bang, bang! It’s working!  The shrimp does break down and it does beat it to shreds! lol. I wonder if this is where this saying came from?  Now you cook the shallots in a pan with oil and add the shrimp and stir until it’s dry and fragrant.

It smells so gooooood… you just want to say forget everything else and take a fork and eat the shrimp…stop thinking about it David, I’m going to make this COMPLETE recipe!

We’re almost there, all that is left is the Rice Cakes.  I’m going to use the bamboo steamer again, so I prepare the pot of boiling water.  I don’t have the little thin bowls that they make the rice cakes in.  I will have to improvise.  I have little shallow bowls that are used in my Italian dipping set.  (Where you have the Olive Oil dispenser and little bowls.)  You pour the oil and spices in the little bowls and dip your bread into it.  These should work.

If you want to try the rice flour cakes, David liked them, here is where you can order:

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The rice flour that has been sitting, doesn’t look like much.  I guess I thought it might rise or something, it is called a rice cake.  The water has separated and when you stir, it’s like Elmer’s glue.  Maybe the little cakes will rise when they steam.  Here goes…I spoon some of the mixture into the little bowls and place in the steamer and put on top of the pot of boiling water.  And wait.  When I lifted the lid to check, it didn’t look like a like a cake at all.  It looked like paste, the kind when you are a kid that comes in a tub and you put your hand in to grab some paste and then spread on the back of what you want glued….there is a reason that I am using this image.  The recipe says that the rice cake should look white and shiny.  They do, but they still don’t look like a cake!

I tried to unmold the cakes with a knife, but it was like the paste that I described.  So I went to the plan ‘B’ in the recipe, which was to leave the rice cakes in the bowl.  You sprinkle the Scallion Oil, then top with the Shrimp, and drizzle the Light Vietnamese Dipping Sauce on top and eat.  David said he liked them….remember I referred to the rice cakes as paste.  That’s what I thought it tasted like.  I settled for drizzling the Scallion Oil and the Light Vietnamese Dipping Sauce over the shrimp and let David eat the cakes.

I really liked this recipe and decided to Americanize it.  I used steamed rice and rolled the rice in plastic wrap, froze just until firm and then cut the roll in thick slices.  I sprinkled the Scallion Oil and topped with the Shrimp and drizzled with the Light Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and tried this.  DELICIOUS!  I could eat dozens of these!

So, my rice cakes in a bowl just didn’t do it for me, but the steamed rice cut into slices was dee-licious!

Here’s the recipe and videos, and if you are brave and want to try the traditional dish, you might like it fine.

I will stick with my version of rice cakes with the rice cut into slices and prepared with the toppings.

Just remember to not be scared off by the ingredients.  They DO all blend together in a “most delightful way!”

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From my Vietnamese Kitchen,

I’m Ramona Werst

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