Chả lụa (Vietnamese Steamed Pork Roll)

We wanted to recreate a Vietnamese dish that we loved to eat back when we were living in San Jose: chả lụa or Vietnamese steamed pork roll. This tasty sausage is usually sliced thinly and served alongside favorites like bánh cuốn or inside banh mì sandwiches. It’s been a while since we had it, so we decided to try making it ourselves.

Chả Lụa

Cha Lua Vietnamese ham


Missing Food

The idea to make chả lụa was sparked by Annie’s coworker, who had just returned from a trip to Ho Chi Minh City. He was regaling her about all the food he ate there and how he didn’t want to come back. That got Annie thinking about all the good Vietnamese food we used to eat back in San Jose. (San Jose is has one of the largest populations of Vietnamese immigrants in the US.)

She brought the idea up while we were discussing what to make next for the Royal Selangor Jellyriffic Challenge (an almost daily occurrence these days). “I wanna make that Vietnamese pork roll – what was it called? ‘Jia lo’,” she said.

I just laughed out loud, because ‘jia lo’ almost sounds like ‘jello’, and I thought that ‘jia lo’ would be a perfect thing to make in a jelly mould. I’m a sucker for puns, which is why “Tall-dorf Salad” and “Orange Dream-jiggle” also made the cut for the list of creative uses of the Royal Selangor Jelly Mould.

Getting Fizzy With It

Annie found the chả lụa recipe from Lily’s Wai Sek Hong, which is based off a recipe in Andrea Nguyen’s “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” cookbook. We purchased the pork meat from the market on on Saturday morning and I prepared the first step, which was to slice the meat into 1/4-inch strips and marinate them in a mixture of tapioca starch, baking powder, sugar, fish sauce and vegetable oil. (The marinating mixture fizzed up due to the reaction of the baking powder.) Then I poured it over the pork, mixed well, covered it and put it in the fridge over night.

Marinating Chả Lụa

Prepping pork for cha lua

Something Goes Wrong

The next day I used our KitchenAid sausage grinder attachment to grind the pork strips, first with the coarse die and then with the fine die.

Now, here’s where we think something went wrong with our preparation.

The recipe actually calls for the meat to be ground in a food processor for several minutes until the meat becomes smooth and stiff. But we don’t have a food processor because we sold it when we moved to Kuching. All we have is a dinky little mini-chopper (kinda like the “Magic Bullet” as seen on TV in America) and that cannot do the job of grinding 2 pounds of meat for several minutes.

We had to work in extremely small batches, and only were able to grind each batch for about a minute each time, lest the poor chopper overheat. So I think we ended up under-processing the meat, which would have consequences in the final product.

The final step for processing the meat is to beat it for a couple of minutes in the KitchenAid stand mixing bowl.

Grinding and Beating the Chả Lụa Meat

ground and beaten pork for cha lua

Annie took the resulting paste and pressed it into a banana leaf-lined jelly mould. Then she folded the banana leaf down over the top of the mould and steamed it for 40 minutes.

Packing and steaming cha lua

When it was done cooking, we took the chả lụa out of the mould and let it cool down a bit. Then we sliced it up. It certainly looked like what we remembered.

Chả Lụa

Cha Lua Vietnamese ham

But then we took a bite, and immediately sensed something was different. The meat was still mealy and didn’t have that smooth, bouncy consistency we were looking for.  Also, the flavoring seemed to be off.

I don’t think it was that we steamed the meat to cook it. We also made chả lụa  the more traditional way, by wrapping it tightly in banana leaf and foil then boiling it for an hour. The meat still came out the same, unfortunately.

I really think it was our lame mini-chopper that could not produce properly ground meat for this dish.  So while we didn’t like the results of this attempt, we are resolved to making it again – we just need to use a real food processor next time.

Aloha, Nate

Breast Cancer fact: survival rates are the same for men and women at various stages of the disease but the risk of fatality for men is higher, mainly because male breast cancer is usually detected at a later date.

6 Comments Post a Comment
  1. I quite like this idea and don’t see anything wrong with your pork paste… I’m sure it would be nice with some pickles and mustard in a bread roll – kind of a Western way to have it.

  2. KenW says:

    Before there was the food processor there was the stone mortar and pestle also, after reading the recipies the chả lụa was cooked by boiling it not steaming it. Two different temperatures. You’ll figure it out to where it works!

  3. Alysia W says:

    I was looking at another Cha Lau recipe. Maybe you should check this one out. It had some pretty good tips.

    http://www.theravenouscouple.com/2010/02/cha-lua-vietnamese-ham-recipe.html

    As for your food processing dilemma…I think you could use your meat grinder attachment even after having your mixture marinate (as it does definitely grind your meat down further, even if it is a bit slow). Hope your next cha lau making experience is better next time around!

  4. Diem says:

    Amen brother,

    I have the same problem today. Mine is in the mail, will be here next week. And when it’s here, I’ll try again!

  5. T says:

    I just stumbled on your site. You don’t have to use a food processor to grind your meat. I remember my parents made cha lua with turkey and they pounded the hell out of it with a mortar and pestle. They would use to drizzle it with some ice water to get the bouncy texture with the baking powder. Then they boiled the cha instead of steaming it.

  6. Bob Rosen says:

    I think your meat mixture needs time to set, much like jello. Put it in a fridge for 8 hours, as instructed, form into whatever shape you want, and then cook, while the meat is still cold.

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My Photo Annie is mistress of the kitchen while Nate is the master of the grill and smoker. We cook the homestyle Asian and Hawaiian foods of our younger days while also exploring the wider worlds of Western foods.

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