My parents visited recently over the holidays and did some baking. But to Mom, baking is much more savory endeavor. She doesn’t have a sweet tooth and I don’t think she ever baked a cake or cookie before. Not even for our birthdays.
We didn’t enjoy a glass of milk and cookies for after-school snacks like our American counterparts, in fact, our typical after school snack would be a warm banh day (sticky rice cake) with a slab of freshly baked chả quế, a baked cinnamon laced pork roll. I would come home to a house smelling of freshly baked pork and cinnamon. Totally weird sounding, right? But I didn’t care back then, because the chả quế she made was absolutely delicious to come home to and I don’t think I missed out on chocolate chip cookies.
The process for making chả quế is almost identical to chả lua (sausage roll). It starts with slurry of water, potato starch, and baking powder, add to that finely ground pork. Mix, chill, and grind some more with plenty of cinnamon and bake. Whereas chả lua is wrapped and steamed, chả quế is baked which results in a golden brown, crinkly, chewy crust.
Slice it up and stuff in baguettes for banh mi, sandwiched in banh day, with sticky rice, or snack on it alone. The combination of pork and cinnamon is a special treat. When making something specialized like chả, we always make plenty of it because it’s easy to freeze but also very easy to give away to friends and family so don’t be daunted by the large portion size.
Chả Quế, Vietnamese cinnamon pork pate
Feel free to divide the recipe in half. The ratio of ingredients is important but unlike baking a cake, not as crucial. Also, you can adjust the level of saltiness as well strength of cinnamon to your taste. Also, use a good fresh quality cinnamon. If it's been sitting in your pantry for years, it's most likely have lost much of it's aroma and flavor.
10 lbs. ground pork loin
12 ounces potato starch
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
7 cups water
10 packets of Alsa baking powder
5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon (adjust to taste)
Multiple cookie sheets
Pam or neutral oil
1. Have your local butcher grind the pork loin at least 2-3 times. Add the ground pork, potato starch, salt, sugar, fish sauce in large mixing bowl. Add about 6 cups of water to the mixture, save the remaining 1 cup. To that, dissolve the Alsa baking powder and combine with the pork mixture and mix well. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night, and not more than one day.
2. The following day, you will need to combine cinnamon to the mixture and bake. We also process the mixture with a food processor one more time to make sure it has a smooth consistency.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., and grease cookie sheets with Pam or neutral oil. Working in batches (depending on the capacity of your food processor) add approximately 1 teaspoon of cinnamon for every 2 cups of pork mixture and give a few quick pulses to thoroughly combine the cinnamon. At this point, take a teaspoon or so of the mixture and microwave for about 30 seconds and taste. Adjust seasoning such as cinnamon or salt if needed. Continue until all the ground pork has been processed with cinnamon.
4. Using a wet rubber spatula, spoon onto the greased cookie sheet from edge to edge and make an even layer of pork paste about 3/4-inch thick. Use multiple baking sheets as necessary. Don't worry about going up to the edges because when it bakes, it will pull away. When baking sheet is covered entirely, use a wet spatula or wet hand, smooth out the top layer of the pork mixture.
5. Bake for 10 or 15 minutes until the top layer of the pork will start to form a dull, light brown skin. At this point, open the oven and carefully pierce the surface of the pork randomly with a fork to allow some of the trapped air to escape. Continue to cook until it has a golden brown crust. Remove and allow to cool before slicing.