This dish, known as chao tom in Vietnam,
is a classic. Orginally created by the ingenious cooks for the imperial
kitchen in Hue, it has become a national treasure. To appreciate its full
impact, some prefer simply to grill it and eat it by itself, enjoying
every single bite, right down the sweet, smoky flavors of the sugar can.
Chao tom vendors in the streets of Hue, Hanoi and Saigon supply this
delicious snack all day long.
Onion, finely chopped
Raw cane or dark brown sugar
Raw shrimps, peeled and deveined
Piece of fresh sugar cane, about 20 cm long
Salt, or to taste
Pepper, or to taste
Place the pork fat in a pan of boiling
water and boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain well and chop using a sharp knife.
Heat the oil in a heavy pan and stir in
the onion on and garlic. Just as they begin to color, remove from the
heat and tip them into a bowl.
Beat in the egg, fish sauce and sugar,
until the sugar has dissolved. Season with a little salt and plenty of
black pepper, and then stir in the cornflour.
Add the pork fat and shrimps to the
mixture, and mix well. Transfer to a food processor and process to a
slightly lumpy paste, or grind in a mortar using a pestle.
Divide the paste into eight portions.
Using a strong knife of cleaver, cut the sugar can in half and then cut
each piece into quarters lengthways. Take a piece of sugar cane in your
hand and mould a portion of the paste around it, pressing it gently so
the edges are sealed. Place the coated sticks on an oiled tray, while
you make the remaining skewers in the same way.
For the best flavor, cook the shrimp paste
skewers over a barbecue for 5-6 minutes, turning them frequently until
they are nicely browned all over. Alternatively, cook the skewers under
a conventional grill (broiled).
Although canned sugar can can be used for
this recipe, it is no substitute for fresh. Fresh sugar cane is often
available in African, Caribbean and Asian markets, as well as in some
supermarkets. When cooked in the Vietnamese home, this dish is usually
served with traditional accompaniments of salad, rice wrappers and a
dipping sauce. The grilled shrimp paste is pulled off the sugar cane,
wrapped in a rice paper and dipped in sauce. The stripped sugar can can
then be chewed.