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Gio Thu, or Hanoi-Style Black Pepper “Pate”
From Ha Guthrie, Kim Son Restaurant, Durham, North Carolina

The first time we dropped in for lunch at Kim Son, a modest Vietnamese restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, we off-handedly ordered two bowls of No. 6.  We knew it was pho, but what a pho … steaming beef broth fragrant with cinnamon and star anise, laden with thinly sliced beef and sausage, topped with mint, basil and bean sprouts, spiked with red chili sauce and a squeeze of lime, sweetened with hoisin.  We became so addicted to this ambrosial nectar that the owner and chef, Ha Guthrie rarely persuaded us to order any other dish.

One day, Ha asked if we would like to try gio thu, a traditional, Hanoi-style New Year’s snack.  “At New Year’s, no one wants to work.  You want to visit your friends, play cards,” she explained as she put what looked like a coarse, country-style pate in front of us. “It’s already cooked.  You just go home and slice it and eat it with steamed rice.”  We nibbled a bit.  It was delicious, chewy, full of meaty flavor set off by lots of pungent black peppercorns and a vegetable pickle in fish sauce.  

Gio thu takes time to make, so one might as well set aside the better part of a day.  The first challenge is to locate the key ingredients—fresh, uncured bacon and pigs’ ears may be best found at a pork purveyor or at the meat counter of an ethnic market; frozen banana leaves are often available at Asian and Hispanic grocery stores. The cooking doesn’t take much time.  Ha and I spent just an hour or so in her warm restaurant kitchen after lunch one day, sautéing the meats with garlic, scallions, onions, fish sauce and black fungus.  Then we rolled the mixture up in banana leaves and  pressed them under a heavy pot of water for three hours. (Her own mother compressed the gio thu between two pieces of wood tied together; the gelatin in the pigs’ ears causes the mixture to stick together.)  Refrigerate the packets, then serve, or freeze them for another day.  There you have it—money in the bank for a chill winter’s eve.

To serve 8 to 10

Ingredients for gio thu:

2-1/2 pounds fresh, uncured bacon, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1-1/2 pounds pigs¹ ears, simmered in water 15-20 minutes until tender, sliced  3/8-inch thick
2 teaspoons salt  
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
1 large bunch scallions, chopped
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 package (1.5 ounce) dried, sliced black fungus, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, or to taste
1 teaspoon medium ground black pepper, or to taste
1 package banana leaves
plastic wrap, aluminum foil and kitchen twine

Method for the filling:

1. In a large non-stick skillet, over a medium-high flame, stir fry the bacon until fragrant and lightly browned on all sides, 10-12 minutes.
2.  Add the slivered pigs ears to the skillet and saute for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add salt, sugar and fish sauce.  Toss the ingredients with chopsticks or tongs to mix well.  Continue tossing and sautéing until the bacon is nicely browned.  Taste for seasoning.
4. Add garlic to mixture and toss to combine.
5. Add thinly sliced white onion and toss to combine.  Saute for 1 minute.
6. Add sliced green scallions and toss to combine.
7. Add one cup of slivered black fungus and toss to combine.
8. Mix pepper into the ingredients.  Taste and correct seasonings.  Remove from heat.

Method for the gio thu:

1. Lay out a piece of banana leaf 12 inches long, on top of a slightly larger piece of plastic wrap.   Dry with the leaf with paper towels if it is damp.   
2. Divide the mixture in two equal portions.   Place one portion in the center of the banana leaf.  Roll up the plastic wrap and leaf tightly from the bottom, taking care to keep the plastic wrap outside of the filling.  Tuck in the ends.
3. Take a large sheet of aluminum foil about 18 inches by 24 inches.  Place the roll about 6 inches from the bottom of the aluminum foil and roll up tightly.  Fold in one end, turn on that end and tap it sharply on the counter to settle the filling.  Do this several times.  Then fold in the other end.  Tie the foil wrapped package with kitchen twine at 2- or 3-inch intervals both horizontally and vertically.  
4. Repeat the process with the other portion of the filling.  You should end up with 2 foil-wrapped rolls about 3 inches by 9 inches.
5. Place the rolls in a dry sink.  On top of them place one or more large stock pots full of water to compress them.  Leave for 3 to 4 hours.  
6. Either refrigerate the rolls, or freeze for later use.  When ready to serve, defrost if frozen, and remove the foil and the plastic wrap.  Slice and serve cold with steamed jasmine or sweet rice and pickled vegetables.

Ingredients for pickled vegetables:

1 package dried turnips
2 large carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds, dehydrated
8 ounces canned pickled leeks
2 cups sugar
2 cups fish sauce

Method for the pickled vegetables:

1. Soak dried turnips and carrots in hot water for 20 minutes.  Drain and squeeze out the water   Set aside.
2. Combine the fish sauce and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and let cool.
3. Put the turnips, carrots and leeks in a glass jar and pour the fish sauce mixture over them.  Let them marinate overnight.  Drain and serve, or store in the refrigerator until needed.


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