Gio Thu, or Hanoi-Style Black Pepper
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
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
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,
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
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:
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.
to Spice Kitchen]