Cha Lua: An Easy, No-fail Pork Wrap

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

If you have had Gio Lua at some point in your life, then I know that you will believe me when I say that this is one of the sweetest wraps across the globe. Steamed pork rolls are all the craze, owing to many reasons, including how delicious they are. The Cha Lua is one of the leading options in this category. If you love seasoning that is not too much and not too minimal, this pork roll is right for you. What’s more, its wrapping is quite attractive.

Making Cha Lua involves steaming the pork to the point of perfection, which is quite easy once you master the grinding part. So popular is this dish in Vietnam that it also goes by the name Vietnamese Ham. You can find it in most Asian sandwiches and foods, and you will know that you have hit the jackpot when you taste that unforgettable sweetness that is Cha Lua.

I knew that I had to make my own when I first had a bite of this delicacy and through borrowing tips and tricks from great Vietnamese chefs, I finally came up with a straightforward recipe that will not fail you, even as a beginner in culinary arts.

You no longer have to resort to buying this delicacy from the store and for a good reason. You can never be sure if the pork used was fresh and the chances are also high that the meat reeks of MSG, preservatives and all sorts of fillers. It’s quite a relief to know that you can skip all the suspicion by making a Vietnamese pork roll of your own. Then, you can enjoy tons of health benefits. You can also use this pork roll mixture in many other recipes if you wish.

Before we get to the process, let’s get some tips and tricks out of the way.

Vietnamese Sausage

Tips

With people heading towards healthy diets over time, there has been an emphasis on choosing cuts with little fat. While I do advocate for this lifestyle choice, this banana leaf pork roll recipe calls for pork with fat. If you want something a little healthy, you could always opt to use a cut with 80% lean and 20% fat. Any fat less than this will result in a darker pork roll that’s not all that juicy.

And we all know that one great thing about Cha Lua is how smoothly the juices flow.

If you choose to do the pork grinding, be sure to select parts such as the butt or shoulder which have amazing marbling. It will make it much easier for you.

You will use banana leaves for this recipe. It is always best to prepare them at least a day in advance, and there are tons of ways in which you can do this. However, if you do not want to use these leaves or cannot seem to find them, parchment paper works just as well.

You can use any baking powder for this recipe. However, it is essential to add it as the last thing. In this way, it will not foam and pose a challenge in mixing the other ingredients. Also, this ensures that it stays fresh.

It’s always a good thing to know what you can use to substitute a given ingredient. However, sometimes, the substitute cannot live up to the standards set by its predecessor.

Take the example of potato starch which is what this recipe needs. It gives the rolls a springlike touch which is quite noticeable. You may decide to use tapioca starch or cornstarch in its place. Though this will not affect the taste, it will change the springiness, and it is thus a good idea to stick with the potato starch.

The springy texture also relies on the chill time.

You may find that your temperatures are too cold and your chill time may be less than that stated in the recipe. The thing that matters is that you get your pork once it is firm and not when it is frozen.

Processing the pork is quite essential, but when doing so, you should mind the operations of your food processor. First off, running the motor continuously can burn it out, thus ruining the processor. Also, continuous running can warm the meat which will result in soft rolls. It is therefore crucial that you take breaks and if the meat heats, place it in the freezer until solid before resuming the processing.

If you want the shape of a can, you can use it to get your desired rolls. Having removed both ends of the tin, place the roll inside and you will get the desired shape that will be uniform to all your pork rolls.

Ensure that the temperature of the water remains low during steaming. Adding heat will result in expanded rolls which will shrink during cooling, and you will end up with wrinkled pork rolls.

Cha Lua Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs 80/20 ground pork
  • Four tablespoons of ice water
  • One tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Three tablespoons of fish sauce
  • Two tablespoons of sugar
  • One tablespoon of potato starch
  • ¾ teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of ground white pepper
  • Six cleaned banana leaves (about 14 square inches)

Directions

Take the ice water, the vegetable oil, the potato starch, the fish sauce, sugar, and ground pepper and mix them in a bowl. Ensure that they evenly combine before adding the baking powder to the mixture.

Next, add the ground pork in a mixing bowl and add the marinade. Using a flat beater, proceed to mix the two in the container for about three to four minutes. Stop once you see that the ingredients have evenly combined. If you do not have a flat beater, kindly refer to the notes I have put down under variations.

Take the pork out of the mixing bowl and lay it on a large metallic pan. Here, spread out the meat until it forms a thin layer that is even all through. You can now transfer the pan to the freezer where it will stay for three hours until it becomes firm. During this process, be sure to keep checking the meat such that it only solidifies but does not freeze. If you feel that the temperatures are too cold, increase them before placing the pan for chilling.

Once the pork is solid, take it out of the freezer and divide it into eight equal pieces. I find that the easiest way to achieve this is by first cutting the meat into two, splitting the halves, and then the quarters. Take four of the pieces and place them in a bowl and return the remainder to the freezer to continue chilling.

Ensure that the temperatures are such that the meat will not end up freezing.

Take two of the four pieces in the bowl and place them in a food processor. Allow the machine to run for ten seconds then let it rest for ten seconds. This period taken will count as one cycle, and you need to do this until you have five complete cycles. You will find that there will be a lot of meat clinging to the sides of the bowl. Push these pieces towards the blade.

From this point, you will pulse for ten seconds, rest for ten seconds and scrape the sides for the rest of the cycles. The aim here is to achieve finely ground pork. I find that I end up using about five minutes when doing this. If you opt to use other options as discussed in the variations, you could end up using more time. It’s all good as long as you achieve the refined ground. You can now move the pork to another bowl.

Take the remaining two pieces of pork in the bowl and subject them to the same process. Once you achieve a refined ground, take the first batch and add it to the processor. Allow the processor to run for thirty seconds which will ensure that both batches mix.

Take the processed batch and place it on a plastic wrap. Be sure to choose a large piece which you can shape into a log. Once firmly wrapped, get hold of the pork log and slam it against a hard surface a few times. This process will help in removing some of the trapped air bubbles in the meat. It will lose some of its shape in the process so be sure to smooth it out into a log again before placing the wrap in the fridge.

Take the remaining four pieces from the freezer and subject them to the same process as the previous batch. You now have a second pork roll which you will place in the fridge with the first one and allow them to chill for twenty minutes.

As the pork chills, you can work on the wrapping.

Start by placing one banana leaf on the surface ensuring that its veins run vertically. For the second leaf, put it atop the first one, with the lines running in a horizontal manner. The third leaf should be on top of the second leaf with the shiny side facing up. Its veins should run vertically as those of the first.

Pay attention to the lines as it will affect how good your results are. Take some of the vegetable oil and carefully brush some of it on top of the third leaf. Be sure to only have a small layer on the banana leaf.

This next step requires a lot of precision. Take one of the rolls in the fridge once the twenty minutes elapse and remove them from the plastic wrap. Place the roll horizontally across the banana leaves. Get hold of the banana leaves and bring them together at the top. Continue folding the leaves down until they lie against the roll. Once you achieve this, fold down one of the ends and make the roll stand.

From here, you will see the extra banana leaves which you will then proceed to trim using scissors. You can now fold down the leaves covering the end. Having done this, flip the roll to stand on the other end and do the same thing. Get hold of plastic wrap and use it to encase the entire roll. Roll the plastic wrap on a hard surface to enable the pork roll to get a uniform log shape. You can now tie the log with twine, ensuring that the knot is loose. Repeat this process for the other pork roll.

Fill a steamer basin with water up to a quarter of its height and place it over high heat. Reduce the heat to low once the water comes to a vigorous boil. Place a steamer tray on the basin and add the two pork rolls to it. Let them sit in the steam for twenty minutes.

From here, you can remove the rolls and allow them to cool for about twenty minutes before enjoying them. When serving them, be sure to remove the banana leaves before slicing the rolls into slices. You get two rolls out of this recipe. If there are any leftovers, you can enjoy them over one week.

Variations on the same

You’d be interested to know that you can easily use this recipe to make Gio Ga Nam Huong. All you need to do is to substitute the stated ingredients with those of Gio Ga Nam Huong and use the same procedure. The results are unbelievable.

There are many Vietnamese pork loaf recipes that you will come across that use garlic powder in the preparation. In my recipe, you will find that this is not the case. There is nothing wrong with using it if you feel inclined to do so. My omission lies in the fact that I prefer not to have that strong scent in the food, not that it alters the flavors or anything like that.

Some people make this meal using this recipe, and they tell me that they are achieving inconsistent results. Sometimes, they end up with a fantastic pork roll and sometimes they do not, yet they have followed the instructions to the letter. If you find that you have achieved a non-chewy and much darker result, the answer lies in the meat.

You see, the kind of meat you use, as well as how fresh it is, determines the outcome. As such, I insist that you should use ground pork with at least 20% fat. If you use flesh with less fat than this, you are likely to end up with a darker pork roll than the recipe yields.

Another thing that you should keep in mind is how fresh the meat is.

You may get a new cut from the butcher today, but if you store it in the fridge for many days, you will notice that it will turn brown after a while owing to oxidization. It is best to buy the meat on the day that you intend to use it to prevent such a situation. As such, it will still have that lovely pink hue, and the resultant Cha Lua will be much whiter than that achieved with older cuts. You should also ensure that the meat remains cold during preparation as this will further enhance the results that you get.

When it comes to ground meat, you do not need a processor to get it right, and you can always rely on the age-old ways of doing this. A heavy spoon or wooden pestle should do the trick. Those who started making ground meat back in the day before the invention of these helpful machines we so heavily rely on at present know quite many skills in this regard. You can reduce the amount you spend on grinding by getting meat that is double ground.

When working the meat, be sure to do so in small batches such that it remains cold during the process. I will not lie to you; it’s a lot of hard work, but you could always think of it as part of your cardio workout.

If you cannot get banana leaves, you can still achieve a fantastic meal when using saran wrap. You will probably end up steaming for about fifty minutes, but the results will be just as good. You can also use Alsa baking powder in the cooking or opt for a double acting option. This recipe will turn out great whether you use single acting powder or one that is double acting.

The choice is yours.

This recipe calls for a flat beater, but that is not to say that you cannot achieve great results with other mechanisms. You can opt to use a regular beater with a hand-mixer if this option is available to you. If not, you can always do it by hand. Again, some cardio will not do you any harm as you anticipate the mouthwatering results that lay ahead.

You can enjoy the Cha Lua in sandwiches, soups, salads and other light meals. I hope you enjoyed this Vietnamese pork sausage recipe. Come back for more!

Tags: , , ,

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

Leave a comment

//