Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties with Rice Noodles ~ Bun Cha

These Vietnamese grilled pork patties with rice noodles, or bun cha, from America’s Test Kitchen combine a spicy fish sauce and lime juice sauce with chilled rice noodles, crunchy vegetables, and grilled pork for an outstanding version of traditional Vietnamese fare.

A dish filled with Vietnamese grilled pork patties with rice noodles and an crunchy vegetables.

Anyone who’s experienced the collision of textures, temperatures, and tastes of Vietnamese bun, or rice noodle dishes, knows well the allure. If you have yet to experience it,  these smoky Vietnamese grilled pork patties make a very able introduction. They’re from America’s Test Kitchen and come oh so close to approximating what we’ve experienced in countless Vietnamese restaurants.–Renee Schettler

Why is there baking soda in these pork patties?

The baking soda alters the pH of the recipe, which in turn (due to chemical reactions we won’t bore you with) helps the protein in the pork retain moisture and remain tender rather than tighten and turn tough when exposed to intense heat. What results is tender pork patties that are done in mere minutes.

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties with Rice Noodles | Bun Cha

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 1 H
  • Serves 4
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Ingredients

  • For the rice noodles and salad
  • For the sauce
  • For the pork patties

Directions

Make the rice noodles and salad

In a large pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Stir in the rice noodles and cook according to package directions until tender.

Drain the noodles and rinse under cold running water until cool. Drain the noodles, spread them on a large plate or rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature until dry.

Arrange the lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, and mint separately on a large platter and refrigerate until needed.

Make the sauce

Using mortar and pestle (or on a cutting board using the flat side of chef’s knife), mash the chile pepper, 1 tablespoon sugar, and garlic to create a paste.

Tester tip: If you don’t care for things hot, use less than the entire chile pepper.

Scrape the paste into a medium bowl and add hot water and 2 tablespoons sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice.

Make the pork patties

In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, fish sauce, sugar, baking soda, and pepper. Add the pork and mix until well combined. Shape the pork mixture into 12 patties, each about 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) wide and 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Tester tip: If your patties seem soft and a little sticky, slip them in the freezer for about 10 minutes before grilling or pan-searing to make them easier to handle.

If using a stovetop, place a cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot.

If using a gas grill, lightly oil the grate and heat the grill over high until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

If using a charcoal grill, open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour them evenly over half of grill. Lightly oil the grate and set it in place. Cover the grill, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

Cook the patties until charred to your liking and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. If using a gas grill, cover the grill. If using a charcoal grill, place them directly over the coals.

Transfer the patties to the bowl with the sauce and gently toss to coat. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the patties to a platter, reserving the sauce on the side. Pass the noodles, salad platter, sauce, and pork patties separately and let everyone create their own plate.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This recipe takes me back to about 30 years ago when I had my first bowl of Bun Cha in a Vietnamese restaurant owned by a friend of a friend's parents. We stopped in to say hello and they graciously welcomed me and placed a bowl of Bun Cha in front of me. For a moment, I didn't know what hit me. The flavor explosion of salty, sweet, spicy, sour combined with cool lettuce, mint, cilantro, cucumber, thin vermicelli noodles, and warm pork just woke up my palate and took me on a flavor journey that I had never experienced before and which I hoped to have again. The thin sauce served on the side lent just the right balance to the dish and they also served it with crushed dry roasted peanuts on top.

I loved the experience of eating Bun Cha so many years ago, and having this recipe as a guide is a great way to enjoy it at home! Bun Cha is such a quick and easy meal to prepare, light, but packed with flavor...perfect for summertime! Basically a noodle and pork salad, this hits all of the Vietnamese flavors I crave in a salad like this. My husband asked me to add this to the regular dinner rotation.

The recipe is fairly straightforward and simple. The pork mixture came together quickly. I thought the dressing would be too much, but we ended up using it all. I only used 2 tablespoons of fish sauce in the dressing and it was still plenty flavorful.

When grilling the pork patties, make sure to pay careful attention to the pork patties on the grill to prevent overcooking, 3 to 4 minutes per side is perfect! The charcoal grill was used and it's amazing how the baking soda helped to promote such beautiful browning to the pork when grilled.

Once cooked, dipping the pork patties in the sauce as instructed is genius...the charcoal flavor really adds a nice touch and comes through!

I would imagine a dark meat ground turkey or chicken would be a good substitute for the pork. I added some julienned rainbow carrots for some additional veggies in the salad.

Update: After making this recipe and hearing repeated rave reviews from my husband on how much he enjoyed this dish, I decided to make it again and it was even better than I remembered the first time!

I didn’t have shallot when making the second batch and used about a quarter cup of chopped yellow onion, which was a great substitute, I imagine green onions would be good as well. I also played around with the pork seasonings with the second batch and added a condiment not included in the original recipe: 1/2 tablespoon sweet soy sauce to the other recipe ingredients which added some extra salty sweetness.

The sauce was all used up both times we made this, it added great flavor. I added a few extra garnishes to the finished dish such as lime wedges, julienne carrots, crushed dry roasted peanuts which added a nice sweetness, crunch, and even more sour from the extra squeeze of juice from the lime wedges. I also played around with the variety of salad greens based on my preference and what I had on hand. The recipe-essentially a noodle salad bowl- is a great canvas to add in whatever you like as long as you've got the cilantro, mint, lime, cucumber and basic flavorings of the recipe.

The noodles I used were from my local Asian market, "Wai Wai" brand rice vermicelli from Thailand. I love these noodles because they soften when soaked in cold or warm water in just 2 to 3 minutes, which helped with the ease of preparation.

For my family this recipe is a win, and I will be making it again and again, but somehow we can't seem to get more than 2 servings out of this recipe, it's that good. Those little pork patties are addicting!

My husband and I were so happy to eat this on a summer day. Always love fresh Vietnamese flavors and herbs! The sauce was nice and piquant and tied everything together. (I did not seed the chile because we like the heat!)

We don’t have a grill right now, so I had to do the patties on the stove top in a 13-inch skillet. I cooked them on medium-high heat initially for 4 minutes, and then turned it down to medium for 3 minutes. This got them nice and browned!

I particularly liked that the recipe had you coat the pork patties in the sauce before eating it –this ensured that the flavor was better incorporated throughout the dish. I’m sure that grilling is always a little tastier, but I was satisfied with the stovetop result. Nice variety of textures in this dish and truly felt like I was getting carry-out from the neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant!

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