During Tết, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, there are many meals to be had with family, close friends, and colleagues. These meals always include sticky rice, which can be part of a grand feast or as simple as a quick bite to offer guests who are passing by.
Sticky Rice with Lạp Xưởng, Dried Shrimp, and Shiitake Mushrooms is a delightfully chewy and sticky dish full of umami. It has so much texture! The lạp xưởng, a cured spiced salami, is fatty in the most delicious way, the dried prawns are crunchy, and the mushrooms, velvety and silky.
In Vietnam, this type of savory sticky rice is called xôi mặn. It’s well loved and served often. As a child my breakfasts were a bowl of steaming noodle soup and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf. For our travels, my mum would pack a lunch box of sticky rice—it’s the perfect packed lunch. With this recipe, we elevate sticky rice for special celebrations like Tết.
Glutinous Rice: It’s Sticky!
Glutinous rice is grown throughout the Far East and eaten as grain and ground into flour. When cooked the glutinous rice becomes sticky, each grain holds onto each other like a group hug. Each bite is really sticky, chewy, and satisfying.
Glutinous rice is a misnomer since it has no gluten in it. I am not particular to a brand of glutinous rice. They all seem to be forgiving and work well. This recipe calls for white glutinous rice, but you can use black or brown glutinous rice. Other types of rice like jasmine or basmati will not be sticky when cooked.
Why Soak the Rice
To make perfectly cooked sticky rice, the rice should be soaked in water for at least two hours. You could even plan ahead and soak it overnight. Soaking the rice reduces the length of time it takes to cook it. It also ensures the rice absorbs water evenly and cooks uniformly.
When the rice is soaked, the grains act like a sponge and does a better job of drawing in flavors. In this recipe, I season and dry-fry the rice, mixing all the lovely flavors together before steaming it.
Tips on Steaming the Rice
The rice is cooked in a steamer pot. The bottom (the pot) is filled with enough water to continuously boil and create steam. A steamer basket is set on top of the pot and is filled with rice. The rice is then steamed with the lid on. You could also use an electric steamer.
Make sure to check the water level in the pot at regular intervals—I set an alarm as a reminder. I like to have a kettle of boiling water ready to refill the pot if needed. It works better than cold water, which is fine too, but it takes longer to cook because the water needs to come up to a boil each time. While the rice steams, stir it occasionally so that it cooks evenly.
You can hold the cooked rice in the steamer for a couple of hours. Steam it again to reheat when you’re ready to serve your meal. If it’s freshly cooked, it is also nice at room temperature. Keep it covered to prevent it from drying out.
What is Lạp Xưởng?
Lạp xưởng is a beloved dried sausage you’ll find in dishes during Tết. It’s sweet and savory with a chewy but firm texture. It’s often served whole, sliced, or finely chopped and mixed into dishes. Lạp xưởng can last for a while in your fridge and in my cultures it’s often gifted because everybody loves it.
Serving the Rice in Banana Leaves
For this recipe, I think it’s lovely to serve the rice on top of a banana leaf placed on a platter. Oftentimes sticky rice is portioned and packed in banana leaf parcels. It does take some effort—it’s often referred to as gifts to the mouth.
The subtle flavor of the banana leaf adds to the sticky rice and gives off an appetizing aroma. Plus, the banana leaf parcel acts like a vessel to carry food on your journey. No Tupperware here! Just dispose it as compost after enjoying the delicious sticky rice.
To prepare the banana leaves, place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over it. This softens the leaves making them easier to fold. You can strip off a long piece of leaf to use as a ribbon to tie the parcel together.
Plenty of Traditional Toppings
Sticky rice should be served with plenty of toppings. There is a range of beautiful Vietnamese charcuterie you could serve the rice with:
- Chả lụa: ham steamed in banana leaves
- Nem chua: pickled cured ham
- Lạp xưởng: cured spiced salami
- Chà bông heo: dried shredded pork
A compass of freshly pickled vegetables or any type of nuts or seeds are also great accompaniments.
Best Way to Store and Reheat Leftover Rice
You can keep leftover sticky rice in the refrigerator for two to three days. Reheat it in the microwave, stirring it halfway through. The timing depends on how much you’re reheating. You could also re-steam it in a steamer pot until it is piping hot.
Shining The Light On Rice
- Cajun-Style Dirty Rice
- Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi Bokkeumbap)
- Arroz Verde
- Skillet Chicken and Rice
- Turmeric Fried Rice With Eggs and Kale
Sticky Rice with Lạp Xưởng, Dried Shrimp, and Shiitake Mushrooms
- 2 cups white glutinous rice
- 1/4 cup dried shrimp
- 4 dry shiitake mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- 4 small pink or yellow shallots, chopped
- 4 lạp xưởng, cut on a diagonal 1/4-inch thick
- 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon pork or mushroom bouillon
- 3 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 banana leaf, to serve (optional)
- Pickled vegetables, to serve (optional)
- Vietnamese hams, to serve (optional)
Soak the rice, dried shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms:
In a medium bowl, add the rice and cover it with warm water by at least 2 inches. Allow to soak for at least 2 hours or overnight (up to 8 hours). If soaking overnight, place it in the fridge.
In a small bowl, add the dried shrimp and cover it with warm water by at least 1 inch. Allow to soak for 10 minutes. Drain well (no need to squeeze the water out) and set it aside.
In a separate small bowl, add the dried shiitake mushrooms and cover it with warm water by at least 1 inch. Allow to soak for 20 minutes. Drain well, cut into 1/4-inch slices, and set it aside.
Cook the aromatics, sausage, shrimp, and mushrooms:
Heat a large pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and the shallots. Cook until browned, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lạp xưởng, shrimp, and mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes until the sausages start to crisp up.
Drained the soaked rice into a fine mesh sieve set in the sink. Into the pan, add the drained rice, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, sugar, and bouillon, and stir until combined well.
Steam the rice:
Fill a steamer pot with at least 2 inches of water, set it over high heat, and bring it to a boil. Carefully, set the steamer basket inside the pot. The steamer basket should be large enough to comfortably hold the rice mixture, which will about double in size as it cooks.
Transfer the rice mixture into the steamer basket. Spread it around the edges, leaving a hole in the middle for the steam to rise and flow evenly. If your steamer basket is small, you may need to cook the rice in two batches.
Reduce the heat to medium heat and steam for 40 to 60 minutes. Mix the rice every 10 minutes or so, making sure to keep the center of the steamer basket uncovered. Also, check that there is enough water in the base.
After 30 minutes, check if the rice is cooked by testing a spoonful. The rice should be soft, fluffy, and a little chewy. If it is still hard, cover it and steam it for 10 more minutes, then check again. When it is ready, take the pot off the heat. Do not open the lid. Leave the rice to steam for another 10 minutes off the heat.
Make the spring onion oil:
In a small pan over low heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Heat for about 3 minutes. It should not ripple or smoke. If it does, take it off the heat. Add the spring onions and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to coat the spring onions in the oil and immediately turn the heat off. The spring onions will cook in the residual heat.
Serve the rice while hot on a bed of a banana leaf set on a platter. Drizzle the spring onion oil on top. Serve alongside pickled vegetables and Vietnamese hams.