Cha trung is a Vietnamese dish that falls somewhere between a quiche and a meatloaf. An aromatic ground pork and vermicelli noodle mixture gets steamed in a pot with water. You'll often see it cooked in the shape of a loaf pan (like a meatloaf), but you could use a large soup bowl as well. Growing up it was the one dish that kept my family and me fed for many nights and provided us with enough for lunch the next day. It’s one of those dishes that tastes just as good the next day, if not better. This recipe involves a lot of hand action to feel the consistency of the meat, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly prior to mixing.
*These are the mushrooms I like to use: https://shop.waiyeehong.com/food-ingredients/dried-products/dried-fruit-vegetables/dried-black-fungus-strips-pak-pui-wood-ear —Hoang Samuelson
4 to 6
bundle vermicelli noodles
pre-shredded dried black fungus, such as wood ear mushrooms*
Bring a small pot of water to a boil, then take off the heat. Soak vermicelli noodles and shredded black fungus for 15 minutes. Pour soaked noodles and mushrooms into a colander, then lightly cut them up with kitchen shears until noodle bits are no more than a half-inch long. Let the noodles and fungus sit in the colander while you prepare the meat base.
In a large bowl, mix together the egg whites, ground pork, fish sauce, sugar, soup base, garlic, shallots, and pepper. Do this step by hand so you can feel the consistency; mix until the texture reaches a desired glossiness—or in my mother’s words, "It should look like boogers." Next, mix in the drained noodles and fungus until well incorporated. (Keep egg yolks in a separate bowl, whisked and covered so they don't dry out.)
Get out a cooking pot large enough to fit a loaf pan inside (this will be the mold for your meatloaf). Fill the pot with about an inch of water covering the bottom. Bring it up to medium heat.
Meanwhile, take the loaf pan and grease with olive oil or butter. Transfer your meat mixture into the greased mold, making sure that there's about an inch of clearance to the rim. Put pan inside of pot, being careful not to touch the edges with your hands. Bring heat to a low simmer and cover pot for 15 minutes.
Open lid and pour on reserved egg yolk, making sure that it reaches the rim but is not mixed in. Replenish water in the base of pot without removing loaf pan. Return lid to pot and continue to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until meat is cooked through.
Be sure to check the pot once every 10 minutes or so to make sure the bottom doesn't burn. You don’t want too much liquid accumulating inside of the meat mixture or it will fall apart when you try to cut into it. You generally know that it’s done when it pulls away from the sides of the pan, and if you remove the pan from the pot and tilt it on its side, no large amount of liquid should pour out.
When it’s done, let the pan cool on the counter before serving. It’s best served with sliced cucumbers, steamed white rice, and soy sauce.