It was a bad day. It was a terribly bad day. I finally got myself to volunteer in the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) at my daughter's school. But instead of gaining a sense of accomplishment, I sent a sweet little girl to Urgent Care. Fidgeting little kindergartners, a pair of scissors too big for the job, and a lack of sleep from binge watching Containment the night before DO NOT MIX. Adding salt to wound, my 5-year-old daughter told me that maybe I shouldn't volunteer anymore. Pain. In. Heart.
The little girl is fine. It's amazing how much you can distract young children from pain with a terrible rendition of Let it Go. I'm steering clear of children and sharp objects for awhile, possibly giving up volunteering altogether per my daughter's request.
Back to the kitchen I go because no good comes from me volunteering.
Mắm Chưng, in short, is the Vietnamese meatloaf. It is a steamed or baked Vietnamese dish made of ground pork, chicken and/or crab, mixed with wood ear mushrooms, thin vermicelli noodles, eggs and the mighty Vietnamese ingredient, fermented fish. It is a salty dish to be eaten with steamed white rice and fresh slices of cucumber.
I like my Mam Chung on the spicy side so I love adding slices of Thai chili pepper on top for garnish or directly blending it into the meat. I usually make this dish in large batches so that I can freeze the leftover. It's the perfect Vietnamese comfort food for when you accidentally hurt someone else's child and become a disgrace to the volunteering and parent community.
For Mam Chung, you can use any kind of fermented fish. A few popular ones are fermented Snakehead Fish (Mắm cá lóc), fermented Sheatfish/Catfish (Mắm cá trèn), fermented Dorab (Mắm cá Linh), and fermented gouramy (Mắm cá sặc).
Some fermented fish are preserved whole, while others are ground. The ground ones are convenient. You simply add it to the pork. The whole ones require chopping in a food processor, a little more work, but it is a nice option for those who want to identify their ingredients (seriously, who knows what are in the ground ones?). For the whole ones, I've been told that you should rinse them. While rinsing, this can remove a lot of the seasoning so when using whole fermented fish, you may need to add a bit of fish sauce and sugar. This is great for those who want a little more control over the seasoning. The recipe below uses the ground fermented fish for convenience.
Vietnamese "Meatloaf" Recipe (Mam Chung)
1-1/2 lb ground pork shoulder
1/4 cup dried Wood Ear mushroom
1 package (2 oz) dried bean thread vermicelli
1 large white or yellow onion
1 Thai chili pepper (optional)
15 oz jar ground salted fish in brine (Mắm cá trèn xay)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Soak the Wood Ear mushroom and dried vermicelli in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes. Drain then squeeze out excess water. Finely dice and set aside.
Peel and dice the onion. I like to reserve half to cut into concentric circles to place on top of the meatloaf, but this is for presentation purpose only and not necessary.
Mix ground pork with mushroom, vermicelli, onion, chili pepper (optional), salted fish, pepper, and 3 whole eggs.
Grease a baking pan with vegetable oil. Add the ground pork mixture. Bake at 375 F for about 40 minutes.
Brush the top with egg yolks at the 40-minute mark and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes or until no liquid is oozing from the edges and center from an inserted chopstick.
Serve with steamed white rice and sliced cucumbers.