Based on the main ingredients, there are several popular types of Vietnamese sausage (Vietnamese ham): lean pork, pork skin and lean pork, veal, beef, and pork head meat. The lean pork sausage is the most common, so when someone says “Vietnamese sausages”, he probably means the sausages that are made from lean pork. Sometimes, in older texts, Vietnamese sausage is translated as Vietnamese boiled pâté. This traditional, very versatile food of Vietnam can be served alone, as an appetizer, with drinks, or on banh mi as a sandwich.
In Vietnamese language, that lean pork sausage is called giò lụa in Northern dialect, and chả lụa in Southern dialect. The word “lụa” here literally means “silk”, which may imply that Vietnamese sausage is very smooth and soft. But in fact, it refers to the pale yellow color of young banana leaves in the innermost layer which resembles the color of silk.
The origin of Vietnamese ham could date back to the very old days, at least 500-700 years ago. To prepare for the Tet holidays, the ancient Vietnamese people would slaughter a pig to get meat, and cook traditional cakes like bánh chưng and bánh giày. There were two well-known activities: ham-pounding and ornamental nêu tree planting. The so-called ham-pounding is the action of pounding lean pork meat in a large stone mortar. Muscular men will use two pestles made of jackfruit wood to do the job.
In the past, there were many places around modern-day Hanoi which are famous for making Vietnamese sausages. Some of them still keep that tradition until today like Ước Lệ village (Thanh Oai – Hà Nội), or Đình Bảng village (Bắc Ninh province). The sausage making business in Ước Lệ village started in the Mạc dynasty period (16th century).
In Vietnam, sausages are rarely, if ever, made at home. These delicacies, so important to the Vietnamese, are always available from special shops that make them daily. In order to prepare them at home in Vietnam, it was necessary to pound for several hours with a heavy stone mortar and two pestles. The shopkeepers, on the other hand, had specially designed electric mortars for the manufacture of the sausage.
Traditionally, Vietnamese sausage is made from two basic ingredients: finely-pounded lean pork combined with delicious fish sauce. The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. Some ridiculous Wikipedia article says traditional Vietnamese ham is made of potato starch and garlic, which is completely wrong.
Only fresh meat is used, and frozen meat is not suitable. Usually a local pig about 40–50 kg is chosen. The meat of bigger pigs is too dry, while that of smaller ones is mushy. The meat should be warm, firm and not mushy. The most common cuts for Vietnamese pork sausage are the ham and the tenderloin. Previously, the pork is cut into small chunks, and then get marinated with fish sauce. The pork chunks are pounded in a heavy stone mortar and two wooden pestles. Nowadays, the pork is ground by using food processors.
Choose a delicious fish sauce with high protein content, fragrant smell and viscous texture (like mackerel fish sauce). In some places in Vietnam, people may add a little msg, sugar, and ground pepper, although they are not mandatory spices in the traditional way.
The banana leaves are not only a wrapping material, but also a flavor enhancement. According to a famous Vietnamese writer Nguyễn Tuân, the Vietnamese sausage has a distinct flavor because it is mixed with the aroma of boiled banana leaves until it’s cooked. Also according to him (or to be more precise, according to the sausage artisan in his writing), the best cut of a Vietnamese sausage are two ends. These two ends are more delicious because they gather all the flavor of banana leaves, the outer layer of old banana leaves, the innermost lining of young banana leaves, which is pale yellow and silk-like in color.
The sausages made by overseas Vietnamese is a huge disappointment. Because of the scarcity if banana leaves, sausages are wrapped in aluminum foils. The characteristic fragrance of banana leaves is absent. But greater disappointment is in Vietnam itself, where banana leaves are abundant. Some cook Vietnamese sausages in steel tubes or iron pipes. Some wrap Vietnamese sausages first in plastic food wraps, then with banana leaves. So, even with banana leaves, no flavor at all. Obviously, these people don’t know how to cook.
So, if possible, choose fresh banana leaves. They should not be too young or too old.
Make a marinade by combining all the ingredients except the fresh ham and pork fat in a large bowl. Northern style marinade: 3 tablespoons fish sauce + 1 tablespoon ground black pepper. Southern style: 2 tablespoons fish sauce + ½ teaspoon salt + 1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon granule seasoning.
Grind the meat pieces in a food processor for about 1 min. Pour the meat paste into a container and place it again in the freezer for 1 hour. Take out the meat paste, mix with 1 tablespoon fish sauce. Grind the paste for 1 min and the paste should be thick. If it doesn't, spend some more time in the freezer or add 1 tablespoon of corn/tapioca/potato starch.
Alternately, boil the pork fat and dice into tiny pieces. Mix them with the ham paste before wrapping.
Boiling gives richer flavor to the ham. Adding 2 teaspoons of baking powder in the ham paste may help in the final texture.