Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thit Heo Nuong is Vietnamese for...

..."GRILLED PIGS (is delicious)."

I am big on pig, so it’s a lucky thing I come from two cultures that make such good use of it. As with chicken, I don’t really care for the white meat parts. But since most of my fellow Americans seem to love the super sanitized, boneless, skinless, fatless, flavorless, can’t-tell-what-animal-it-comes-from cuts of meat I generally avoid, I eat my dark meat in good conscience, knowing that my habits bring with them a sort of equilibrium to the consumption of pig parts in the USA.

You could try making these Vietnamese Pork Chops with a leaner, whiter chop. But then you’d miss out on those delightfully charred and caramelized bits of pork fat that - when mixed with the sweet/savory/aromatic of the marinade and the nutty foil of steamed Jasmine rice - send you momentarily to a hog heaven nearly impossible with a skinny cut of pig.

So I’ll urge you not to dietize this recipe the first time you make it and to use fattier, darker, but thin-cut (no thicker than ½ an inch) pork, preferably with a bone attached. (Look for “pork loin chop”, “butt/shoulder steak”, “sirloin chop”, or you could even cut boneless “country style ribs” into ½ inch thick steaks for this recipe.)

I like to serve these with a Spring Green, Cucumber (I like Persian or hothouse) and Cilantro Salad dressed with a Lime and Sauteed Shallot vinaigrette which uses a couple of tablespoons of the pork chop marinade as a base.

(tiht HEYo noohng)
Serves 6

- roughly 3 pounds bone-in (or at least darkmeat) pork chops or steaks

- 1/4 cup fish sauce (Tiparos is a widely available brand that I’ve seen in the Asian foods aisle of major chain groceries)
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon lime zest, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1+1/2 Tablespoons water (Why not just less fish sauce? Because water dilutes and rounds out the mild bitterness/ saltiness of the fish sauce.)
- 2 tablespoons oil (something neutral like canola or vegetable)

1) Mix all marinade ingredients together in a small mixing bowl and stir until brown sugar is completely dissolved. If you’re going to make the salad dressing (instructions to follow), reserve 2 tablespoons of marinade in separate bowl.

2) Work marinade into chops and let marinate for at least 45 minutes, up to 2 hours, redistributing the meat 2 or 3 times to ensure even seasoning.

3) Bring chops to room temp (at least 30 minutes out of the fridge) and pre-heat grill to medium high. (Make sure the grill is hot enough to make the meat sizzle as it hits the grill. If you place the chops on the grill before it’s hot enough, they won’t sear properly and will slowly leach out all their juices by time they’re done. :( )

These really are monster chops.
I usually get smaller ones.

4) Grill each chop 7 to 10 minutes per side, depending on size and thickness, flipping once only, until juices run clear. If the meat is still sticking to the grill when you try to flip it, it’s probably not done on that side yet.

You may think those charred edges of fat are too burnt to eat, but the flavor and texture of that crisped and caramelized fat with the meat are a thing to be experienced...

5) Serve with steamed jasmine rice and salad if you’re so inclined.


I chose this selection of greens because they go well with Vietnamese dishes, and the added layer of aromatic flavor that comes from sautéing the shallots always gets thumbs ups.

- Spring Greens
- 1 Persian or Pickling Cucumber, sliced into thin discs
- 6 or 7 sprigs’ worth of cilantro leaves (you could just chop the sprigs, but the leaves picked off make a prettier presentation)

Awww... Will ya look at all those
adorable little cilantro leaves.

- 2 Tablespoons Vietnamese Pork Chop marinade
- 1 Tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallot, sautéed in 1 teaspoon oil
- 1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon oil with neutral flavor

Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl and stir or whisk until brown sugar is completely dissolved. This should easily dress an entire standard 8 or 9 oz. package of salad greens with a few other veggies tossed in.

Hope you like. :)