The other day I was video chatting with my mother in Vietnam. The topic eventually ended up about food, as it so often does; all the tasty things I can’t get here in the US and all the recipes that she never taught me when I was younger and busy going to school. I decided to ask her how to make one of my favorite dishes – Thit Nuong. The instructions I got were less than easy to follow. In typical Asian Mother fashion she simply said, oh a little bit of this, a little bit of that. After several minutes of prompting, I was finally able to get the ingredient list wrestled from her memory. That was it. She gave me no instructions and no measurements. After some experimentation I came up with something quite wonderful. I hope you love this dish as much as I do.
Most Americans know this meat as “that tasty pork stuff on those Vietnamese sandwiches”. You will quickly find it is really good served in a lot of ways, even nibbled right off the skewer. They are also superb in Vietnamese summer rolls. Click here for my recipe for how to make them and the peanut sauce they are commonly served with.
A word of warning: my measurements below are probably not super accurate. When cooking asian food I have a terrible tendency to follow after my mother; a little bit of this and that and taste it and adjust. I never use measuring cups or spoons.
- 2 lbs of pork shoulder
- 3 Tbs warm honey
- 3 Tbs brown sugar
- 2 or 3 stalks of lemongrass
- 2 or 3 asian shallots or 1 american shallot – minced
- 4 to 5 cloves of garlic – minced
- 2 to 3 Tbs white sesame seeds
- 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- salt and pepper – to taste
- rice bran oil or sesame oil or any other high heat oil
- 1 to 2 Tbs annatto seed (optional)
- Remove any large pieces of fat from your pork loin, but be sure to leave some fat in to keep the meat from drying out when you grill your meat. Slice the meat with the grain into pieces that are about 1/4 inch thick or a bit thinner. You will want the slices to be between 1 to 2.5 inches wide and between 2 to 4 inches long.
- Into a few tablespoons of oil in a very small sauce pot add your annatto seeds. Gently fry them for a few minutes and then put them aside for at least 20 minutes so that the color will seep into the oil. You will want to avoid getting the oil too hot or the seeds will start to sputter and pop. If you don’t have any annatto, don’t worry. It is mostly used in this recipe as a natural food coloring for the meat. You can buy annatto seeds at most Asian markets or online. Just so you get the idea, below are pictures of the marinading pork first without then with the annatto seed oil.
- Using a wooden or stone mortar and pestle pound your minced shallots with a pinch of salt until they break down but stop before they become paste. Do the same with the minced garlic.
- Wash your lemongrass and discard the green tops, reserving about the lower 2/3. Using a sharp butcher or chef’s knife finely slice the lemongrass into thin rings. Then, mince it super fine. Lemongrass is tasty but tough and you don’t want to bite into a huge hunk of it. This step is a bit hard on the hands, but I promise it is worth it. The fresh stuff has the best flavor. You can purchase frozen pre-minced lemongrass from some Asian stores but be careful that it doesn’t have green food coloring added to it. Yuck!
- Into a large bowl add the honey, brown sugar, pounded shallots, pounded garlic, sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, several grounds of fresh black pepper, and several healthy pinches of salt. Mix it all together and give it a quick taste to make sure the salt and sweetness are balanced. Next, add your sliced pork and strain your annatto oil into the bowl. Give it a good mix and let it marinade for at least 2 hours, but preferably over-night.
- When you are ready to cook your pork, grab some metal skewers or pre-soaked bamboo skewers and load them up. Make sure to give each piece some room to breath; you will want them to have almost an “S” shaped pattern when viewed from the side of the skewer.
- A charcoal grill gives the best flavor but a propane grill or oven broiler will work in a pinch. On your grill, you will want to wait until the coals are good and hot. Traditionally you would cook each side until you have a kiss of char on the meat. You can choose to omit the charring if you prefer. If you are using an oven, place the skewers on a broiler pan on the top rack. Give the pan a quick spray with oil to keep the skewers from sticking. Start cooking at 425-450 degrees for about 5-7 minutes to make sure the pork is cooked through before you crank your oven up to broil to finish it off. Give it a flip and broil away, oven door open, for a few more minutes until you get good color.
You can enjoy this with rice and a side of grilled veggies, on a sandwich with some cilantro and jalapeno and pickled veg, or any other way your heart desires.