One dish that I see at nearly every Vietnamese restaurant I have ever been to is grilled lemongrass pork, served either with rice or rice vermicelli noodles (bun). Bun thit nuong cha gio (rice vermicelli with spring roll & grilled pork) is one of my very favorite Vietnamese dishes, so I decided to try and replicate it here with some small changes. The biggest change is that I don't have any rice vermicelli noodles, and neither did the grocery store across the street from our apartment. Oh well. I am also omitting the cha gio (spring rolls) because I hate deep frying things. You end up with oil splatters all over the kitchen and I never know how to dispose of the leftover frying oil. I refuse to pour it down the drain, but what do you do with a cup of used oil? Another change I made was to use boneless center-cut pork chops (which I cut in half and then pounded thin) instead of thinly sliced pork tenderloin, pork shoulder or pork butt.
I was very surprised that my go-to Vietnamese cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavor by Andrea Nguyen, didn't have a recipe for bun thit nuong or for grilled lemongrass pork. But it did have a recipe for lemongrass pork riblets and a recipe for bun thit bo xao (rice vermicelli with stir-fried beef), both of which I decided to adapt to suit me. I stole the ingredients and proportions she used for her marinade (although I didn't grind them with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor like her recipe instructed) and used them to marinate my pork chops overnight in the fridge. Then I used her rice vermicelli with stir-fried beef recipe to prepare the fresh herb salad that is served with the pork. I also used her recipe for nuoc cham (basic Vietnamese dipping sauce based heavily on fish sauce).
The flavor of the pork chop was wonderful. But in the future I will either buy thin cut pork chops (instead of buying 1-inch plus thick pork chops and then having to pound them thin, and then have them plump back up in the marinade), or I will try this with pork tenderloin (or another cut of pork). Another wonderful sounding option is to use the marinade on a piece of flank or skirt steak. Alex came up with the steak option, and I have to admit that it sounds delicious. I loved the freshness of the herb salad, tossed in a touch of the nuoc cham dipping sauce. And it bears saying that this is a very nice nuoc cham recipe. I have never added rice wine vinegar before, but it was delicious.
Recipes after the jump!
Lemongrass Pork Chops over Rice
Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavor
By Andrea Nguyen
2 center-cut boneless pork chops, trimmed, cut in half and pounded thin.
Marinade:3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
Herb salad:leaves from 1/2 head small red or green leaf lettuce, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide ribbons
1/4 small English cucumber, halved lengthwise and cut into matchsticks
2 tbsp carrot, peeled and then shaved thin with a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup roughly chopped assorted fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, Thai basil)
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
lime wedges (optional)
Combine all marinade ingredients in a resealable plastic bag. Add pork chops. Shake bag around to ensure even coating of pork chops. Place in baking dish and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 30 minutes before cooking, remove pork from marinade. Dump excess marinade. Cook pork chops in a grill pan on medium, or over a charcoal or gas grill, until fully-cooked, 2-3 minutes per side.
Combine lettuce, cucumber, herbs and toss well. Divide rice among 2 large bowls. Place salad mix on plate. Add pork chops. Garnish with peanuts and serve with nuoc cham.
Serve immediately with nuoc cham dipping sauce, and lime wedges.
Nuoc Cham (Basic Dipping Sauce)
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavor
By Andrea Nguyen
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (juice from 2-3 limes)
1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar (optional)
3 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm water
5-6 tbsp fish sauce
2-3 Thai chilis, thinly sliced (can substitute serrano chilis)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
In a small bowl, combine lime juice, sugar and water. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add fish sauce, starting out with 5 tbsp and adding more to taste if necessary (we used the full 6 tbsp). Aim for a light honey or amber-colored sauce with a balance of sour, sweet and salty. Add chilis and garlic. Stir to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.