"To my mind this is the ultimate home comfort food. It never fails to bring back fond memories of large family meals, generally for a special occasion like T?t (New Year) or a wedding celebration as pork was considered a luxury, so symbolises wealth and fortune.
This is a beautiful and simple dish that showcases the key technique in Vietnamese cooking of slow braising in coconut water. Sweet, salty and spicy, it is best accompanied with sour and bitter pickles and is perfectly balanced by serving with fluffy jasmine rice.
Slow cooked in the natural sweetness of coconut water, the pork is so juicy and tender that every bite melts in your mouth. Perhaps it is because we had this dish so rarely that even to this day I savour every mouthful like it's my last." ~ Thuy Diem Pham.
500 g pork belly, cut into 5cm dice
500 g pork leg, cut into 5cm dice
3 Tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp Caramel Sauce (page 27)
1 L coconut water
3 Tbs fish sauce
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
3 red chillies
Pickled Mustard Cabbage (page 23), to serve
2 bird's eye chillies, crushed
8 Asian shallots, crushed
8 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
Put all of the pork along with the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl. Mix together well and leave in the fridge overnight to marinate.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a high heat until it reaches 190°C. An easy way to tell when the oil is ready is to place a wooden chopstick into it – when bubbles form on the surface of the oil it is ready.
Add the pork along with its marinade and the caramel sauce. Toss the pork continually for about 4 minutes, until the caramel sauce has fully and evenly coated all of the pork. It is crucial to keep stirring the pork as it only takes a couple of seconds for it to go from golden to burnt.
Now add the coconut water and 300ml of water, and bring to the boil. Skim off any impurities and marinade ingredients that float to the surface. The sauce needs to be clear and not cloudy. Turn down the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
Add the fish sauce, the whole peeled hard-boiled eggs and the chillies, and continue to simmer for a further hour.
Remove the pan from the heat and serve with mustard cabbage pickle and a generous portion of rice. A bowl of fish sauce with some sliced red chillies in would also make a good accompaniment.
Credits: The Little Viet Kitchen by Thuy Diem Pham is published by Absolute Press ($39.99) Out now!
Photo Credits: David Loftus.