The satisfaction I get from preparing a simple dish, with (largely) standard supermarket ingredients, with little effort, that ultimately blows me away, is unmatched. Here's another one.
It had been quite some time since I made anything vaguely Vietnamese. For no good reason, really. I mean, we love Vietnamese food, and go to Vietnamese restaurants pretty regularly. Vietnamese food hits lots of marks. It's salty and sweet and filled with different textures. On top of that, it has lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, making it a seemingly guilt-free and healthful affair. Even when you're chomping on pork belly.
Grilled pork belly is one of our favorite dishes at Vietnamese places. It's often served with small bundles of rice noodles and vegetables, with a fishy lemonade dressing. Who doesn't like fishy lemonade? Barbarians, that's who. Of this you are assured. The fishy lemonade dressing is, of course, nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce/dressing that I could drink for breakfast.
The dish, served as salad of sorts, is called Bún Thịt Nướng, if the internet doesn't lie. The grilled pork can also be served as bánh hỏi, when served with little bundles of rice noodle--as opposed to free-flowing rice noodle--which is meant to be wrapped in lettuce with the pork and eaten with your damned hands.
As I do, I googled the recipe and came up with a few that looked reasonable. I'll generally ignore any recipes that don't seem to be using traditional ingredients, and then sort of take the parts that make sense to me from the others.
The meat should sit in the marinade for at least an hour. I've done it over night, and that's just fine. This isn't an acid-based marinade, so the meat won't get mushy. As far as the cooking device, I highly recommend an outdoor grill, because shit's gonna get smoky. I also insist that you cook the pork on a grill pan like this one from Brinkmann. If you cook the meat directly on your grill, chances are it's going to stick. These grill pans allow the flames to kiss the meat, while giving you a preferable cooking surface for this sticky, fatty meat.
The ingredients are very straight forward and widely available, with the possible exception of lemongrass (available near me at Whole Foods and Fairway and of course at Asian markets). Pork belly can be found at just about any Asian market, and also at Whole Foods.
Here's what I did...
- 3 lbs pork belly, boneless
- 2 T garlic, minced
- 3 T shallots, minced
- 1/4 C lemongrass, tender bottom parts, minced
- 1/4 C sugar
- 2 T fish sauce
- 2 T sesame oil
- 2 T peanut oil
- Thai basil
- Butter lettuce or any leafy lettuce
- Cucumber, sliced
- Fried shallots (you can buy these in a can)
- Roasted peanuts
- Do chua (pickled daikon and carrots...just google it)
- Nuoc cham (4 parts water, 2 parts sugar, 2 parts lime juice, 2 parts fish sauce, w/ some chopped Thai chilis and smashed garlic if you'd like)
- Mo Hanh if making the lettuce wrappy things (chopped scallion greens cooked in hot peanut oil for about 1 minute until soft)
- Freeze the pork belly until it's firm, then slice it thinly.
- Add all the marinade ingredients and let the pork sit for at least an hour, and overnight if you'd like
- Get the grill good and hot (with the grill pan if you have one) and cook the pork until crispy and charred. It'll look burnt, and that's probably because it is. This is preferable.
- Serve over the noodles with the garnish and nuoc cham as dressing, or with those fancy little bundles of noodle topped with the Mo Hanh for lettuce wraps.
A cast iron grill pan works well if you don't want to use the grill. I advise that you skewer the meat if doing this.
A big ol' bucket of do chua. It'll last quite some time in your fridge.