Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lemongrass Pork

Monday was a gorgeous day, prompting Ann to suggest something on the grill for dinner. I was in the mood for some bright flavorful Vietnamese food. And so I combined the two wants to make grilled lemongrass pork with a fish sauce caramel and a bright table salad.

Lemongrass Pork with Table Salad
The dish has four components: the marinade for the pork, the fish sauce caramel, the table salad, and the nước chấm dipping sauce that I dressed the salad with. For pork, I used thick-cut strips of shoulder that I picked up in bulk at Costco. I planned to really sear the pork over a blasting flame to get an awesome crust, so I wanted a cut with some fat in it to protect it from that intense heat. Shoulder is the way to go. Most people don't think of shoulder as a grilling cut, but it is infinitely better than loin which has almost zero margin for error: it goes from just right to dry in moments.

Look at the Crust on this Pork!
The crust was accomplished with a blender marinade. I thinly sliced four or five stalks of lemongrass, the stems off a bunch of cilantro, and a couple cloves of garlic. This went into the blender with a few glugs of oil, a couple splashes of fish sauce, and a healthy portion of ground black pepper. The smooth green marinade went over the pork and it sat on the counter for a good hour, coming up to room temperature.

For the table salad, I thinly sliced cucumber and red onion and put that in a bowl with plucked cilantro, Thai basil leaves, and a handful of bean sprouts. Easy, simple, crunchy, and flavorful. The contents of this salad vary each time I make it depending on what I have on hand. I might have thrown some mint into this too, but honestly, I already had enough herbs in the salad by the time I thought of it.

To dress the salad, I made a small amount of nước chấm from lime juice, agave nectar, fish sauce, garlic, and sambal oelek. Always simple, always delicious, nước chấm is one of the great sauces of the world and every cook should have it in his or her repertoire.

Finally, I made another classic Vietnamese sauce, nước màu, a fish sauce caramel to dress the pork with. I have made this sauce my own with the addition of both shallots and black pepper. I make a caramel by melting sugar until golden brown, add minced shallots and ground black pepper, and once the shallots have caramelized (pun intended), I add fish sauce to taste to balance out the sweet bitterness of the caramel. I add water if necessary to thin the sauce to the consistency I want.

I hit a home run last night, no doubt. Ann and Carter wiped the pork out; Carter had thirds. This from the teenager who doesn't normally eat with us because we eat weird food.


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