Happy New Year to all! After spending more than two weeks at home in the lovely town of Canton, Ohio, I must say that it’s great to be back in Ann Arbor. However, even in the foodie heaven that it is, there is one cuisine that I can never seem to find: Vietnamese. My mother is an amazing cook and when I go home I beg for her to make some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. I only know of one sort of Vietnamese restaurant here, Saigon Garden, but let’s face it, any Vietnamese restaurant that shares its menu with Chinese dishes it’s not the most authentic. (Not saying I don’t like Chinese food, but it’s a far cry from real Vietnamese cuisine).
Before we get started, I want to point out one of the key differences between Vietnamese food and other more common Asian cuisine. While in China and Japan the main ingredient to the dishes is soy sauce, in Vietnam it’s fish sauce. Okay, so that may sound gross but trust me it’s not what you’re thinking. Vietnamese fish sauce does not taste fishy at all, but it does have a distinct flavor that is delicious when used correctly. In every Vietnamese dish I’ve ever seen my mother make, from curry to spring rolls to noodle bowls, fish sauce is always the key ingredient.
Therefore, I have returned to Ann Arbor with a couple of key ingredients to Vietnamese cooking, including fish sauce, and will now share one of my favorite dishes. I have chosen this dish because, in all honesty, it is probably one of the most approachable for those unfamiliar with Vietnamese cooking. I don’t know what it’s called in Vietnamese but essentially it’s pork cooked in fish sauce and served over rice. Not too difficult.
Pork and rice ingredients:
- White rice
- 2lbs of pork*
- 5-6 cloves of garlic
- 4 Tbs. of fish sauce
- 3-4 Tbs. of sugar
- (optional) cucumbers for garnish
- (optional) nuoc mam for dipping
As you can see, the measurements here are a little more exact given that this is my mother’s recipe. However, you will also notice that they are not completely exact due to the fact that my mother also does not cook with recipes. Therefore, tasting along the way is still important.
Step one: Prepare a batch of white rice following the directions one the package or by using a rice cooker. As of late, I have always used a rice cooker and if you find yourself eating a lot of rice, I highly recommend getting one. (Also, as to the type of rice, I prefer Jasmine rice, and no I do not have a bias.)
Step two: Cut up pork into two-inch pieces.
Step three: Heat three tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet on high heat and throw in the crushed garlic. Roast garlic until the cloves are golden brown.
Step four: Add in the pork and quickly sear each side. Add in the fish sauce and sugar and stir until the pork is evenly coated and the sauce begins to caramelize. Be very careful because the sauce can burn easily.
Step five: Add in enough boiling water to cover the pork pieces. Reduce the heat, cover and let the mixture simmer for 5-10 minutes*
*The original recipe calls for 2 lbs of pork spare ribs, however in the case I am using pork stewmeat instead. The cook time is similar, but if the stew meat seems too tough after 20 minutes, add more water and cook until it reduces again, the meat will become tender.
Step six: After leaving the mixture to simmer, uncover, and allow for the sauce to thicken slightly. Again, be careful not to burn the sauce. As the sauce thickens, it will become saltier from the fish sauce. If too salty or not thick enough, add more sugar. If too salty and a thinner sauce is preferred, add more water.
The meat dries out quickly so to reheat, add more water and simmer until the sauce reduces again, this prevents the meat from becoming dry and tough.
Enjoy everyone! And watch out because if you’ve never had fish sauce before, you may find it surprisingly addicting.