Classic Vietnamese Braised Pork

*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post.

 

Many, if not all, Vietnamese women I know who know how to cook learned from their mothers or grandmothers or both. I didn’t.

Working 12+ hours a day, often seven days a week, my mother has never had time to cook, except for traditional Tet holiday once every year. My father has always been the chef in our family. He’s not a good one though, I have to admit. Now I understand how difficult it could be to learn cooking without cookbooks, Internet, or somebody to guide you, but I was small and so I used to blame him for not feeding us very well. I used to long for the rare days when my mother had some time off to cook something for me and my little brother.

One time she made braised pork, and it was the only time she cooked that dish. It was 15 years ago but now I can still remember very clearly how that caramelized meat melted in my mouth like butter. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten.

Over the years I’ve taught myself how to braise pork. I’m quite happy with the recipe, and my husband is even happier. I used to prepare Vietnamese braised pork for his lunch box, and he would come home telling me how jealous his Southeast Asian co-workers got during lunch time.

Vietnamese braised pork, or thịt kho nước dừa, is a well-loved dish in Vietnamese daily meals. Made from pork belly (also where bacon comes from, hence the 3-layered look), this dish slow cooks until the pork is tender and flavorful and the richness of the fat perfectly complements the other flavors. Eaten in small portions over rice, often with a side dish of a vegetable and soup, the braised pork adds important protein and energy and with its wonderful aroma and flavor it enhances the enjoyment of all the dishes on your table.

 

Pork belly is called thịt ba chỉ in Vietnamese, literarily meaning three-layer meat. This “3-layered” meat is known in many languages across southeast Asia and beyond. Even if you ask a person from the Philippines, Laos or Cambodia about 3-layered meat they will know exactly what you’re talking about and like a Vietnamese, they will likely get a dreamy look in their eyes as they remember the flavor and aroma of a dish that was likely a favorite in their home country.

 

Buying the pork in the US is a bit easier than here in Vietnam, because pork belly in the US tends to already be cut in strips. So you just have to slice the strips into equal 1/2 inch pieces. If you’re buying it in Vietnam or elsewhere, you may have to cut the meat into strips first.

Watch the video and/or read the recipe below to see how to make that for yourself.

Chúc ngon miệng!

PRINT RECIPE

VIETNAMESE BRAISED PORK IN COCONUT WATER

Ingredients:

  • Pork belly: 800 grams (2 lbs)
  • Coconut water: 800 ml (or enough to cover the meat in your pot)
  • Fish sauce: 4 tablespoons
  • Sugar: 3 tablespoons
  • Garlic: a bunch, peeled
  • Hot chilis: optional, to taste
  • Hard boiled eggs: optional, to taste

Procedure:

Step 1: Prepare the pork

  1. Fill a pot with enough water to cover the pork. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Add pork into boiling water. Cover the lid.
  3. When the water boils again, remove the pork and let it cool. Throw the water away.  (Boiling the pork in hot water helps clean the surface and makes it easier to cut)
  4. Cut pork into 1/2 inch thick slices. Each piece should have three layers (skin, fat, and lean meat). Set aside.

Step 2: Caramelize the sugar

  1. Boil a kettle of water ( we’ll be using about 1/2 cup)
  2. In a small saucepan, cook sugar over medium heat. Sugar will turn honey colored in just about 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly for about 1-2 minutes. When sugar consistently turns honey colored, carefully laddle boiling water into caramelized sugar.  **Please be careful caramelizing the sugar. It can reach temperatures over 400F. Take care not to splash as you add water! I highly recommend watching the Youtube tutorial to see how I do this step!
  3. Turn up heat to medium and stir constantly until the crystalized caramelized sugar is fully dissolved in water.
  4. Turn off heat, add fish sauce and stir well

Step 3: Braise the pork

  1. In a pot, add pork, caramelized sugar and fish sauce mixture, garlic, hot chilis. Mix well and pour coconut water over meat. Stir gently
  2.  Cover the lid and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When boiling, reduce heat to low, open the lid and skim the foam carefully until the broth is clear.
  3. Add hard-boiled eggs.
  4. Braise over low heat for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally.

After two hours, the broth should be reduced to a half or a third; the pork is tender and flavorful. Pair braised pork with rice to balance texture and flavors.

Chúc ngon miệng!

2 thoughts on “Classic Vietnamese Braised Pork

  1. this was a normal dish that my grandmother made for dinner. and it’s one that i’ve attempted to make, to some success, but never to the same level of goodness. my grandmother, and subsequently my stepmother, never wanted me to learn how to cook — they wanted me to focus more on my studies. as such, i have been sorely lacking in good homemade traditional vietnamese food.

    your version looks lovely. i particularly remember my grandfather enjoying this dish with pickled mustard greens.

    1. Linh says:

      Thank you for sharing your story! It’s lovely to see how people have different sweet memories of the same dish. I’m sure your loved ones enjoy your thit kho as much as you enjoyed your grandmother’s 🙂

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