The Astronomer doesn’t care too much for receiving “stuff” on his birthdays, so I gifted him homemade thịt nướng with all the fixings in celebration of his 27th last weekend. Vietnamese grilled pork has been on my lengthy list of things to master for quite some time, so this was the perfect occasion to finally learn how to prepare one of our all-time favorite dishes from scratch.
I employed my aunt Phuong’s recipe for the all-important marinade. Made from an aromatic mix of shallots, garlic, lemongrass, honey, fish sauce, and sesame oil, the marinade mingled with the meat overnight to ensure that every bit of pork was permeated. To pair with the protein, I prepped some scallion oil, pickled carrots and daikon, toasted crushed peanuts, and a jar-full of nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce). Crispy fried shallots were purchased at the local Asian grocery store.
After allowing the meat to marry with the marinade, I fired up the grill, loaded up the “meat cage,” and cooked everything up in several batches. With four pounds of pork to plow through, The Astronomer and I were each treated to half a dozen bowls of bún (vermicelli rice noodles), as well as several loaves of bánh mì for the better part of a week. Thịt nướng is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
- 4 pounds pork butt or top sirloin, thinly sliced approximately 1/4 inch thick
- 3 shallots, finely minced
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 cup lemongrass, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients from shallots through vegetable oil in a large bowl. Add the sliced pork to the bowl. Using your hands, massage the meat and marinade to make sure that the marinade is evenly distributed and coats every slice of meat. Allow the meat to soak in the marinade overnight or for up to 24 hours.
Traditionally, thịt nướng is cooked on a grill employing a “meat cage.” These devices can be purchased in the housewares section of any well-stocked Chinese or Vietnamese supermarket. If one cannot be located, the pork can be skewered onto bamboo sticks that have been soaked in water for 20 minutes.
If using a meat cage, coat evenly with non-stick spray and layer the pork only one slice deep to ensure even cooking.
Grill the meat on low to medium heat with the lid closed for most of the time in order to keep the meat moist. Flip the meat cage once the pork has developed a sear and is evenly caramelized on one side.
Once the pork is cooked through, transfer the meat onto a serving platter.
Serve thịt nướng atop rice noodles, steamed jasmine rice, or inside a baguette along with all the fixings—fresh mint, shredded lettuce, sliced cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, toasted peanuts, scallion oil, fried shallots, and nước chấm.
Serves 2 people for one week or 6 to 8 people in one sitting.