Vietnamese pork chops are easy to prepare, full of unique lemongrass flavor and hardly go wrong. Naturally, it has become the favorite quick meal served in most Vietnamese restaurants, and the universal appeal of the taste has made it become one of the most popular items on the menu.
Restaurants like it because it does not need tedious preparation, and the leftover can be used as the filling for Bann Mi. It can be part of the set meal along with salad and steamed rice, or cut into smaller pieces to put in on the skewer.
You can make it at home with the ingredients mostly available in your kitchen pantry. The only less common ingredients are fish sauce and lemongrass, which is available in most Asian grocery shops.
Vietnamese pork chops are different from others because they are marinated with a set of unique ingredients- soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, honey, shallot, scallions, black pepper, and last but not least, minced lemongrass.
This set of ingredients has the contrasting flavor of saltiness and sweetness, which is unique to Vietnamese cuisine. The accompanying dipping sauce called Nuoc Cham has all the taste bud tickling elements- sweet, salty, sour, and spiciness in one dip. You can immediately draw a mental picture with all this sensory-stimulating flavor in a single bite.
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Let’s look at each ingredient and the steps to prepare the Vietnamese lemongrass pork chops in detail:
1. The ingredients for Vietnamese pork chops
a. The Pork- loin is the best
Pork loin is my choice of cut to cook Thai lemongrass pork chop.
Cut it into about 1/3 inch (8mm) thick. I always ask my butcher to do it for me as she (an old aunty) is an expert of cut it thinly. You may also use pork shoulder if you prefer more fat.
Use a meat mallet (or the back of the cleaver, or the thick bottom of your pan) to pound the meat. The goal is to break down the connective tissue of the meat to make it more tender. It also even out the thickness for better browning.
Use freshly cut chops for a better result. If this is not possible, wrap the pork chops with cling wrap and store them in a container or zip lock bag, and freeze them. This method of storage can prevent freezer burn which can draw out the moisture from the meat, resulting in tough and dry pork chops.
b. Use both light and dark soy sauce
There are two types of soy sauce in this recipe. Light soy sauce is for the saltiness. The use of dark soy sauce is more for the color. If you can’t get the Vietnamese dark soy sauce, use the Indonesia sweet soy sauce (like ABC brand) or the Chinese dark caramel soy sauce which is readily available outside Vietnam.
Alternatively, substitute the dark soy sauce with an equal amount of molasses for improving the color of the pork chops.
c. Fish sauce
Fish sauce is always exclusively used for Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Many Vietnamese dishes do not need to add salt since the fish sauce is quite salty.
It is the last thing I want to omit if I want to improvise the recipe. Fish sauce is unique to Vietnamese food, and there isn’t any substitute for that.
I use the Squid brand of fish sauce, which is a more well-known brand internationally, which you should be able to get at most places.
Discard the green section and outer sheath of the lemongrass. Use only the bulb which is light green. Bash the lemongrass with the back of the cleaver and cut it crosswise thinly. Mince it finely before adding it to the marinade.
Vietnamese pork chops are so different from other pork chops due to the addition of lemongrass. You can either finely mince it with your knife for a small quantity, grind it together with the shallots with the mortar and pestle, or use the food processor for the larger amount.
There is no such thing as too much lemongrass in the recipe. Increase the amount of lemongrass if you like the flavor. Make sure you mince it very finely or use a food processor to blend it until it turns floss-like. Large pieces of lemongrass will not adhere to the surface and will drop off at the grill during cooking.
I have a video I upload some time ago about how to prep lemongrass. Watch this video if you are unsure how to deal with it.
e. Sugar and honey
The level of sweetness is generally higher for Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese food compare to Western cuisine and Chinese food. You can use either white or brown sugar, but molasses and honey will add extra flavor.
The flavor of caramelized sugar is an essential element of the overall standard of the lemongrass pork chops. Caramelized sugar complements well with the taste of soy and fish sauce. This is also what sets the better Vietnamese pork chops from the mediocre one.
f. Garlic and shallots
Mince the garlic and shallots (or onion if you do not have shallots on hand) very finely, or make a paste with the food processor. Large pieces of garlic, shallots (and of course lemongrass) cannot provide the flavor to the marinade effectively.
Garlic can burn quickly and leave a bitter taste on Vietnamese pork chops. Grill over low to medium heat to avoid burning the garlic. If you have doubt to control the temperature correctly, omit the garlic. (I omit it in this recipe.)
Cut the scallion crosswise into small pieces. Finely chop the white section and add to the marinade.
Use the green section to make the scallion oil as described below.
2. The cooking method- a two-step process
a. Marinate the pork
Mix all the ingredients in a container. Rub the marinade all over every pork chop evenly.
You need to marinate the pork chops long enough to let the flavor from the lemongrass, and shallots penetrate into the meat. Let it marinate for at least four hours or up to one day in the refrigerator.
Keep the marinated pork chops in the refrigerator, unless you want to keep them for a few days or longer. If you’re going to prepare the chops in advance, keep them in freezer-safe containers or in the ziplock bags, and store them in the freezer to prevent freezer burn. Let them defrost at room temperature before cooking.
b. Grill the pork chops
The simplicity of cooking is the main reason why it is so popular, as that is hardly any chance of making a mistake.
If you have an outdoor grill, that is wonderful.
I stay in the city and only afford to use a grill pan. But it does the job well, although without the extra aroma of the open fire.
Heat up the grill pan with some oil. Place the pork chops and grill each side for about five to six minutes over medium heat until the color changes to golden brown and partially caramelized.
Do not overcook the pork chops. It will lose its moisture quickly since it is thin. Also, do not use high heat, as the pork chops can burn easily due to the caramelized sugar.
Brush with scallion oil before serving. The oil will not only make it glossy and good-looking, but it also helps to prevent the pork chops from drying out.
That is one of the easiest meals to cook! Serve with steamed rice, a fried egg on top, and Nuoc Cham sauce to go along.
3. Making the Nuoc Cham Recipe – a Vietnamese dipping sauce
This sauce is not only excellent for the lemongrass pork chop, but it is also the same dip sauce you have when you order the Vietnamese spring rolls.
The dipping sauce has all the sweet, sour, and salty flavors in one bowl, augmented with garlic and some chili. It has an irresistible mixture of flavors that paired perfectly with most Vietnamese food.
All you need is to mix 1 cup of hot water with half a cup of white sugar, half a cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, and half a cup of fish sauce. Whisk the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved, add two teaspoons of freshly minced garlic and finely chopped red bird’s eye chili to it, and mix well. It is that simple!
You can keep it in an airtight container for up to one week in the refrigerator.
Vietnamese pork chops Recipe
For the pork chops (A):
- 3-4 pieces pork chops
- 4 shallots, minced
- 2 tbsp lemongrass, minced
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 4 tsp honey
- 2 stalk scallion, white part only, finely chopped
For the scallion oil (mỡ hành)(B)
- 2 stalk scallions, green part only, chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- A pinch of salt
For the Vietnamese dipping sauce (nước chấm) (C)
- 100 ml hot water
- 50 g sugar
- 50 ml lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 50 ml fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp bird’s eye chili, red color preferred, minced
For the pork chop
- Pound the pork chops with the meat mallet or the back of the cleaver.
- Mix all the ingredients in (A) with the pork chops. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours or up to one day.
- Heat up the grill (or a grilled pan). Brush some oil on the grill (or add some to the grill pan/ frying pan). Grill each side of the pork chop for five minutes over medium to low heat.
- Remove and serve.
For the scallion oil (Mo Hanh)
- Cut the scallion crosswise to very thin pieces.
- Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to a saucepan over medium to high heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the scallion and a pinch of salt. Remove from heat,
- Once the scallion has all wilted, it is ready to use.
For the dipping sauce
- Mix the water, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce until the sugar dissolved.
- Add the minced garlic and finely chopped chili.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 740Total Fat: 35gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 176mgSodium: 3047mgCarbohydrates: 48gFiber: 3gSugar: 39gProtein: 58g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 3/9/2019