Vietnamese Caramel Pork Chops
This recipe only works if you don’t follow it. At least, that’s how it went when I — we — made it. Fact is, I never would have gotten through this one without the prodigious meat-cooking talents of my charming husband, the Master Engineer. I’d still be in the kitchen flapping my arms and hollering. It turned out to be delicious in the end, though, so follow along and I’ll save you the drama we went through.
I snagged the recipe from the Serious Eats blog. Sounded great. Terrific list of ingredients. Quick. Promised a complex flavor. All good, right?
Well, yes. Until you get to making it. The method doesn’t work, unless perhaps you’re Vietnamese and know some trick that I don’t know. I started by following along exactly, since this technique was terra incognita. I like to outsource meat cutting and pounding, so the M.E. kindly sliced thick boneless pork chops into thinner pork chops, trimmed the fat and pounded them until they were 1/8th of an inch thick. Really. He did. I watched. It was a lot of pounding.
That’s two regular-sized chops, transformed into eight flat little cutlets.
I had some chopped shallot (or red onion, if the grocery store is fresh out of shallots), fish sauce, lime juice and salt standing by. Then I melted sugar in a hot pan until it turned to caramel.
Threw in the other ingredients, stirred, and it turned into a hard wad. Kept stirring and it melted again, as promised. Tossed it immediately with the pork as you’re supposed to do, and guess what? Hot caramel hit cold pork. Hot caramel turned to hard wad.
This resulted in two tries, a boatload of dishes coated with hard wads of caramel, and visions of a really unpleasant time washing pots.
Fortunately, the M.E. stepped in right before I had a chance to get hysterical, mixed sugar, lime, salt and fish sauce together, and coated the pork with it. Then he sauteed it until the pork was a lovely, caramelized brown.
It worked! It was scrumptious, every bit as complex and strangely wonderful as I’d hoped.
I wouldn’t have thought of this method. I’m sure glad my sweetie did, because we wound up really liking the dish. It made a lovely dinner with some green beans stir-fried with garlic and ginger, dressed with a mixture of lime, fish sauce, chili-garlic sauce and brown sugar and garnished with roasted peanuts. (That’s a bonus recipe, if you’re paying attention!) I mean, yum. My kind of dinner. We’ll definitely make this again.
Just don’t use that recipe for anything other than a shopping list, and make sure to cook the pork long enough so that the sugar melts completely!
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