Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cooking Mama :: Thit Kho (Braised Pork Belly with Coconut Juice)

Day two of Bootcamp and we're doing another favorite of mine. I know I said the Cha Gio was my favorite, but actually it is Thit Kho (pronounced tee-et kaw). Every time I come home, I ask my mom to make it, so this is a true Vietnamese homestyle dish. My mom says this is a popular dish during the Lunar New Year because you can just let it simmer on the stove for days and eat it whenever you're hungry. The meat and eggs get better the longer you cook it.

  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon of water for the caramel sauce
  • 3 lbs of pork belly (you can do half pork belly and half pork shoulder/butt to make this more lean, but pork belly is much more flavorful)
  • 8 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/3 cup Fish Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt/rock salt
  • 2 cans of Coco Rico Soda or 7-Up (plus water)
  • Handful black peppercorns
  • 2 smashed cloves garlic
Caramello :: The first step to this dish is making a simple caramel sauce with 2:1 sugar and water. Over medium high heat, dissolve the sugar into the water in a large pot and stir occasionally until the mixture begins to smoke and turns a deep brown sugar, then remove the pot from the heat. This sauce is what makes the dish so rich.

**Although caramel is super tasty and pretty much the most awesome thing in the world, it is also very hot and dangerous. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Oink Oink :: Pork belly is apparently, not readily found in your local grocery store. From all the episodes of Top Chef I've watched, I was positive that I could get pork belly from Whole Foods. (What good product placement!) But no - this is a lie. To get the right cut, you'll have to go to an Asian or Mexican grocery store. Be sure to get a piece that has more meat than fat. Wash the meat, pat dry and dice into medium sized cubes. Toss the meat in 1 tb of course salt.

** You can use a mixture of pork belly and pork shoulder or butt, but to be honest, those cuts just aren't as tasty...but they're healthier. Your call.

Let the Braising Begin! :: Add the cubed meat into the same pot as the caramel sauce on medium high. Add the fish sauce and sear the meat in the caramel/fish sauce. There will be a lot of meat in the pan so let the pieces at the bottom brown, then mix well to get new pieces to the bottom. As you can see, I got a late start on boiling my eggs, so we did some multitasking.

Coco Rico to the Rescue :: The secret ingredient to this dish, or at least my mom's version, is the use of Coco Rico. Coco Rico is a coconut flavored soda you can get at Asian markets. The coconut flavor cuts the saltiness of the fish sauce and the carbonation helps tenderize the meat. Coco Rico can be hard to find, so you can achieve similar results with 7-Up. Once all the meat has been browned, add two cans of soda to the pot. Add enough water to the pot so that all the meat is covered by liquid. Add the crushed garlic cloves and peppercorns.

Simmer Down Now :: Peel your eggs and add them to the pot. All that is left to do is let the pot simmer for at least 2 hours. The longer it sits, the more flavorful the meat, sauce and eggs. When you're ready to eat, enjoy the dish over some white rice and cucumbers. In our house, we eat it with pickled veggies but my mom says that kimchi would be good too.

I should mention that before you eat it, you will want to spoon off a lot of the fat that rises to the surface during the cooking process. It's kind of gross, but necessary.

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