For some time, I’ve been exploring the cuisines of Southeast Asia and focusing on flavors from such countries as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. One of the great things about living in the NYC area is the abundance of different cultures and cuisines which allows me to do much of that exploration right in the City. Each country has their own specialties and even within the countries distinctions abound. However, there are a few takeaways I’ve learned over the years.
Vietnam in particular, is known for a number of delicious flavors including fish sauce, fresh herbs such as lemongrass, mint and cilantro, aromatics like ginger (or galangal) and garlic, and of course rice. In the summertime, mainly because it’s grilling season, one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is grilled lemongrass pork chops (thit heo nuong xa) with nuoc cham sauce and pickled daikon radish and carrots or do chua.
I also enjoy lemongrass grilled pork at one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants, Viet Cafe in Manhattan’s Tribeca. Having said that, nothing beats grilling it on your own, as these pork chops are surprisingly easy to make with just a few (mostly) common ingredients: garlic, shallots, fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar and lemongrass. I like to use very thin pork chops, preferably not thicker than 1/2 inch and plate that, but if you want to be traditional, you can slice the meat in bite-sized pieces so people can easily eat it with chopsticks.
I should mention that with lemongrass, you only want to use the first half to two-thirds of the stalk. First though, you need to peel the tough outer leaves until you see fleshy pale yellow stalk which is softer and not ‘woody’. Then, trim off the root end and start thinly slicing until you reach the end of the soft yellow stalk. Lemongrass is very fibrous, so even after thinly slicing it helps to process it on high in a chopper. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle to break down the lemongrass into a paste.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops
- 1 1/2 lb pork chops, thin cut 1/2-inch or thinner
- 2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, white parts only trimmed and finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp)
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)
- 1/4 cup raw sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- In a small electric chopper, add the sugar, garlic, shallot, lemongrass, black pepper and oil, process until a smooth paste. Add the fish sauce and soy sauce and combine.
- Transfer marinade to a glass dish or a bowl and add pork chops, turning to coat well. Transfer pork to gallon ziploc bags or leave in the glass dish and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Alternatively, you can let the pork chops marinate at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. If refrigerated, remove marinated pork chops 30 minutes before grilling to bring to room temperature.
- Preheat a grill on high heat. Just before grilling the pork chops, oil the grate to prevent the chops from sticking. Grill for about 6 minutes, turning frequently.
- Serve with nuoc cham, do chua and sliced cucumbers.