This is a popular traditional dish of Vietnam. This recipe is special because it is adapted from Masterchef winner, blind chef Christine Ha. This was the dish she made for the judges at the finale. I bought her book a few year back after it is published to learn her taste. The unique taste makes this humble dish well known.
She is amazing and I do not think anyone else can do what she does. However, everyone has different taste. In my opinion, the dish is sweeter than traditional braised pork in Vietnam at the first taste and she advises to adjust the seasoning, adding fish sauce or sugar if necessary before serving. So the taste of the winning dish still remains secretly between her and the judges.
The coconut soda “coco-rico” brand is sweetened with 40 g sugar (about 3 Tbs and 1 tsp ) in each 12 oz can. It is used by most Vietnamese here including my mom. You can find it at oriental store. We use pure coconut water to cook this dish in Vietnam. Coconut water is the clear liquid inside fresh coconuts. Some is sweeter than others but it is definitely not as sweet as coco-rico. If you can not find Coco-rico brand, buy other brand but adjust sugar later for the taste. The coconut water will turn into caramel color when it is cooked down with time so no caramel needed here.
Pork belly is used in her recipe but pork butt or shoulder can be used. The skin and fat adds flavor and body to the broth. The blanching enhances the flavor and browning helps to add color as well as keeps the meat intact during braising. In the time frame of the show, she must use the pressure cooker to achieve the tenderness of pork. The pressure cooker actually give the pork a darker caramel shade too. If you do not have a clay pot, the pork can be cooked in the same saucepan. If you use pressure cooker, use it to blanch, , brown and braise the pork as a saucepan. Follow the manual instruction, cook at high pressure for 30 minutes with the lowest possible heat setting ( medium low or low) to maintain pressure. When the time up, remove the pot from heat and follow the natural release method.
Braised pork is served with cooked rice and other side dish as raw veggies (cucumber, tomato, lettuce, Vietnamese herbs), pickled veggies( green mustard, daikon, carrot), boiled/steamed veggies, etc. or use in spring rolls, sandwich. We do not eat a lot of meat in daily meal. Believed it or not when I was young, one or two pounds of meat would be plenty for a big family to eat in one day.
Make 6 servings:
2 ½ lbs pork belly
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper and extra for garnish
2 cans (12 oz) coconut soda (prefer Coco-rico)
1/4 cup fish sauce plus additional if desired (I add 1/4 cup total 1/2 cup three crab brand)
3 garlic cloves, minced about 1 Tbs
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2-3 green onion, thinly sliced
6 cups cooked jasmine rice
Veggies to serve: cucumber, tomato, lettuce, herbs, broiled broccoli, spinach, etc.
- In a large saucepan, bring enough water to cover pork to a boil over medium high heat ( about 3 cups). Add pork and cook about 3-4 minutes. Remove pork belly, rinse and drain well. Wash and dry the saucepan. Cut pork into 1 inch cubes.
- Return the saucepan to stove, add oil over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork, stir occasionally until the pork is slightly brown all sides. Lower the heat down to medium if needed to achieve the golden brown. Transfer the pork to a clay pot and add pepper, coconut soda, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, shallots, onion and eggs. The liquid should cover both pork and eggs. Add water if needed. Bring it back to a boil. Then lower the heat to low or medium low, cover. Simmer for 1 hour, check to see if pork is tender enough to pull apart easy with chopsticks or a fork. If not, cover and check in 15-30 minutes. Taste and add more fish sauce or sugar to suit your taste. Sprinkle ground pepper and green onion before serving. This dish is always served hot or warm.